Out of Control!
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds
‘I saw in my dream that the man began to run. Now he had not run far from his own door, but his wife and children perceiving it began to cry after him to return: but the man put his fingers in his ears, and ran on crying, ‘Life, life, eternal life’
So begins the journey of the Pilgrim towards the heavenly city in Pilgrims progress . . .
I couldn’t help but think of this when a news item caught my eye. The newly elected MP Ricardo Menéndez who had travelled to Mexico for distressing family reasons. The powerful ehoes of the Government ‘advice’ – “Do not leave New Zealand”, yet something called him forth, and he has won few plaudits for it.
Similarly of course Sarah has left these shores to step into the thick of the current situation in the UK. Flying into a locked down country – against the stronger advice of some of her own family and to the bemusement of some here.
Stay Safe. Stay where you know. Stay in your cave. Stay where it is safe. But what if you have no choice?
Recently I’ve been in conversation with folks who are exploring a vocation to the ordained ministry of the church, both here and in the UK. There is only one failsafe test of vocation, which is having no choice. This is why I think the old ways of laying hands on people and ordaining them was far better, there was never any danger of self deception, they had no choice.
I’ve been considering those who have no choice in the world at the time of this COVID pandemic. Those who have no choice to work from home. The only choice is to go out to work or to starve. A choice between life and death, which is on the one hand no choice at all, and on the other the only ‘choice’ that matters. Those who have no choice in the world . . . Blessed are you poor – you who have no choice. For yours is the Kingdom of Heaven.
In our society, perhaps like no other time before, the idea of having no choice is understood as a bad thing. For those who are sufficiently well off we like to decide what work we will do – of course we might dignify it with the label ‘vocation’ – but in reality it is almost always our choice. We like having choice. It is a sign that ‘we are in control’ of the circumstances of our lives. To step into, or to fly into danger , in to the place where you are out of control, is seen as a form of insanity. The only people who do this kind of thing are those who have no choice . . . Something Summons them forth. LIFE calls. Follow me!
And so Peter, James and John drop the security of the life they know, the life where they have half a clue what is going on, the life they have in some respects. They left their nets and followed Jesus. Because when you hear the call of Life, you have no choice.
And so you relinquish that which choice creates, the illusion of control.
When we relinquish control we step out from our safe space, the shore of the life we make for ourselves. It is a death. It reveals itself precisely in the way people leave security because they have no choice. But as Christians we believe that it is precisely when we die that we enter Life in its fulness . . .
Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves
Jesus took them. He leads them. They are not in control. They have passed through the death of relinquishing control, and enter Life.
Note Jesus words to the three disciples after this event. As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
So, after he has risen for the dead, the disciples are to tell people . . . about this!
Years later as Peter writes to the infant churches, of all the things he wants them to remember of his life it is this incident.
For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honour and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, ‘This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’ We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain.
After the Son of Man has risen from the dead, Peter is telling people about how Jesus has led them through death to life . . .
And it was a disorienting experience. They thought they knew what life and existence was all about, yet now . . .
Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ He did not know what to say, for they were terrified.
Peter is babbling. He is like a new born child – he has passed into the Kingdom of Heaven . . . This experience has undone him. Crossing the boundary does that. Your world falls apart. And one way or another our world will fall apart. Through the cracks in our lives of quiet desperation to use Thoreau’s helpful phrase, light breaks in.
It’s always light – as with Paul on the road to Damascus, so too with Peter, James and John. Light – Terrifying bright Light – we die and enter Life in response to a call which we have no choice but to follow
There is Life. And then there is Fear which keeps us from Life. We live in a world dominated by fear, and fear creates the urge to control. An urge which has no space for those with no control. Think about cars. About how they are bigger and stronger and safer . . . but not for those who have no choice, the pedestrian.
The situation with regard to Covid only reveals this to a higher degree, the tightening grip of fear, fear which is the antithesis of life . . . And this happens in a myriad of ways. I saw something from the church officials suggesting that perhaps this was an opportunity to move to a new way of sharing the peace. Never mind that originally it was a kiss; handshakes and hugs are so yesterday in the ever so ‘Brave New World’, ushered in by those who are afraid. In which people get used to and then justify never hugging another person . . . This is not Life, it is a living death.
As our own beloved patron says, There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear: for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. 1 Jn 4:18 Put another way, as I was sharing with our Wednesday congregation, when we fear we do not know what Love is. Rather our definition of love is one which works within closed in boundaries where we feel safe. Where we are in control. When we are in control, Love is our choice . . . when we enter the life of God, Love just Is. Perfect Love casts out fear. Perfect love doesn’t merely cross the boundary, it stops seeing it. It is Life – Life, Love drives out fear
But this requires a death – a coming to the end of our life, or perhaps better, the end of our self . . . the life where we think we are in charge and in control . . . Perhaps this is needed for the church as well. I know from personal experience about how the church has become about control, about ‘we know how things are and God has left us to get on with ‘it’, that old story about God leaving us to get on with it. ‘Never will I leave you – Behold I am with you always, even unto the end of the age.
Control has been given over to Jesus – Jesus takes them, Jesus leads them. And they discover Heaven on Earth, because they have given up on fear and control, they have entered Life on the Holy Mountain.
When we hear that voice calling us to Life, we must go and step through the fear barrier to be Life in the World. Our life is put in God’s hands, where it belongs for now it is not our Life but His.
Heaven on Earth . . . not pie in the sky by and by.
When you know the power of life, you step through the fear barriers. Hearing its call you can but drop your nets and follow . . .
Or stay by the lake shaking your head after those who have gone . . .