Year C Proper 5 (2010) RCL Principal
The Big Picture
I don’t know if you have ever seen the magic roundabout, a rather surreal children’s TV show from the 1970s that was made into a computer generated movie a couple of years back. It was a very strange show, but great fun, and even my children aged 5 and 8 enjoyed reading a book we found in a Church jumble sale about the characters going on a picnic – which I am happy to go through in detail if anyone would like to later!
The most wonderful part of the magic roundabout was the characters, Ermintrude the cow who loved singing, Dougal the dog with a fondness for sugar lumps, Brian the snail, Mr Rusty, Florence and Dylan the rabbit. Dylan is my favourite, he is, to say the least ‘laid back’ – a guitar strumming hippie with a fondness for words like ‘wow’ and ‘cosmic’. I have been accused before now of being the Dylan of ministry, and giving an impression of being laid back and generally spaced out – at the time it was meant as something of an insult, but looking back I’m not sure that, if it were true, it would be a bad thing to be the Dylan of ministry! For one thing, the frenetic pace that seems to have been part of our ministerial life here in the team would probably benefit from something of a more laid- back attitude. Though I don’t think that will be happening in the near future. And also I wish sometimes my attitude were a bit more ‘cosmic’.
Because, and this is the reason for the long preamble, today’s readings from Galatians chapter 1 and Luke chapter 7 offer a wider perspective on life, a cosmic perspective if you like, than those of us caught up in our day to day lives are wont to have.
Look at what St Paul writes, in Galatians – by far his most obviously passionate letter, and probably his first – he tells us in verse 15 of chapter 1 that God had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace – he saw the bigger picture. He could see something of God’s plan. How many of us would describe our Christian life as set apart by God? How many of us talk in terms of being chosen by God? Paul is in no doubt that this is the case, and sees himself and his role in relation to Jesus – he has a cosmic perspective. The opening words of today’s passage, starting at verse 11 say
11 For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; 12for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.
That gift of revelation is still the foundation of our faith. We see Christ through Scripture, through the sharing of bread and wine in our Holy Communion, in our worship and prayer together. The revelation hasn’t changed – for no one can conjure up the life of Christ in oneself, it comes only through the Holy Spirit working in our lives. Paul knew that, he saw his sense of calling in the light of the glorious life of God, promised to all those who believe and who are open to Christ living in them.
For Paul, all the authority he needed came from his own encounter with Jesus Christ, he didn’t need the blessing of the Church, though we see that he sought it later on in his ministry, he didn’t need clever arguments or tricks. Paul was certain of his calling, and his vision was straight from God above. It was this that gave him the confidence to proclaim Christ and to live the Gospel he was called to.
How different would our proclamation be if we were that bold, and had that sense of being called before the world began to God’s service? If we truly had the feeling of our worth and value before God. Yet that is our calling, and that is the boldness we should have – for God has chosen us. If we consider that Paul changed from being Saul of Tarsus, persecutor, hater of the church to the one who would be transformed by Christ as the apostle that made it possible for us, the Gentiles, to be drawn into faith – how much more can we expect of God here in Stockland, or in our Mission Community, or our Deanery or Diocese.
To have a ‘cosmic’ viewpoint is to start to see that God is bigger than even our imaginings, and able to do far more than we can conceive or plan. Again and again in our meetings and in conversations I have around our parishes I hear expressions of concern, even despair, for the future of the Church. People ask me what we can do to build up the Church, as if I knew, or to attract young people, or grow more disciples. Actually I do know, and it is not in programmes, or plans, or events or Sunday schools, or youth ministry (though they all may play a part). The Church will grow when we let God be God, when we open ourselves to doing what God wants, not what we want. When we let go of the trappings of religion, and turn to faith in Christ.
And it will mean a whole new perspective from all of us! And I include myself in this… A way of looking not at how we can keep going with what we have, but how we should be moving on with what God wills. For God can change things, God can transform our Church, our world – and until we realise that, our Church is bound by the past and we will be those of little faith who Jesus railed against so often.
In our Gospel reading for today we have another calling to have a cosmic perspective. We have the raising from the dead of the young man in the town of Nain. Like all of the stories know as ‘the miracle stories’ this short passage is here to inspire us and to inform our viewpoint, to give us a new vision and perspective!
Here we see the power of a God whose love is stronger than death. There is nothing that God cannot do, and as Jesus touches the bier and calls the dead boy to rise the young man indeed does rise from death. Not to the immortal resurrection which we will all one day share in, but he is returned to life again on this earth.
Again, this story shows us that God is bigger than our limited imaginations can conceive. We may not be bringing the dead back to life week by week – but we do have new life to live and to proclaim. Again, if the perspective of the Church was informed by an understanding of that compassion and power of God which comes from this story, how much would we be able to achieve? How much more value would we attach to our faith? How much more excitement would we have about this wonderful, amazing, cosmic faith of which we are a part?
I have no doubt it would do us no harm at all to have a somewhat more cosmic view of our faith. To have a sense of our calling coming straight from Christ – not just the calling of our ministers, but of all God’s people. Called to proclaim this God who can change the world, who can even bring the dead back to life, whose love is more than we can ever understand, and whose life is on offer to all.