1 August 2010
10.30 Communion – Woodchurch
May I speak in the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Has anyone seen the Disney Pixar film called ‘UP’?
Is there anyone who hasn’t seen it who is desperate to know nothing about it? I will try not to give too much away but you may need to go and sit in the tower room for a bit.
Although it is an animated film and is superficially aimed at children like all the best kids films, and indeed like the best pantomimes, it also has a great deal to say to adults.
It starts off as a story about a young man who marries his childhood sweetheart who has a real adventurous spirit and they promise each other that one day they will go to a remote and beautiful place in South America called Paradise Falls. They start to save up for their trip by putting money into a jar.
Unfortunately the events of life keep happening to them – their car breaks down, the roof needs repairing, they have hospital bills to pay and time after time they have to keep breaking into the jar to get the money they need to live day by day. As they keep doing this they get older and older until one day the man’s childhood sweetheart becomes ill and dies and they never get to Paradise Falls. All this happens in the first five minutes of the film and whilst a lot of it passes over the heads of the children all the grown ups have lumps in their throats and slightly damper than usual cheeks.
After this happens the now old man becomes a bitter and twisted loner living in his house surrounded by a life times’ furniture and knick knacks.
And then one day he remembers his promise to take his wife to Paradise Falls and he decides that the time has now come. But instead of just buying a plane ticket and flying there he decides that in order to take his wife there he needs to take his house and all his belongings with him – so he attaches several thousand helium balloons to the roof of his house and, of course, his house lifts off the ground and with a nifty bit of navigation he turns south and heads towards Paradise Falls.
And then, when he is cruising South at several thousand feet there is a knock at his front door. When he opens the door there is a rather frightened boy scout clinging to the porch who had come over to try and get his “assisting old people badge” but got rather more than he bargained for when the house lifted off. Although the bitter old man is initially reluctant to let the boy scout in he soon sees there is little option and the scared young man comes into the flying house.
As they get closer to their goal they go through lots of adventures, the man becomes less bitter and more friendly but over time some of the balloons get burst and the remaining balloons start to loose their helium and the flying house gets lower and lower until eventually the man and the boy scout end up towing the house as it hovers just a couple of feet off the ground and of course, eventually, when Paradise Falls is in sight but still just out of reach the house hits the ground and will move no further as there is simply not enough lift in the balloons.
The man then has a clear choice – he can stay where he is with all his belongings and not reach his goal but simply look at his Paradise from afar or he can make some radical changes to get himself to his goal.
What does he do? He empties the house of everything – he throws out every stick of furniture, every appliance and every knick knack – in fact everything in which he had previously placed so much value. And when all his belongings lie in a heap on the ground, then the house is light enough to lift back off the ground and continue the journey to Paradise Falls.
Of course the moral of the story is clear and I hope that it illustrates something that today’s bible readings are saying to us: if we set our hearts our minds and our trust purely in our belongings, in our material security or the concerns of our day to day life then they will weigh us down and stop us reaching our true goal, our own Paradise Fall.
In our reading from Colossians St Paul said:
“If you have been raised with Christ seek the things that are above…not on things that are on the earth…” and then in typical Pauline style: “For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in Glory.”
Paul often talks about the old self dying in order to allow the new life, the life in Christ, to be born and you will all doubtless be able to think of parables about ears of corn having to die when they fall into the ground so that new stalks can grow bearing a hundredfold as much life.
But of course we are generally reluctant to die and it is always extremely challenging and scary to let go of one part of our lives so that another can flourish. I have no doubt that for every person who would join the old man in throwing out the contents of his house to enable his house to float and to reach a goal beyond the familiar and cosy there are plenty of others who would decide that they had come quite far enough thank you and that the mementos of the past life were more important than flying to a new life.
But on that point I think I need to sound a note of caution to myself:
Did you know that being a priest and a preacher is a hugely dangerous job?
I am not talking about the obvious dangers of tripping on my robes as I climb up the stairs into the pulpit, or the danger of falling over on the uneven ground of the graveyard, both which I have done. I am not even talking about the dangers of attending PCC meetings, although they can be a little scary at times.
No, I am talking about a much less obvious but actually a much more invidious and dangerous risk. It is the ever present danger of hypocrisy and self-righteousness. There is probably no one further from the purposes of God than a self-righteous hypocrite, the bible is full of them and they are rarely the good guys, and yet without keeping a very close eye on one’s own heart and motivations it is very easy to fall into that trap as one seeks to preach the word of God. I know that I have a real tendency to surround myself with the familiar and the cosy and I also know that I can be very bad at letting go of the false security of material things and living by faith alone.
Therefore when I talk about ‘letting go of stuff and letting God do his stuff’ I know that I am talking to myself first and foremost. In the next year or so there will be very serious decisions to make about what comes next in my and my families personal pilgrimage and even now I can feel myself trying to exert all sorts of control over that and having concerns and trying to make plans about what happens next. On one level it is always possible to justify that by saying that I would be a bad husband and father if I did not try and plan for the future but I also know that God calls us all to higher things and that often the only way to achieve the greater things that God really wants for us is to be willing to chuck out some of the stuff that we think is important but is really holding us down.
I have no doubt that it is true of me personally and may well be true of you personally, but what about us collectively as a Church? There are only two things we can be certain of: That the future is going to contain lots of challenges and that God wants us to fly higher than we could possibly imagine. If we are going to fly high then we may need to throw out the familiar and the cosy, or at the very least demonstrate that we are not putting our faith in the familiar and cosy, that we become rich towards God and not mired in the idols of our own comfort.
As St Paul said: “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourself with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator.”
Brothers and Sisters in Christ, and me, – God wants more for us as individuals and as a church than we can possibly imagine – God wants us to fly, to achieve our dreams and to reach Paradise Falls – all he asks of us is not to be weighed down with the cares and concerns of this world, but to simply let go and let God