Colossians 1.15-23 tells us about a massive big creator Jesus who was there at the beginning or even before the beginning and set stuff in motion with a nod or a blink or a wave of his sandal straps. It tells us he is the image of the invisible god which means that he looks like what an invisible god would look like if he were visible and that he holds all things together and that he brings all things together and all things will be reconciled which sounds to me like good new big news huge news. It tells us that Jesus is not an add-on or an optional extra to some kind of spirituality that gazes up and calls some unknown thing God or worships the abstract or the gaseous or the simply unknowable. It tells us this Jesus way big and way up there before and after the alpha and omega or the a to z and that this has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven. Wow!
And so we Look Up. We look up because something in us tells us that Big God is up there. Church is often a place where we look up. We remember how big god is, we remember with awe and wonder and occasionally we allow ourselves to be moved on the inside and even more occasionally maybe we actually move and raise our hands or get on our knees.
But let‘s not get a crick in our necks.
Luke 10.38-42 tells us about an earthy everyday Jesus who comes round Martha’s house and eats food. This Jesus engages not with the heavenly things but with stools and plates and food and dirt and clothes and toilets and women and men and children and doors and hair and bicycles. Ok, not bicycles. It tells us about a radically life-changing and dangerous Jesus who is involved on the ground. Dangerous? This little story carries way more weight than I thought. It follows the Good Samaritan. We know that challenges approaches to neighbours foreigners immigrants mixed-heritage people and so on. This story is not simply a weak challenge to ‘activist vs contemplative’ faith which I have heard so often. In those days men sat at Rabbi’s feet to learn, in order that they could teach. Women worked in the home, doing the every day stuff. Here Jesus welcomes a woman to sit and learn at his feet, and when another woman complains, he gently says no, this is good. Later we hear Paul say there is no longer Jew or Greek or male or female or slave or free, we may add immigrant or national. This is hugely radical stuff. On the ground challenge to cultural norms.
Our good news is radical challenge to cultural norms. No offence Cameron but we‘ve had Big Society long before you. We mustn’t get so distracted looking up to the Big God that we forget to look down and see where he is at work, challenging, provoking, changing, Down Here in our communities. It is why on Sunday at our little church we didn’t just clear out our own church garden, we cleaned the graffiti off the road sign as part of our worship; we clean the pavement as part of our worship. We pick up dog poo as part of our worship. This is how Jesus is involved ‘down here’.
At my licensing in St Helier one year ago Bishop Nick reminded us all that vicars are not chaplains to congregations but vicars of the parish. There’s 20 in our church, 20,000 in our parish. We do not exist to help a few Look Up on a Sunday and remember that God is Up There; we exist in order to support and encourage us all in being Jesus and recognising Jesus every day when we are Looking Down, and discover Looking Down and Looking Up happen at the same time.
My purpose as vicar to support all of us in our purpose – which is to see people’s lives changed by Jesus. Not just to do ‘Sunday church’. That isn’t easy because he challenges every aspect of our lives. Whether it is our pride or our behaviour or our lifestyle or what we think of ourselves. At Martha’s house he challenged the gender separation and showed his radical new way of open, generous love; here, we challenge culture by cleaning the road signs, picking up dog poo; by loving people when they do not ‘deserve’ it, by starting with the fact that all people are loved and created by God; by being loving and patient and forgiving in practice as well as theory.
And most of all, by committing to Jesus. Because without him all the rest is just nice stuff. This is not nice stuff, it is hard stuff. Counter-cultural stuff. We do it because he loves us. At least, that’s my reason…