In who do you place your trust?
Preacher: The Revd Rob Ryan, Cathedral Curate (2010-2012)
20 November 2011 (Christ the King)
Chuck was a pretty normal kind of lad. He was shy, he wasn’t athletic or outgoing and so not particularly popular in his neighbourhood with the other guys. Chuck was the kind of guy that pretty much tried to keep his head down, going through life, hoping not to be noticed with the aim of getting through school pretty unscathed.
Most of the time Chuck was pretty good at not being noticed. He became quite a master of not drawing attention to himself. People never noticed Chuck, unless he happened to be in the way of others or just passing and those he was passing wanted him to do stuff for them.
It wasn’t that Chuck was bullied or unliked - it was simply that he was not noticed, he was not figuring on anyones radar … until one particular day …
It was like any other day in his unspectacular life as he walked home from school. The sun was shining and Chuck was ambling in the way only Chuck could on his way to his home.
In the distance he saw a baseball game going on. It happened most days and most days he had that thought … ‘if only they would ask me to play. I’d love to play … but they won’t!’
Until this day. This day was different. As he was passing the game he heard ‘Oi …. kid” He looked around him thinking there must be someone else they were talking to. ‘Oi … you … kid …’ said the boy that by his sheer size and snarl gave away the fact that he was the undisputed pack leader of this group ... ‘we need another player to level up the teams. You’re on our side!’
Chuck was not sure but as he went through his normal dithering decision process by the time he had decided in his mind to shuffle on, he was already surrounded by the rest of the kids from the block and so there was no real option to say no. He joined in. If the truth be told, he had been waiting for this moment, and he was secretly pleased … although pretty scared.
His team were fielding and he did well. He achieved the un-noticed - doing nothing spectacularly good, but making no glaring mistakes. Then came his teams turn to bat. He became increasingly nervous as his turn got closer. He was desperate to do well as he feared the consequences of doing badly.
Strike 1. Strike 2. …… He relaxed, remembered what his dad had said about concentrating the mind, relaxing the shoulders, loosening the grip …. the third ball he hit sweetly. The boys took off their caps as they watched the ball soar onto the roof of a nearby building.
‘Wow!’ said the boys
“Well done!!! You’d better go and get that back for us now!’ snarled the pack leader lad.
‘You can’t be serious’ said Chuck … that’s like 50 feet high!’
‘You put it there …. you better get it back …. or else!’
By now the snarly pack leader lad had grabbed the baseball bat and stood with a threatening stare, ready to strike Chuck.
‘Well … i can’t ….’ said Chuck as he moved towards the building in the horrific realisation that his choice was between a beating with the bat or the risk of falling from the building.
He stood in front of the building and looked up. He was terrified, but in his mind he formed a route up the building. It was if hand and footholds shouted out to him. He stretched his arms and pulled himself up onto one ledge, shimmied along, found a foothold, carefully placed his foot in it and pushed as he continued his ascent.
In a relatively short space of time Chuck found himself on the roof holding the ball to the cheers and admiration of the boys below. Little did he realise at the time, but that day and that scary experience changed Chuck’s life for ever.
It became clear to Chuck and to others that he was pretty good at climbing up buildings without ropes and stuff. Chuck realised he quite enjoyed the adrenaline rush, the experience and the challenge. it is called Free Climbing. He became so good at Free Climbing that it became his job - that is what he made a living out of … well the interviews and sponsorship rights from people in response to his climbing.
He was asked around the country to come and climb buildings. He would arrive at the a building, carefully examine what was before him and put together a plan. Then he would climb with crowds of people watching him. But as time went on he got to understand how buildings were built and he rested on his knowledge more and more with great success that he got a reputation and the media started to take an interest.
Then came the ultimate challenge - Chrysler invited Chuck to climb their building in Manhattan as a publicity stunt. All 1200 feet of it! This would be his biggest climb yet. The second tallest building in the whole of New York. He took up the challenge.
On the day thousands had turned out to see Chuck. This time TV and radio crews were there and they had persuaded him to be mic’d up so he could talk the viewers through his climb. 10am was the scheduled climb time and as he appeared the crowd cheered with admiration and excitement.
