I was out with my running club the other night. It’s something I do from time to time to confirm the stereotype that skinny people are good at long-distance running. Anyway, we were doing this horrible training run where you run hard up a steep hill, then turn round and jog back slowly to a fixed point. And repeat it as many times as you can in 30 minutes.
I say fixed point. You see, often with these runs we use lampposts as markers but the pavement was being dug up so we used a parked car as a landmark. A Land Rover. Which was fine. And very appropriate.
Trouble is, on the 2nd repetition the Land Rover (predictably) disappeared. It threw me momentarily. It reminded me of the time I was walking over Kinder Scout in the Peak District, lost my way and took a compass bearing on the only fixed point I could see. A cloud. I know, not good. But we survived.
Following fixed points when following Jesus sometimes feels like he has got in the landmark and driven it away. Jesus refuses to be pigeon-holed or boxed. Which we deny, time and time again by making him into fixed point. Turning a parked car into a lamppost is fine if you want to light up a tiny area but not go anywhere.
I mean, there are fixed points. I’m not saying there aren’t. But the Word of God is person not a book; a personality and not a sentence. Being dogmatic about Jesus is like catching a cloud in a jar to ensure your compass reading is accurate. We don’t really know where Jesus really stands on contemporary conundrums from banking to sex to fig trees to being gay. Ok, we know about fig trees.
We think we know; we make leaps from principles to practice which we may well absolutely believe are true to Jesus. And they may well be. But… Sometimes he drives the landmark away.
So when we obsess over fixed points, be they about homosexuality and marriage or about anger or adultery or fig trees (and other gardening issues) let’s try and remember that Jesus always – always – saw the person, and the bigger picture; always put loving people first.
He operated on fixed points. Of course he did, he was a devout Jew. But he also moved them. Redefined them. And to steal from Rob Bell, Jesus didn’t say get out of the box. Because there is no box. This doesn’t get us off the hook when it comes to living well. It doesn’t mean we don’t aim for holiness.
But it does mean we don’t just stand still and admire the small pool of light the lamppost makes around us. Because Jesus has just driven away.