A man came upon a construction site where three people were working. He asked the first, “What are you doing?” and the man replied, “I’m laying bricks.” He asked the second, “What are you doing?” and the man replied, “I’m building a wall.” As he approached the third, he heard him humming a tune as he worked, and asked, “What are you doing?” The man stood, looked up at the sky, and smiled, “I’m building a cathedral!”
The same thing can look very different from depending upon what your perspective is. I keep telling people, and I know Nick says exactly the same, is that the Pilgrim Project is about God’s mission which happens to involve building work, not just a building project. We’re not laying bricks, building a wall, or even building a cathedral; we’re working with God in building the kingdom alongside others.
It really does make a difference how you look at things. There’s a story told of a woman who accompanies her husband to the doctor’s surgery for a check- up. Afterwards, the doctor took the wife aside and said unless you do the following things, your husband will surely die: every morning make sure he gets a good healthy breakfast, have him come home for lunch every day so you can feed him a well-balanced meal, make sure you feed him a good, hot dinner every night, and don’t overburden him with household chores, keep the house spotless and clean so that he doesn’t get exposed to any unnecessary germs, and to improve his circulation, you’ll need to give him a back massage every night. On the way home, the husband asked his wife, what did the doctor say? She replied, he said that you’re going to die.
It really does make a difference which way you look at things. Nearly 400 years ago the Mayflower sailed from Plymouth England to what became Plymouth Massachusetts taking our puritan ancestors to the New World. This was one of many groups of such pilgrims. One group established a town in their first year. The next year they elected a town council. In the third year the town council planned to build a road five miles westward into the wilderness. In the fourth year the people tried to impeach their town council because they thought it was a waste of public money to build a road five miles westward into a wilderness. Here were people who had the vision to see three thousand miles across an ocean, and to overcome great hardships to get there. But in just a few years they weren’t able to see even five miles out of town. They’d lost their pioneering vision. With a clear vision of what we can become in Christ, no ocean of difficulty is too great. Without it, we rarely move beyond our current boundaries.
Today we hold our Annual General Meeting after the service. I want to say to us that we achieved a very great deal since we formed the Spire Church, and we can rightly congratulate ourselves on that, but there is so much more that we need to achieve for God. With that in mind we need to keep our vision looking upwards and outwards, knowing that that God is behind us, beside us, and within us, offering strength for the task ahead.
There’s a story told of a family in the late 1930s. Like so many evenings mum and dad were at home and Jimmy was playing after dinner. Mum and dad were absorbed with jobs and didn’t notice the time. It was a full moon and some of the light seeped through the windows. Mum glanced at the clock, and said, “Jimmy, it’s time to go to bed. Go up now and I’ll come and settle you later.” Unlike usual, Jimmy went straight upstairs to his room. An hour or so later his mother came up to check if all was well, and to her astonishment found that her son was staring quietly out of his window at the moonlit scenery. “What are you doing, Jimmy?”
“I’m looking at the moon, mummy.”
“Well, it’s time to go to bed now.”
As the reluctant Jimmy settled down, he said, “mummy, you know one day I’m going to walk on the moon.”
He went on to survive a near fatal motorbike crash which broke almost every bone in his body, and his dream came to fruition in 1971, when James Irwin stepped from Apollo 15 onto the moon’s surface, just one of the 12 representatives of the human race to have done so.
As a church we’re challenged to work on our vision for the future. We have already begun that very successfully with our recent vision workshop, but there is plenty more work to do. In the story of the ascension, the disciples received a very unusual vision – one that we need to understand metaphorically today, not literally, but one which can still inspire us with a vision of a liberated Christ, set free over the whole world.
Visions, of course, are not pictures on a wall to be looked it. Visions are things which change our hearts, which reshape us. When we embrace God’s vision our reshaped, continually transformed hearts push us out into the world. Revelation offers us a rather different kind of poetry to the ascension, but none-the-less a poetic vision of a community in harmony and life. It’s a vision that reminds us very starkly that we are embraced by a love that loves not just the good bits of us, but all of us – including the dark bits we hardly dare admit to. A love that stays with us even when the going is hard. And that coming together of opposites makes us whole and changes everything. We can love, because this vision catches us up into a love that comes from God and flows out from us to the world. The water of life flows from God, through us, and it can turn the world upside down.
The ascension offers us a vision of Christ liberated and set free, upwards and outwards. Revelation offers us a vision of God’s completeness that is to come, where the water of life sustains us and all life, feeding us, nourishing us, with God’s very self. Where we go, what we do, depends upon how we look at things. On this day of our Annual General Meeting Sunday we look backwards and forwards, in this season of discerning God’s vision for our church we’re challenged to look outwards and upwards, and to live our dreams of where God might take us, if we let him.