Sermon by Canon Adrian Ling CMP, Sunday 14th February 2021
Reading: 1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1
In his book ‘The Compleat Angler,’ Izaak Walton extolled the virtues of fishing, not least for the calmness and many other blessings it brought to the spirit. He quoted Sir Henry Wotton who was also a devoted angler who described it as
“an employment for his idle time,
which was then not idly spent,
a rest to his mind,
a cheerer of his spirits,
a diverter of sadness,
a calmer of unquiet thoughts,
a moderator of passions,
a procurer of contentedness;"
and " it begat habits of peace and patience
in those that professed and practised it."
Those who go fishing can lose themselves in quiet contemplation as they wait and watch for the float to be pulled down when the fish takes the bait. As they wait, they can mull over thoughts and problems.
How good it is to have a pastime or a pleasure in which you can lose yourself, an employment for idle time that is not then idly spent. Such pleasures can help to centre ourselves, to calm an agitated mind, and perhaps even make us more pleasant people.
On Wednesday we enter the holy season of Lent,
the time to place Christ at the centre of our being,
to check he is still the fulcrum that keeps our life in balance. We can all tend to drift away from him, and fail to properly distinguish between what is good and bad, between right and wrong. We may fail to recognise what is sinful and justify or excuse our own wrong actions and bad behaviour.
The Holy Spirit helps us in our discernment, through the medium of prayer. Christ assists us in his teaching in the Gospel. However we need to get ourselves in a right and propitious frame of mind for the Spirit to work on us and for the Gospel to penetrate us.
One of the early Greek fathers, St Diadochus of Photike, drew an analogy from sea fishing. When the sea is calm fishermen can perceive the movement of its depths, revealing the position of the fish, and know where to cast the net. However, when the sea is choppy and the surface disturbed by waves, then what lies beneath remains hidden, and the fishermen’s work is rendered very difficult.
So, he said, if we can be calm then our minds can discriminate between the thoughts and suggestions that pass through it, placing those which are good and come from God in the treasure house of memory, and ejecting from this spiritual reservoir those thoughts which are evil and of the devil.
How good for the soul it is to be able to spend time in calm stillness, like an angler on the riverbank, sifting those thoughts, retaining the good, and throwing out the bad. It is not easy, and we may feel we need to be at peace in order to pray but can only achieve peace by praying.
So we must approach the Lord with the faith of the leper and ask him to calm our troubled minds, and believe that he can.
This quiet time of contemplation can have a disproportionately beneficial effect on our spiritual wellbeing. It can enhance our perception of life, the world and the people around us. It can help us to achieve what St Paul recommends in his first letter to the Corinthians not to do anything that would be offensive to anyone. How hard that is when are determined to get our own way and insist that we are always right. St Paul says we should be helpful to everyone at all times which means having our hearts disposed and ready to help whenever it is needed, and not like the postman you may have seen in the news, who refused to help up the lady lying on her doorstep, because he was too tired.
In moments of peace and calm we can perceive our blessings which may be obscured in times of turmoil and agitation. Then we can see what the Lord does for us, and we can be thankful, like the leper who could not contain himself after he was healed, who had to tell everyone what Jesus had done for him. And we can also better perceive our needs, what we need from the Lord, just as the leper knew exactly what he wanted the Lord to do for him.
We are still going through times of great turmoil, the water is at times still rough and choppy, and it can be hard to see where we are in life. I invite you to use this holy season of Lent in the most positive and fruitful way. And if you can do nothing else, just take a moment to be quiet and still, like an angler on the riverbank and see what the Spirit reveals to you.