He waved, mic’d up, gave a short interview to the cameras and started his climb. Slowly, saving his energy while talking the viewers through his climb. He steadily progressed up the building. Climbing 10 feet, 30 feet, 50 feet … 100 feet. Using ledges to rest and shimmying along them to get a better view to help him continue.
The crowd strained their necks to view as Chuck became smaller and smaller, looking more and more insignificant as he climbed higher and higher up this majestic giant of a building.
As the sun fell in the sky Chuck neared the summit of his mountainous challenge. As he continued his climb the viewers could hear the exhaustion in his voice: “i can see the next level above me, just need to … reach and pull myself up …. ahhh done it! nearly there now …. not much further to go. I will soon be there. Only a few more feet!’
As he neared the top, Chuck realised he had not done as much of his homework as he should of. Above him, between him and the summit was a ledge that con-caved out above his head. he had forgotten totally about this obstacle. With the light rapidly fading Chuck was struggling to see where to place his hands or feet.
The viewers sense his fatigue and nervousness as he says …
’(sigh) I can see the ledge above me. It protrudes quite a way and will take some effort to pull myself up and over it ... (sigh) …. I .. think … yes …. I can see a crack in the ledge …. if I just get my hand in there and pul myself over ….. (sigh) …. here goes
there is silence ...
and the crowd and TV audience stare in horror as Chuck falls past all 77 floors of this amazing building to the ground. Some described the experience as nauseatingly surreal as they helplessly witnessed something so horrific in such beautiful surroundings.
The medics rushed to Chucks body and after conforming death they noticed his right hand was clenched tight. When they opened it, they found something pressed in his palm … it seems Chuck put his trust not in a crack in the building …. but in the spiders web that was still glistening across the palm of his hand.
Todays scripture readings have an underlying theme or, I guess, question to us that may not be immediately obvious. The question they ask is … ‘in who, or in what, do we put your trust?’
The talk of judgement, whether you are with the sheep or the goats and whether we are fat or lean sheep or God’s sheep or someone else’s sheep …. that discussion could keep us going for hours. We could expound and re-expound and some here would take a literal view of this being your either in or out depending on whether you have said a standard prayer of commitment and invited Jesus into your life or not; while others like Rob Bell in his controversial book, Love Wins, would argue that the gospel is much bigger than simply going to heaven or hell and that Jesus appears and calls people in all cultures in ways that we do not fully understand.
But the underlying theme is that question …. who do you place your trust in?
In the baptism in a moment, Heath’s parents are very openly making a statement as to where their trust lies. Through baptism Heath enters the family of God and becomes one of God’s sheep that God speaks of in the Ezekial reading.
By making that decision they, on behalf of Heath, and themselves, take on and develop a new life … a life with Christ.
Some talk of Christians and placing trust, which we in the church call faith, in Christ as a bit of a crutch for people that cannot make it on their own. Other’s like to say that faith is an excuse for people who are weak. But … come on … the events swirling around us in the financial turmoil alone tell us that none of us can really make it on our own …. and if you are going to place faith somewhere, it really is quite wise to place it in the creator of the universe!
But … that faith or trust is not simply a crutch because it does come with some responsibility. Placing our trust in Christ means we are free with him but that freedom brings with a massive responsibility. The responsibility to serve the Christ we put our trust in wherever we see him.
In today’s gospel reading, Jesus makes it painfully clear how we can and must serve him … by feeding the hungry, giving a drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, and visiting those in prison.
Did Jesus really mean all of that ?
You know … personally I think he did!
He really wants us to do that as a sign of our trust in him.
That makes me feel uncomfortable!
Some of those seem ok … I can help to feed the hungry, I can visit people … but some, ….
… like welcoming in the stranger, in this day and age, could be more of a challenge - but maybe that in itself is an indicator of the level of trust that I really do place in Jesus Christ.
And therein lies the Christian challenge of the gospel to each of us today ...
We need to ask ourselves
…. in who do I put my trust …. ?