As we considered how one goes about co-preaching, we wondered about a Punch and Judy approach, but opted for a more conventional model.
A Rabbinic tale
Long ago, a prince dreamed of creating more than a geographical or political kingdom. He dreamed of making a community where everyone cared for their neighbour, even at a cost to self. So the prince called a meeting where each chieftain and his clan were invited to join in the foundation of the new society. As part of the beginning of this new community, each was asked to search his cellar for the best wine produced from his ancestral vines. These treasured bottles would be uncorked, poured into a great communal vat and blended into a common vintage.
But one wine grower said: “How can I mix my exquisite wine with that of my neighbours? I would violate my art as a winemaker. Impossible! Give up my distinct variety? Lose my separate self?”
So he corked a bottle of tap water, stuck his most beautiful label on the bottle and, at the time of the ritual, poured the water ceremoniously into the vat. When the covenant was sealed, all filled their glasses for the communal draft. As the cups touched their lips, all knew the truth. It was not wine. It was water. No one had the courage to pay the price.
I like and dislike this story. I understand the resistance to doing something so foolish and extreme. Yet when I look at how Justin has lived his life, many decisions he and Jenny have made have seemed almost ridiculous, they have taken it to the extreme.
Most of you are now familiar with those stories. But those radical decisions have not been just for the sake of it, or because Justin likes to be edgy. He and Jenny have endeavored to walk authentically in the footsteps of Jesus.
One of Justin’s gifts is the ability to dream the impossible for the Kingdom. He has a vision, but has also the faith to believe it can happen.
One stunning example of this vision and faith being outworked is Justin’s passion for musicals. Justin had a vision for community theatre – he wanted to do a musical, not with a top-notch cast, but a cast including people from the highways and the byways.
Urban Vision were busy at that time having babies, working in our communities, holding down jobs and we wondered where the time and energy would come from for long rehearsals and late nights to pull it together.
Justin needed us, his cast, to think outside of the square and have the courage to trust his crazy vision. And so Joseph and the Technicolor dream-coat happened, with a few folks from our neighborhoods in tow. And the show went off – our neighbourhood folks had the time of their lives, it built community, and we conceded it had been well worth it.
And then came Jesus Christ superstar. A bigger show. A bigger cast. And more of the neighborhood. During one show two of our soldiers at the foot of the cross got into a scuffle and started bludgeoning each other. By mistake one member in the audience got hit! One of the soldiers later recalled that being in the show had been the highlight of his life!
The third show – Justin decided this would be the show for the children. As if working with the adults from our communities wasn’t enough, Justin wanted the children from high-density housing blocks to be stars. And so we did Oliver with 10 different ethnic groups - about 30 kids.
The day after the show ended, I woke up to girls from the neighbourhood singing Oliver songs in the Housing complex playground. And only 1 day after the show, they asked when the next musical would be! The Oliver show was a beautiful Ministry experience. It was magic.
The children in the neighbourhood had the time of their lives, and we in Urban Vision had been blessed and privileged to be part of it.
In some senses we are embarking now on the next musical. The cast is a little bigger again this time. And we can’t imagine what it is going to look like in the end. Perhaps we even wonder if it is going to come off.
I believe today that God’s word for us is ‘courage’. We are being called to have the courage to go where Jesus leads us, under Justin’s leadership, to have the courage to do the ridiculous, to contribute to the communal vat, because that is the Kingdom way. We are being called to go beyond the familiar and comfortable to something new.
Courage is a spiritual virtue. It speaks of where our heart is, where our passion truly lies. I want to tell you about a man of great courage. A guy called Leo whom I have got to know over the past year.
Leo has lived a life of hard drugs, gangs, hatred, racism, prison. In his life he has experienced much tragedy. I was shocked one day to see Leo in one of my prison bible studies, …we’d had little to do with each other up to that point. I asked him what brought him along and he told me he’d had a dream the night before. In this dream, he saw two distinct paths. He said it was so clear. One path was dark, and full of pain. The other path was bathed in light, full of joy and freedom.
When he woke that morning, he decided he’d try to suss out the light path for the first time, because the other path had been the one he had always lived and it had got him nowhere.
I could tell he was a bit scared. He was frightened it would come to nothing. We began to spend a bit of time together and we talked and prayed about this new path. As the months followed, he took radical steps. Steps he’d never considered before. He made peace with a rival gang, showing a grace and tolerance he’d never shown before, trusting them with his life story and calling them friends.
On release, many were skeptical of his ability to change. 48 hours they gave him. But he became increasingly determined.
This meant hanging out with people he’d never wanted to hang with before, straight people! Walking away from the drugs also meant cutting some old ties, getting beaten up for cutting those old allegiances.
And attending church.
Leo’s story has something for us.
First, he had to actually live the change, not just think it. And as he walked it, he grew in it.
Second, the journey cost him. Both physically and emotionally. He had to overcome fear of the unknown, sticking with it even when it was hard. It felt very foreign.
Thirdly, it involved owning and facing up to his addictions and prejudices.
Are we as brave and courageous as Leo? What might we be holding onto that gets in the way? Is it the fear of what we might have to give up – just like the Rabbinic tale? One Anglican priest said to me a few years ago, when chewing over whether his church might be able to support guys released from prison, "I think this is almost too hard for us Anglicans because we like things too nice.”
I thought that was a powerful admission. Is he right? What addictions might we have as individuals, churches, Diocese that hinder our faithfulness to the Gospel in this new season?
The Philippians passage read earlier powerfully reminds us that our attitude should be the same as Jesus. To walk in his footsteps does not chase worldly success – not fame, glory and power. Instead, there is risk, anonymity, loss of control. All part of emptying our choice vintage into the vat, for the dream of a different Kingdom.
The John 21 passage conveys this same challenge. Jesus asks Peter to pay a high price for his commitment. And the Rabbinic tale reminds us that it is only in the giving of the best of myself, that crazy self-giving which is folly to the world, that I can discover more of the mystery of the Kingdom and a deeper friendship with Christ.
Leo is discovering this. May we continue to do the same, as we entrust ourselves to God, and humbly and courageously follow Jesus wherever he leads.
Let us summon up the courage to pay the price for the next stage of our calling, to love God with everything we possess, and to love our neighbour as ourselves. Let’s courageously face our addictions, empty ourselves and follow Christ wherever he may lead…maybe even to places we might not want to go?
Just as Justin is re-committing his life in a new way today, may we do the same.
Let us pray:
Father, we abandon ourselves into your hands
Do with us whatever you will
Whatever you do we thank you
Give us the courage to be ready for all, to accept all
Let only your will be done in us
For you are our Father. Amen