Big Picture

June 17, 2018

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Preached by Canon Mark Collinson, using Deuteronomy 10.12  –  11.1 at Evensong on Sunday 17th June 2018, the Third Sunday after Trinity.

We rightly take pride in the story of this cathedral. On Friday this week, the Receiver General showed the rest of chapter into the building site behind you in the South Transept, because we wanted to see what was behind the big white screen. So in we go, in our hi-vis vests and hard hats, to get an idea of how the cathedral will be transformed when we get it back.

What impressed me was the quality of the work and the detail that goes into it. We’re not just wanting the building to look good when it opens, but we’re imagining how the craftwork being done now will look in 50, 100 and 200 years time.

So to give you an example some of the copper work inlaid in the ironwork reflects not just the colours of today, but when it tarnishes it will reflect colours elsewhere in the cathedral in a 100 years time. It’s the same with the oak flooring. It looks amazing today. But the life of the floor will exist hopefully for centuries, during which time the colour of the floor will develop.

What we’re good at here in the cathedral is taking the long view, and we’re acutely aware of how important the detail is.

That’s exactly what strikes me as we consider our bible readings for today. If you remember the reading from the book of Acts, we get enormous detail about how Paul escaped a plot on his life by a group of Jews that wanted to kill him.

Reading it again, I was struck, I think for the first time, that the apostle Paul has a sister in Jerusalem. Her son, Paul’s nephew, plays a crucial role in saving his uncle’s life. We hear the details of who said what, the contents of the letter the commander wrote to Governor Felix, how many centurions and cavalry and spearmen were used to protect Paul from this group of 40 assassins. All the drama is unfolded very specifically.

It took courage for the son of Paul’s sister to go to the centurion. It was a fine judgement the centurion made to take this young man to the commander, who understood his nervousness, took him by the hand, and reassured him. The commander appreciated the seriousness of the situation and pulled out all the stops to use 200 soldiers, 70 cavalry and another 200 spearmen to take Paul to safety.

Why? Why all the detail of this particular story? Parchment was expensive – you would tend to use it sparingly.

The reason for all this detail is that it explains how the gospel gets from Jeruusalem to Rome. In the verse before the one where our reading this afternoon started, Paul is reassured by the Lord with these words:  “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.”  Acts 23:11.

This long and detailed story explains the first stage Paul’s journey to Rome, from Jerusalem to Ceasarea. The rest of the book of Acts explains in similar detail how Paul gets from Ceasarea to Rome, and the rest, as they say, is history. Once the church in Rome was established, it became the centre of Christian faith for the entire Western world, and remains so today. It was from Rome that missionaries came to this island, including St Birinus, who baptised the West Saxon king of the early 7th century, and subsequently founded this cathedral. In later centuries, missionaries from Europe went out across the continents to share the gospel of Jesus Christ.

In the midst of all the detail, God is working out his purposes. We sometimes need to see the big picture in order to make sense of the detail. We need to understand how the detail of our lives fits into God’s purposes for us.

In the busyness of life we often can’t see the wood for the trees. We lose sight of the big story that God is working out in our lives, through the little things that happen from day to day.

I think it’s often the case that we are actually so overwhelmed by the detail of our lives, that we don’t even know what God wants of us. Well, let me be bold enough to tell you. Do you want to know what your purpose in life is? Your purpose is to recognise that God created you, and has given you skills, abilities and gifts. Your purpose in life is to use those gifts and thereby discover your unique vocation, your unique calling in the world to serve others in a way that only you can. As you do that you give thanks to God, and thereby bear witness to Christ, and give glory to him alone.

Now, I realise that’s a lot to take on board and unpack in the two minutes I’ve got remaining.

The African proverb says, ‘It takes a village to raise a child’ and it takes a Christian commnity to discern your calling. That’s what church at it’s very best should be – a community where we can help one another fulfil the calling that God has on our lives. That means we need to connect with one another, to unite together, to inspire one another by reflecting on God’s word together. This process of reflection leads to renewal as we make sense of the detail of our lives in the big picture of God’s call to each of us.

For some people it may mean God is calling you to serve in the church. It’s been an encouraging week for us in the School of Mission as another six people have discerned their vocation to be ordained clergy – that’s 19 people so far this year and is 50% up on the numbers who were being called to ordination four years ago. If you think that’s your calling also, then do have a word with me after the service.

But for most of us it means discovering God in the detail of our work and life outside of church. If your gift is in singing your calling is to sing. If your gift is in listening to others, like the commander listened to Paul’s nephew, then use that gift in the work you do. God is already there in the hurly burly of our lives, aware of the detail of what goes on and he uses that to work out his purposes.

On Friday evening we had friends over for a meal who we hadn’t seen properly for many years. Sadly, Ian was diagnosed with an incurable cancer. Most people with his cancer die within six months, so he and his wife gave up work, and made sure they lived life to the full. Statistically, Ian shouldn’t be alive today because his diagnosis was 4½  years ago. If he lives until November, he will have re-written the medical statistics because nobody has ever lived for five years with his type of cancer.

What’s God doing in the midst of this? Well, he and his wife are having a great time together – living each day as if it were their last. And they are bearing witness to Christ as they relate to Ian’s consultant oncologist. She, strangely, has two other Christians patients who according to medical statistics shouldn’t be alive. Just as Paul’s purpose was to testify in Rome just as he had in Jerusalem, so Ian’s purpose is to testify about the difference Christ is making in his life as he witnesses to his consultant.

Let us be inspired by the example of Ian and the apostle Paul, who testified about Jesus.

Let us be united together as we seek to help one another discern our callings, using the gifts God has given us.

Let us be renewed by God’s Spirit as we allow the detail of our lives to become part of God’s story.

Amen.