In his book Faith & Doubt, John Ortberg describes the act of faith as being like the leap of a trapeze artist from one swinging bar to another. It’s an elegant and dynamic image of jumping, which some people call ‘The Leap of Faith’ from living without faith in God (doubting) to trusting ourselves fully into his hands.
Jumping…or letting go of one swinging bar…and for a moment…a split second floating…free fall through the air….just hoping that on the ‘other side’ there is someone to catch you.
In a way it’s a beautiful image, but it also shows just the risks and dangers involved…this is no decision you can change your mind about half way through. Often the decisions of our life require complete commitment to carry them through.
In order to make the journey of faith…one must relinquish control momentarily and let go. And as you let go, you are suddenly alone…flying…or free-falling in the open air…and through those split-seconds of flight…or falling….you must trust. It is all you can do…TRUST…and reach out… and hope and pray that the person on the other side will CATCH you…
John Ortberg is right to say that Our God…the God of the Bible… Jesus is a CATCHER….he stands faithfully on the other side. Better still engages in the swinging motion and risks of the trapeze catcher to make sure the person leaping is caught. John is so right about this…It is true that Our God is a catcher…or better put The Supreme Catcher.
But would you forgive me if I don’t just close the story there….and tell the story like that:
- People doubt and don’t trust God
- People begin to awaken to the love of God and begin to trust
- People because they trust God….take a risk and jump
- God because he loves people….always catches them and everything is all right in the end.
I am sorry but that’s not a story I can tell. It’s not what has happened in my life or in the experience of many people I have known personally or have read or heard about in the media. To me that is not the story I know and I’m not even sure it’s the story of the Bible we read either.
Here’s how I think the story goes:
- People are thrown…hurled if you like… into a world that is both strange and wonderful….
- They grow up the best way they can…enjoying whenever possible the goodness of the world…and family and friends, food and fun, clothing and shelter…but are constantly being tripped up or knocked back…
- Some of us get it a lot easier than others…
- Some of us get it a lot harder than others…
- But all of us live with a mixture of good and bad in our lives… Sometimes jumping and being caught…
- Other times jumping and falling flat on our faces…
- Even worse not having the choice to jump, but being pushed, thrown off a cliff and just ‘praying’ (yes, I use that word deliberately….not for religious people…but for most if not all of us….praying that there will be somebody to catch us before we hit the bottom….
And you know what….?
John Ortberg is so right that God is the ultimate catcher…but you and I also know…
you and I know deep in our hearts….
Maybe we are even afraid to admit it…that so many people don’t get caught…
They get mangled.
They get crushed, as the hope they invested in ‘whatever’ was keeping them going be it family, teachers, friends…justice…fairness…good health….society…God…. fades right before their eyes…
…and they fall
…and they fall
…and they keep on falling until they hit the bottom
Crash…and then silence
…and then tears and wails and fear and pain… or even worse just numbness…an inability to feel anything.
You know the nursery rhyme:
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall,
All the King’s horses and al the King’s men,
couldn’t put Humpty together again.
You Tube Video Link: Humpty Dumpty animated cartoon
Isn’t that the story so many of us know?
Isn’t this how many people experience life?
The story…without a catcher?
Whether we like it or not this is the story many of us are familiar with.
Sometimes no-one seems to be around to catch us.
Before the Catcher…is the fall
And often after the fall…is the crash….
And then a lifetime of struggle to get by the best we can… with a limp …a broken body and soul…until we die.
End of story.
But is that the end of the story….?
Certainly, some would say there is no divine Catcher (no Catcher God)…just us human beings…you and me…and the mysterious forces of fate…or Darwin’s evolutionary theory of survival of the fittest or perhaps we make our own luck.
Yet, in a good story…
there are twists and turns….
crises of pain and agony….yes!
But also moments of relief, kindness and love….
For many people although there may be nobody to stop their descent into chaos….there might be someone at the bottom to help pick up the pieces…
Is that someone The Catcher?
Not the person who stops the fall and the hard landing…but the one who gathers you up after the crash landing…
Is that what God means by catching?
And mostly it is a someone…a real person
…not a government system
…or a religious institution
…or a phantom deity…
…but a real flesh and blood person who sees the other’s pain…
…takes a hold of that fallen person
…and picks them up and starts as best they can to help try put them back together again.
When I was preparing for this talk I remembered a story that I had known since I was a child. It is a heroic story of good against evil and for many people it has become a modern myth.
It is the story from a comic strip which I have enjoyed since being a young lad.
