17th October 2021
Where’s your head at?
Over the last 18 months, my student and teenage children have been determined to broaden my horizons.
A sermon preached by The Revd Dr Stella Wood, Chaplain of Bishop Wordsworth School Monday 18 October 2021, 17.30, The Feast of St Luke
Over the last 18 months, my student and teenage children have been determined to broaden my horizons. In particular my viewing tastes. During the long dark evenings of lockdowns, I rashly suggested we should all set aside an evening a week to watch something together and that one person would choose each week.
At first, that was, I’ll admit painful. ‘I don’t want to watch that’; ‘I don’t like that sort of thing’ were frequent objections, not least, I’m embarrassed to admit, from me. But over the weeks we settled into a rhythm. I discovered the exquisite music and artistry of Studio Gibhli films. Some of the plots were weird and some went on a bit, but they were also very beautiful.
We found the stand-out family favourite in the iPlayer box-set of Ghosts. Put together by the cast of the Horrible Histories series, Ghosts is gloriously silly and, to my amazement, became something I really looked forward to. But it was the credits at the end of one of the episodes that most caught my eye. One of the ghosts, Humphrey, has a separated head and body. To my amusement, when the credits roll, it reveals that Humphrey’s head is actually played by a different actor than his body. I missed the plot of the next episode as I pondered the philosophical implications of a head that had a different identity to a body. Who’s the real Humphrey?
I began to think of Humphrey’s dislocated identity every time I taught a Teams lesson at school or was on a Zoom call, as all I could see was a head and neck. And, of course, my normally very 3 dimensional students were now 2 dimensional, flat on a screen. That felt a deeply unsatisfactory way of teaching. Teaching heads only doesn’t do it. Heads on a flat screen doesn’t do it. 2 dimensional heads, scattered through the towns and villages of Dorset and Wiltshire certainly didn’t do it.
It’s these themes of disconnection and 2 dimensional world-views I want to probe tonight. It is fashionable to blame a lot on the lockdowns of 2020 and 2021, to blame them for making us more disconnected, more 2 dimensional whether on an individual level or as a society. There’s probably some truth in that, but I don’t buy that those problems were entirely caused by lockdown. I think the tendencies to think in 2 dimensional terms were there in the years leading up to Covid. We’d even begun to demarcate our coffees in terms of flat whites! And we were disconnected whether as a result of the fissures of Brexit or the pressures of careers and busy lives. Lockdowns may have laid the problem bare but it was there already.
It is a sobering time at the moment. The narratives that hit the news headlines certainly seem to scream disconnect and 2 dimensional world-views. Radical views which make the world so binary, so rigidly two dimensional that you believe someone who doesn’t share your views may not even have the right to live. We saw it shockingly with the death of Sir David Amess last Friday. There are fears that some world leaders will not show up to Cop 26 in Glasgow and statistics which suggest emissions are going up not down reinforcing the sense that we’re dislocated from the ground we walk on and the air we breathe, let alone disconnected from the poorest in our world who will feel the brunt of climate change soonest. Too many countries and industries are seeing in one dimension, their own, let alone two or three.
And here we are celebrating the feast of St. Luke. Author of Luke’s Gospel and the book of Acts, thought by tradition to have been a physician, a doctor. A Gentile looking at Jesus from a significantly different angle from Mark and Matthew and John.
If, like me, you’re worried about the way the world is just now, might I suggest you pick up the Gospel of Luke? Don’t just read snippets and sound-bites from it, don’t let it be disconnected as well, but read it from cover to cover. It would take you less time than watching a Studio Gibhli film. Wherever you choose to read it, don’t let the Gospel lie flat. Don’t let it be 2 dimensional.
I love the image of picking up the Bible and tipping it, so that all the characters run off the page and become 3 dimensional. So many of the stories in the Bible were told before they were written and in that form they would have come to life. Different voices, and all the body language of an animated story-teller would have put them across in a way the written word can’t do without our imagination and engagement.
To celebrate St. Luke then, take a read and let his characters hop off the page. As you read the whole thing in one go, you’ll realise the diversity and inclusion that the Jesus of Luke’s Gospel rejoices in. He’s not 2 dimensional. He doesn’t have a binary world-view. And there’s no disconnect. He cares for people as minds and bodies, souls and hearts, recognising that it’s only when you do that that you can bring real health to individuals and real health to societies. You’ll find a Jesus who rejoices in people of whatever age. Only in Luke do we meet Elizabeth and Zechariah, the parents of John the Baptist, Simeon and Anna, all elderly and perhaps overlooked by the world.
At the other end of the spectrum, only in Luke do we find Jesus bringing a young man back to life as well as Jairus’ daughter. Particularly in Luke we find Jesus blind to political and racial differences. It is the Samaritan that helps the Jewish man in the parable; Luke’s Jesus singles out Zacchaeus the tax collector and tells the parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector, to shake up the binary stereotyping of good people and bad people. All are rejoiced in.
All are rejoiced in regardless of gender. It’s in Luke that we meet the women who follow Jesus from Galilee, Susannah and Joanna who we never hear of otherwise, that he spends time with Martha and Mary and recognises the offering of a very poor woman in the Temple as being of more worth than the easily affordable gift of someone wealthier. He’s blind to the dimensions we frame the world in; blind to the arbitrary hierarchies that are ours and not his.
He’s blind to rules and regulations when there is a possibility of bringing wholeness and healing and a rescue from pain, so he heals time and again on the Sabbath because that is when he meets people who need him. He won’t wait until the boxes are ticked. The ones who’ve got it wrong like the Prodigal Son who blows Dad’s savings on the rave of a lifetime, or, even the criminal he’s crucified with, are welcomed back. The centurion’s faith is recognised and his servant is healed, regardless of him having very different religious views than Jesus. The ones we don’t even see are welcomed to a banquet.
Let all these characters come to life and run off the page and you’ve got a remarkable vision of health and fullness; a rainbow of diversity and at the heart of it all, a Jesus whose head, heart, and soul are full of generosity and belief in the people around him. No small print, no expectations. He doesn’t demand they’re on a 36 month contract because he’s helped them. They can come and go. Many of the ones he heals do just go, like 9 out of the 10 lepers he heals. But no matter, the healing is there and that’s OK. People can come on their own terms, as close as they like, or watching from afar.
It’s a 2000 year old vision and if I had money for the number of times I’ve been told it’s out of date by people who’ve never read it, I’d be a rich woman. But when we still have to struggle to get the most basic messages of inclusion across, in terms of disability and race and extremism and gender, it’s an arrogant world that won’t even read it.
It’s a timid Church that won’t bring to life Luke’s story to life with every bone and sinew and be proud that there’s a different way we can live.