Turning things upside down- Jesus stories and #Somersault14


I spent most of this last weekend at the Somersault festival, just up the road from where I live, and my friends Ian and Jane (see one of hers above) have put some pics online here and here. In the midst of the festival I preached at my home church on the Sunday morning about the stories that Jesus told… how they turned everyone’s expectations upside down… he was talking about something you have to experience to comprehend… and I was struck by how festivals are like that- to people who’ve never been to one they are completely foreign and strange, but you have to go in order to understand why people enjoy them so much… and baptism, becoming a Christian, the whole life of a disciple of Jesus, is a bit like that too… you have to experience it for yourself as well as hear what others are saying.

Anyway, here’s what I said, or at least what I planned to say:

The kingdom of God, its not what you expect… its like a story that you think you know… but you find out that you don’t… not revisionist story (like the new Hercules film where he’s not a hero at all), more redemptive (like Maleficent, except that this isn’t about the redemption of something previously understood as bad (like an evil fairy/witch who can turn into a dragon) but something that is already understood as being good, just inaccessible).

The kingdom of heaven/God- not somewhere we can go, but somewhere that someone else can… in his teaching Jesus used words like ‘near’, ‘close at hand’… but in the parables, the stories that he told, he used the word ‘like’… its like: a field where weeds have become mingled in with the crops, and the farmer decides to leave them all alone until harvest time and then separate them out… and there’s a certain logic- the root systems are all mixed up etc… but actually, what would you do? What do we do? We pull the weeds up as soon as we see them (or use Round up or some other weedkiller), we don’t leave them to take nutrients from our crops or limit their growth… the kingdom of heaven is like a field where the farmer isn’t worried about how things are now, but about how they’ll end up… maybe, the kingdom of heaven is like a field where the weeds sometimes change- that would seem to sit alongside my own experience of God…but its certainly not the normal farming practice: just grow whatever grows and then see how it tastes…

And then there’s the next farming parable- the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed planted in a field and left to grow until it becomes a shelter for the birds- great if you’re trying to provide a habitat for birdlife, not so great if you’re growing crops which might get eaten by those birds… or even the whole idea of the mustard seed becoming a tree: trees are big things, 60-100ft tall, yes? They’re impressive because they are… big. Every tree is big in comparison to its seed. A mustard tree is more of a bush… not very tall, more sprawl…really dense growth, like a hedge, filling every space… the kingdom of heaven is like a plant that grows from something tiny, and fills the space really well, and from being something vulnerable it becomes something that provides protection even though its not super strong…

And the third, the baking parable- who’s mixed dough by hand? Is it easier in small amounts or larger amounts? How large? You want a batch that you can handle… not 22bags of flour at once. Yeast is one of those amazing things in nature- it is essential for baking and brewing and yet is a bit of a mystery… the kingdom of heaven contains a mystery that changes things; its on a scale that is beyond our normal understandings…

This barrage of images and ideas seems overwhelming, and overall the impression is that we don’t fully understand the kingdom of heaven, but actually its about experiencing it… and the same can be said of baptism- the beginning of the Christian life, the way in which we celebrate an individual’s becoming a part of the people of God- which is how we might define the kingdom of heaven here and now- the kingdom of heaven is the people of God being the people of God…

Baptism is a symbol of new life, of welcome, of freedom from our past, of being part of a wider family, of the start of the Christian journey… but all those things are best understood as they are experienced, as they are lived out…

In the same way this weekend, at the Pilton and Somersault festivals are happening… what are they like? You really have to go there and experience it…

The Kingdom of heaven? You have to try it and find out for yourselves.

And then I got to thinking about the passage from the beginning of the book of Judges (which is where I’ve got to in the E100 series, give or take a few passages that I missed on holiday), and the whole experience of the people of Israel who’ve forgotten what happened to their parents, and what their parents had experienced of God… and it made me reflect on the importance of continually being present in the lives of people in all sorts of places, on how the church needs to just be in the same places as people, to be in relationship with as many communities as possible, even if those communities only last for 4 days like the festival… and all the complex links between simply being present, speaking and listening, demonstrating love through action and also creating spaces and ways for people to meet with God… lots to mull over that I want to come back to…


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