Did You Hear the One About…? 40 Days with Cartoon Church
Day 28 – Saturday after 4th Sunday of Lent
From the Scriptures:
…as long as there is jealousy and quarrelling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations? 4 For when one says, ‘I belong to Paul’, and another, ‘I belong to Apollos’, are you not merely human? 5 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 8 The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labour of each. 9 For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building. (1 Corinthians 3.3-9)
When I watch the TV series ‘Rev’ – a kind of mash-up of ‘The Vicar of Dibley’ and ‘Eastenders’ – I have two responses. My initial one is to howl with laughter as I meet familiar church caricatures, the scheming archdeacon, the self-righteous Reader, the cassock-chasing churchwarden, the saintly vicars wife and the harassed ‘Rev’ who seems to spend his time moving one step forward and two sideways (see above). Then, once my laughter turns to tears my tears turn to sorrow as I realise how ‘close to the bone’ the programme is and remember how colleagues and I have met the situations I have just laughed about in real life.
Sadly the church, together with every other group of like-minded people (the Women’s Institute, the Bowls Club, the Darts team down the pub), is beset by politics of the worst kind. Worst, because unlike politics in government there are no beneficiaries at all and even those who think they have ‘won’ in fact lose.
The apostle Paul, mirrored wonderfully by Dave Walker, reminds us that when we look at our own position on the chessboard we end up playing for personal power instead of protecting the King whose name sadly, we too easily forget.
Over the last few years two close colleagues and myself have been exploring why it is that so many good, godly people fall foul to petty games of pointless power. After all why would sensible, caring, educated Christians want to spend their energies wielding control over groups of people who hope to do nothing other than give their lives away in the service of God and God’s people?
We came to the conclusion that if we could name an ‘original’ sin – the one act of selfishness towards which we all tend to gravitate – it would be our need for control and our desire to grab hold of power. Did we not see how vulnerable the One Who Loves us Best becomes in the stable of Bethlehem? Did we not notice that the only things in the hands of our Beloved on the cross are nails? How did we ever come to think that ‘playing’ politics and making a bid for power was God’s intention for the Body of Christ?
Whenever we grab power for ourselves – I belong to Paul, I belong to Appollos, or even I belong to Canterbury, I belong to Westminster Central Hall, I belong to Rome, – we disown Christ and so lose the whole game by serving ourselves instead of protecting our King. It is a perverse belief to profess faith in the redemption won for us by Our Beloved and then proceed to actively work against God’s reign over our lives.
One of the first hymns written by the earliest ‘Followers of the Way of the Lord’ will be read in Churches across the world at the beginning of Holy Week this coming Palm Sunday:
though he was in the form of God,
[he] did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death –
even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2.6-11)
In the end all our petty games of power will be emptied out in the great self-emptying of our Beloved. There will come a time when all of us will bend our knee and sing God’s praise. The question I ask myself every time I catch myself slipping into playing power games is, ‘Why don’t I start kneeling and worshipping more know?’ For, as I learn to proclaim God’s praise more fully, I will finally be completing my task of ‘protecting’ the King.
in your loving goodness,
grant peace to our troubled world
by freeing us from all forms of slavery.
Let oppression, hatred and violence stop,
so that this world may be a place
where people can live
in harmony amid diversity. (Asian Institute of Liturgy and Music)
- Next time someone makes a ‘gambit’ in a game of church chess refuse to get involved. Do not bite back at a ‘party political’ jibe and resist the temptation to indulge in ‘ecclesiastical point scoring’. No one wins and the world shakes it head even more at the Church.
- Make it your aim in whatever you do in church to ‘protect the king’ even if that means you may have give up on a favourite prejudice and ‘sacrifice a pawn’
All Cartoons are copyright © Dave Walker. Please visit http://www.cartoonchurch.com if you would like to laugh even more J
Prayers are from the collection ‘Praying with the World Church’ compiled by USPG.
Please support their work by visiting http://www.uspg.org.uk
Scripture quotations are copyright © New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
These Reflections, ‘Did You Hear the One About…’ are copyright © Andrew Dotchin 2017