The Vicar Writes . . .
As some of you may know, I recently jumped out of an airplane at 16,200ft. For fun!! If you wish I’d be happy to show the DVD sometime, but what is evident is that apart from a brief moment on exit, I seem to be enjoying the experience!! In no small part this was due to my excellent instructor Cornelius who was firmly attached to my back, and by virtue of his serious yet calm nature at the key moments, helped make it a delight.
Now it might seem totally unnecessary to say this, but when you are strapped to someone sat on the edge of an airplane door who then throws himself forward, you have little choice in what happens next!! Yes you can fall in different ways – head or feet first, if you so wish (not recommended), or you can fall oriented in the recommended ‘Banana position’ (you may, or may not wish to visualize this :) ). However, whatever happens, you WILL fall towards earth at 200km/hr, until such time as the parachute is opened . . . or . . . and, apart from your orientation you have Very Little Say in what will happen.
Of course this helplessness is precisely what on the one hand makes some terrified at the very thought and others, thrill seekers, excited. Some dread the sense of being Out of Control, others Revel in it. But, Being Out of Control is for Most people a very deep seated fear – put another way, ‘Vulnerability’ is ‘something we are afraid of’.
We may think of the vulnerability of the very young. When we say ‘Children are very vulnerable . . .’, we often follow it up by saying ‘they need to be protected!’. Or, we fear the vulnerability of old age, of losing control of how we live our lives and perhaps indeed of losing control of mind and body. Our concern for 'the weakest' may often be triggered by our own projected anxieties. Whatever is the case in that regard however, when you are strapped to the front of a Jumpmaster who is solely responsible for pulling the ripcord and then flying you to earth by parachute (in itself a risky venture), Vulnerable describes your state.
Through Advent and the holiday season, we have been practicing a form of Vulnerability together – trying to listen to what the Spirit is saying to us as a church. And there are suggestions that this is bearing fruit, but perhaps not in the way we might have intended. When we think about God’s guidance, it is all too common to think that it is a matter of hearing what God tells us to do and then doing it. In a sense you might say, ‘God puts the matters into our hands and we become the architects of what happens next’, but it is hard to read the scriptures for very long and continue to think that that is how it is actually meant to be.
Oh yes, it is very clear that God does Command out of Love for us and obedience is essential, but in the day to day, in the ‘where do we go now?’ of life it is rather more like those first disciples. They had a command to follow Jesus, but they had little idea of where or how, or what each day would bring, things were not clear to them from one day to the next – they were called to live in Faith in the moment. Put another way, firmly attached to Him, they were called to step out of the security of 'the airplane' :)
That call to ‘leave your nets and follow me’ if we take the time to enter into it imaginatively is a call to the Saviour’s own vulnerability - who has nowhere to lay his head, who relies on the hospitality of others, (Jesus is always at table but only by invitation), who does not decide in advance what the day will bring, but only does what he sees his Father doing.
The great temptation for any church is to avoid the vulnerability and become architects of what happens next, to avoid being with Jesus in the way of Jesus. It is all too easy to come up with strategies and plans etc. that ‘tell us where we are going’. We live in a world driven by the anxiety which makes these seem a god idea, but the reality is otherwise. We don't go into the future, the future comes to us, and in a real sense this is what seems to be happening amongst us. We have given time to Listening, to openness and vulnerability before God and we are beginning to SEE things happen around us (Read for example all about Brockville community church in the ‘Mission Matters’ section of the magazine). We have been open and rather than being given a vision for a future we might aim at in ten or fifteen years with a carefully developed strategy, the future has come to us.
This is the nature of The Kingdom of God, as opposed to The Kingdom of this world. It is an old saw, but man proposes and God Disposes - the best laid plans of mice and men . . . Theologically we put this - The Kingdom is Now and not yet. Our problem in the church it seems is that we major on the second, so seem to try and work towards the Kingdom that is not yet. Our visions etc. are all to do with the future, but The FUTURE is the Consummation of all things under the reign of Christ, and we have NO say in that whatsoever. The Kingdom is also Now - among us and breaking out is we have eyes to see. My growing belief is that if we learn to be Vulnerable and open, we will see so much going on in and around us that any talk of the morrow even will begin to seem an avoidance of our calling.
Learning to live in that moment by moment vulnerability and responsiveness to what God is doing in Christ in his world, is perhaps the lesson we are meant to learn, as a church. It’s like skydiving, the Jumpmaster to whom we are securely attached has it all in hand – we must just orient ourselves correctly – live in openness, living if you like by daily bread, rather than planning to build a bakery :)
And with that jumble of thoughts (falling out of a plane does scramble your head somewhat!!), I wish you all God’s blessing, where you are sat as you read this, members of Christ at St John’s and other brothers and sisters in Christ, open and alert to His movements.
Grace and Peace to you