Member of Sunderland Circuit of the Methodist Church.
As you may know I love the art form of magic, and one of my favourite magicians is Derren Brown. Derren is not like normal magicians, he takes the genre beyond the card tricks and traditional concept of magic belonging to children’s entertainers and enters a new realm of psychology and manipulation, he challenges our perception and arrogance that we are too wise, too learned, too rational to be influenced by external forces and forces us to turn the lens in on ourselves to question our own motivations, attitudes and limitations.
Derren allows us as adults to enter once more into a world of mystery, a world of awe and wonder and his magic, reminds us of just how small we actually are in this big ancient world. He subverts our expectations and does it in a manner that often shocks us as well as simply surprising us. With the magic of Derren Brown there is less, “How did he do that ?” and more “Could that have been me ?”
There is more to the work of Derren than simply entertainment though, there is within his art a question that hangs, that is woven throughout the conversations, preparation and presentation, a question that acts like a golden thread in a tapestry, it is unspoken, and invisible to the naked eye and yet is essential to the reaction that each of us have to the spectacular, it runs even deeper than the could that happen to me question and even more important to our life, actions and attitudes and that is not “Could that happen to me ?” but “Where is that happening to me ?”
There are so many aspects of our lives where we are being so subtly influences that we don’t even realise it. So many forces within our day to day existence that exert a control on who we are and what we think. From our TV screens, to our newspapers and social media. From the friends that we associate ourselves with to the family to which we belong. From our denominational doctrines and teaching to the ministers who stand in the pulpits and preach amazingly powerful sermons.
Influence through words, images and even sounds, all play a role in Derren’s subtle manipulation and mirror the influence that the world has upon us.
Today’s reading is one that is split over two chapters and which following on from Paul’s account of his suffering for his faith in Christ moves on to bigger issues that are affecting the church in Colosae. It is important to remember that although we read this letter for spiritual wisdom two thousand years after it’s formation, Paul’s intention for writing it was not to assist us in the Methodist Church i the twenty first century, but to offer immediate advice to a live and current issue that faced a particular church that was close to his heart at a particular moment in history.
We can gain a lot of insight into the state of the Church in Colosae as we read the text but for us to learn from it we need to adapt the passage to our own particular context which requires a certain degree of interpretation.
Paul is away that he is writing to a church that is in the early stages of its formation, a church that is a mix of traditions and practices. He understands that some of the practices, mindsets and attitudes that are brought to this new group are beneficial and some are harmful to the growth and development of the movement and the individuals contained within it and so this letter is written with an eye on how to best ensure that the readers will be aware of the different forces pulling in opposite directions.
We see then an encouragement to go deeper in their understanding of the message that they first heard. To move beyond the message of being called into community an on into an outward looking, accepting, tolerant, ever-seeking community grounded and rooted in love.
We can understand from reading between the lines that the church in Colosae is facing some division as people vie for power and position. A formation of a hierarchy of Christian based around tradition, ritual and secret knowledge. Paul is eager to put as stop to this, to focus less on the soap-box philosophy of the market place and onto what they have experienced in Christ, namely, hope, love, forgiveness and a sense of belonging.
It is human nature to belong, to form into groups of likeminded individuals and to meet with those who we agree with and who agree with us, but within this desire there are also many dangers. Dangers such as the desire to conform to such an extent that we compromise what we know to be good and right in order to fit in, alternatively there is a danger that we become exclusive, after all if a group is open to everyone then it is no longer special and if all are welcome then control is lost.
The church in Colosae was facing these realities and the response of some had been to fall back into old practices of insisting on circumcision or special ritualistic practices, of having initiation rites and insisting that some of the teachings of God were only accessible to certain individuals. Those who were influencing the church were potentially doing so for less than altruistic reasons and driving a wedge between what Paul perceives as the simplicity of the good news of Christ and the new believers.
We are bombarded by so many voices in our current society, so many distractions and noise, so many images and ideas and many of these play to our basest instincts. Subconsciously we long to feel special, to be superior to others, although we would never in our rationale mind admit it, but it is a human nature to apportion blame to find a scapegoat for the wrongs in the world and to elevate ourselves above the everyday ordinary. Historically this has taken the form of God judging the wicked and blessing those whom, he favours, and so we look for someone to hold accountable when things appear to be going wrong, The immigrant, the foreigner, the politicians, whoever is not within our own grouping we look outside of our walls, because we are good people and it couldn’t possibly be us. We listen to those voices that meet our agenda of blame and like an echo chamber we hear our own subconscious ideas reflect back to us and we amplify them as a result of our self-justification.
Paul wants to remind us of the reality that we are in Christ, that those teachings that we received from Jesus relating to love, acceptance, tolerance and forgiveness run central our life in Christ and that those voices that point away from these tenets of faith are to be ignored, more than that to be recognised for what they are and challenged.
One of the things that Derren often does is take us through the whole process of his manipulation, he points out the escalating nature of influence and conforming, he illustrates how the cycle could be broken and although he comes at it from a very secular point of view, that is exactly what Paul is saying to the church in Collosae and incidentally even more so to us in the twenty first century as we are bombarded once more with messages of hate, mistrust and isolationism.
Recognise the influences upon us and test them in light of a God of love and grace, a God of inclusion and acceptance and where they are found to be wanting reject them out of hand.
At the centre of our testing should always be the love that Christ shows within the world, a perfect and sacrificial love that cares not for itself but only for others. This is the good news, this is the gospel, that all are welcomed and all are loved, without qualification or initiation. Noting we do earns us God’s love and Grace, we are loved because we are his and as we root ourselves in Christ and grow in understanding of the depth of his love so we will be transformed into people who see Christ in others both within our walls and outside them.
So may we be a people who hear the hidden voices of influence, may we recognise their source and agenda and may we challenge hatred, oppression and prejudice wherever we find them, rooted in Christ and growing in his love and grace.
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