We’ve taken a break from Mark’s gospel for today, and instead we are thinking about vision, the place vision has in our own lives, and the vision for the Church. Vision for the Church is sometimes called “Vision casting”. If I were to put a picture to that, I would visualise a kite, flying where the wind would take it, sometimes flying so high you get vertigo from looking at it, sometimes crashing and bending irreparably, but always attached to the kite flyer by its line. So, to follow the picture through, it can be very exciting, it is always full of possibility, but it’s hard to tell at the outset whether it will fly beyond your wildest dreams, or come crashing down, requiring some serious thought, perhaps repair for relaunch, sometimes beyond repair, never to fly again.
When I first thought of “Vision Sunday”, a verse in Proverbs came to mind, Pr. 29.18, “Where there is no vision, the people perish”. (This reflects the time of my own early Bible teaching – it comes from the King James version!) I looked the word vision up in the dictionary, I’m not totally sure the definitions helped but this is what it said: “Act or faculty of seeing; thing seen in a trance or dream, or in imagination; state or period of such seeing; person or thing whose aspect transcends the natural”. For me, vision can conjure up those often terrifying visions from the Old Testament, about judgement and punishment, or God’s saving grace as we heard in the story about Shadrack, Meshack and Abednigo! Often, whether it was judgement or salvation, the visions could be awesome, terrifying because they were so strong and so otherworldly.
But it also made me think of what vision I had as a child for what I might be when I grew up. My vision then was that I would follow my mother into the nursing profession. I lost sight of that vision, but ironically – or was it God’s hand – I ended up working in the NHS as an administrator, sitting across the table from nurses, who, had I followed my early vision, might well have been me! Having a vision, or an ideal, or a goal, can help us as we go through all kinds of situations in our own lives, as well as in the life of the Church. Garry Thompson, some of you may remember as a reader in this Church, later vicar at Clifton Campville, used to say that a person could achieve more in a day if they had a list of the things that had to be done. You can see how that works, there is a target, and because of that, it is quite possible that we order our time better and use it more efficiently to get things done. (It doesn’t take account of the phone call that throws you completely off course ….)
In an effort to understand the verse from Proverbs better, I looked at its rendering in other translations:
NIV – Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint
NLT – When people do not accept divine guidance, they run wild
CEV – Without guidance from God law and order disappear
NKJV – Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint
HCSB – Without revelation people run wild
ESV – Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint
AMP – Where there is no vision [no redemptive revelation of God], the people perish
“Vision” is translated in a variety of ways: revelation, divine guidance, guidance from God’s law, prophetic vision, redemptive revelation of God.
So, if we have a vision of what we are aiming at in our practical, earthly lives, what of the vision of God in our lives? Do we have one, did we have one once but it’s grown dim, dusty with the things of life that have got in the way? That’s a question I put to you to consider sometime later, but I would really encourage you to do that, for it will help you shape your prayers and your thinking about your life.
But let’s look at the reading from Luke’s gospel for a moment, in the light of vision. Many people Jesus preached to caught a glimpse of the vision he was casting about a better world, one which had higher and more attractive values than the ones they lived or saw lived out around them. So they followed him in their droves, and on this occasion to the edge of the Sea of Galilee where Simon (later called Peter), James and John were washing their nets after a hard, and particularly unsuccessful, night of fishing. Jesus came along, aware of the needs of the crowd and borrowed Simon’s boat, had the crowd assemble on the shore, probably tramping all over the nearly-cleaned nets, and moved off shore a little so the people could hear his teaching. I wonder what Simon thought at this point? He was tired, he was trying to clean his nets and get home for some well-earned rest, when Jesus comes along with a crowd, stops his net cleaning, and borrows his boat! Simon was stopped from doing anything, he could only join the rest of the crowd and listen to Jesus teach. When he finished, Jesus didn’t offer to help finish cleaning the nets and pull up the boats, he told Simon to go back out into the lake and put the nets down again. One of the most likely thoughts in Simon’s mind was, “I’ve already done that, and it didn’t work!!” But there was something about Jesus, the vision or possibility of his suggestion, that stopped even the big, man-of-his-own-mind Simon from saying anything, he simply obeyed. And what a result – the nets were so full that even when his friends came to help, there were so many fish both boats started to sink! At that, Simon Peter was overwhelmed with insight into the power of Jesus, and instead of welcoming it and worshipping Jesus, he said, “Go away from me, Lord; for I am a sinful man.” He realised Jesus’ power but I think didn’t understand it – it was like that too was like a vision. And it made Simon Peter realise the depth of his own unworthiness or even sin. We are familiar with the ending of the story, Jesus reassures them and tells them they will be fishers of men (I wonder if they even understood what that meant?) But Jesus was so compelling that they pulled up their boats, left everything and followed him. Talk about vision casting! Talk about life changing. Do we have that kind of vision of God in our lives?
