I invite you to use the Millennium Development Goals as your focus for Lenten study and discipline and prayer and fasting this year. I’m going to remind you that the Millennium Development Goals are about healing the worst of the world’s hunger. They’re about seeing that all children get access to primary education. They’re about empowering women. They’re about attending to issues of maternal health and child mortality. They’re about attending to issues of communicable disease like AIDS and malaria and tuberculosis. They’re about environmentally sustainable development, seeing that people have access to clean water and sanitation and that the conditions in slums are alleviated. And finally, they are about aid, foreign aid. They’re about trade relationships, and they’re about building partnerships for sustainable development in this world.But they are also about obsessing about the sins of others, rather than our own sins. Look, I can give two reasons for leaving the MDGs to fend for themselves for a while, and neither of them is concerned with whether, as political points, they are even good ideas. The first reason is that old Mary/Martha thing. Much as my sympathies have always been with Martha, the Episcopal Church now has a serious problem with taking the Mary side for granted. As a church, we need to give people religious reasons for coming to us, and by and large, we haven't bothered with that; instead we have tended to take religion for granted, and spent all our effort on this work in the world stuff at a time when the powers that be are more resistant to us than ever. It's really about time we actually spent some effort trying to make more people into believers and getting more people baptized and into communion with us. That 3% a year loss needs to be the first focus of church action.
But beyond that problem in priorities, the emphasis on contemplation of social action, specifically action which we cannot carry out, means that we sit around for weeks congratulating ourselves on what right-thinking people we are. It is, in other words, an invitation to self-righteousness. That's not the way to keep a holy Lent.