Ben gave us four principles from this story this morning: follow, fish, feed and focus.
To follow Jesus means to put aside our own desires, however creditable they may be, and to follow his way in our lives. Not to be distracted, not to subtly shift what we want to do into what we think God wants us to do – CS Lewis warns this: “The truth is that God is love may slyly come to mean for us the converse, that love is God.” (I’ll read that again, it merits hearing twice …) But we are reminded in John’s gospel that Peter asks the question, “Lord, to whom shall we go?” and then answered it himself, “You have the words of eternal life.” Jesus is the one to follow – as we state in our parish mission statement “Following Jesus together”.
To fish for men … well, actually to fish for all kinds of people, including women and children, young and old – but the old words have a particular poetry to them. That can sometimes seem hard, and we are of course it is God and the Holy Spirit that changes people’s hearts, but we may have a place in that too, partly by sharing what the Gospel means in our lives, but also by sharing the Gospel, the good news of forgiveness and salvation available for all of us. We’re hoping to run a course sometime on into the new year called “Talking Jesus” to help us talk to people about the Gospel, not beating them over the head with a Bible or overwhelming them with theology, but in a way that helps them to see that it’s worth coming to see what this Jesus message is all about.
To feed the hungry. In the Bible story, it doesn’t tell us what happens to all the fish that Simon and this friends caught. But there was a large gathering of people on the lakeshore, and there were a lot of fish … have you ever been to fish landing sites in India or Asia, they often take place on the beach, a crowd comes, the fish are bought and the crowd disappears, no trace of crowd or fish left. It might not have been a normal place for buying fish, but like us, I’m sure they wouldn’t have passed up the opportunity! Ben shared with us this morning some information about Amington which I think is quite shocking. Within our community are some of the poorest and most struggling families in Tamworth, and conversely some of the wealthiest as well. Not only are there people need food, others are lonely, miss the company of other people. We need to see if there is any way we can help provide for the needs of our neighbours. But in a balanced way – there is no point in doing something just for the sake of it, even if it is the best idea going. We need to weigh our judgements up in the eyes of God, and together decide a plan of action.
And lastly focus. I’ve just hinted at that, we need to focus on God for guidance, for ourselves, for the Church and for the community we serve. To help us with this, you’ll see on your notice sheets and the December prayer diary, a new Church prayer. Let’s have a look at it and say it together.
So out of this, Ben did some vision casting, where, as they say, the rubber hits the road. So four projects for 2019.
- Socials: we now have a new social and fundraising team, led by Janet Hine, who will start to increase the number of events we do, to help us grow together, and for us to invite our friends and family to. This is something that almost everyone in the church has told me we need to do more of.
- Welcome: every church thinks they are good at welcoming visitors and new people, but few actually are. Last year Ben invited a friend, and then a month later his sister to come to a service – almost no-one spoke to them. So we are looking at forming a new team to make sure we give a warm welcome on Sundays.
- Loneliness: there is an epidemic of loneliness in society today. People are more isolated than ever, and there are fewer community groups than ever. In response to this need we hope to launch a ‘Place of Welcome’ in May. This will mostly be a social group, with refreshments, and at the end a simple, dementia-friendly act of worship. Over time we will start offering resources for living a healthy lifestyle. This will be an important part of Mandy’s work among us.
- Kitchenette: in order to offer a weekly group like that, we badly need to improve our facilities here in church. There is a proposal to have a permanent sink, hot water, and proper storage, so things can be tidied away, not just left on the table like we have to do now. We are firming up the costs for this at the moment, but it will be something like £6000. So today we launch an appeal – like we had for the heating system last winter – to raise extra money to help pay for it. It’s a big total, but Ben is confident we can get there, and it’s already happening, there were generous donations received at the morning services. At the same time, we will refurbish the toilet. Please pray about whether or not you can contribute to this fund – and if you can, use the yellow envelopes (filled in if you pay tax), making sure you write ‘kitchenette’ across the top.
- Kerria: finally, Ben is exploring with the Borough Council how we might be able to have a church-run space on the new Kerria Centre being built right now. Discussions are at a very early stage. But, having a space on that estate we think is critical to unlocking fruitful mission and ministry there. The CAP Money courses we ran were good – but will only have a limited impact being run in a school, which have negative connotations for many. We need our own space, that we can turn into a beacon of light and hope and love for people who are so often ignored or marginalised by the authorities.
Please pray about those things. Don’t worry about remembering all those details – Ben is going to write to everyone in the church about it all over the next couple of weeks. For now, please focus on praying the new church family prayer, which you have on your news sheet. And above all, please pray we would keep Jesus at the centre, as our vision, our fixed point as we follow him together.