A story about a young boy who early in life has a great fall.
A terrible, terrible, tragic fall….
The kind of fall that could break a person’s whole life…
What is his fall?
He loses his parents…
He loses his parents in a pointless and desperate act of crime….
That is to say the child loses his catchers. The very people God and Nature intended to protect and catch a child when they fall.
This boy loses them.
And suddenly his world is devastated …ruined…
He is left alone. Kneeling on the cold, wet concrete of a dark city street with the two people he most dearly loved lying dead beside him…and gone…
How terrible this wound?
How dreadful this boy’s fall?
The trajectory of his whole life is altered in a moment.
He will never be the same again…
Yet, in all this harshness and cruelty…
In the midst of this young boy’s ultimate loss….
There is still a glimpse of kindness and love.
A glimmer of light in all the darkness.
Some ONE steps into the gap…
Some ONE sees the need…
And picks the boy up and takes on a fatherly role.
An ‘adoptive father’.
A simple and uncomplicated man, who through attention and care, personal service and kindness and shear determination refuses to allow the grieving boy to be overwhelmed by the evil that has struck his family….
Who is this child?
Well, for many people they relate to this story because the boy could be them. It could be their father or mother who was lost to them as a child. Maybe through an accident, maybe through illness, maybe just through becoming overwhelmed with the struggles of life. We could feel orphaned. Perhaps, for some it wasn’t a literal death of their parents through a bullet shot by a criminal, but it could be through a symbolic loss of care to over-work, poverty, addiction or the living nightmare of abuse….
The boy in the comic book story we know by the name Bruce…Bruce Wayne,
…and the adoptive Father…his catcher, if you like, we know as Alfred…. Alfred Pennyworth… the Wayne Family’s Butler.
In the story, the boy eventually becomes a man…
and the man takes up the mantle of a hero.
The hero we know as The Batman… a great modern mythic, crime-fighting hero….
But before the hero is born… is the story of a little boy’s tragedy….
And the hero is born, not a monster or an emotional cripple, because the tragedy is partially, if not fully redeemed by a man…through the love of an adoptive catcher….not a crime fighting superhero….but the quiet, simple heroism of a man who when he sees a little boy’s life crash…. Chooses to stay with him….
…and take him under his care….
A different kind of hero…no doubt, but a hero nonetheless….a Catcher.
The Batman story is a great story isn’t it? But it is just that isn’t it… a story…that is a fictional story? What about real life?
Are there people whose lives are really so damaged as Bruce Wayne’s?
And are there really men and women who will step in the gap like Alfred and catch a person as they fall, plummeting to the ground?
For a moment I would like you just to be quiet and think. I would like you to ask yourself if in your life there have been any people like the character of Alfred the Butler in the video clip, who have helped ‘catch’ you when you have fallen when times have been hard?
Can you think of anyone?
Can you think of more than one person who have gone out of there way to intervene and care?
After you have had time to think in quiet, spend a few moments talking with your neighbour about the ‘catcher’ or ‘catchers’ in your life?
Could most people mention one person?
Would any of you like to say about the people who have been ‘catchers’ in their lives?
Did anyone really struggled to think of one at all?
Could any of you list a few people who had caught them when they had fallen?
Perhaps, not now, but later we could thank God for those people in our lives or if it is still possible thank them ourselves.
A Personal Story
I am very fortunate. When i think of the ‘catchers’ in my life I can think of many or at least more than 2 or 3.
I think about my Grandparents from my Father’s side who took me in to their home for two weeks and gently and calmly loved and cared for me, when I first became a Christian at University in London in 1995. I was 21 and incredibly convicted of my selfishness and guilt. I was also suffering from a nervous breakdown.
I remember one day when I sat in my Nanna and Grandpa’s kitchen dreading the anger and judgement of God, because in my mind I had done such terrible things. My grandpa who had seen active duty in the second World War knelt down in front of me and said: “David, have you killed anybody?”
And I said: “No.”
And my Grandpa said: “Then you haven’t committed the worst sin.”
And in his mind that was the extent of his simple, church going theology…to kill someone was the worst sin…and I hadn’t done that. So, whatever i had done could be forgiven and dealt with. I was terrified of committing sins that were too bad to be forgiven, but my Grandpa knew that whatever my sins they were not impossible to overcome with God’s help and therefore Iw as going to be OK….
And there are many others…. Not least my parents and my brother… so I guess I am a very fortunate man…In fact I don’t guess it. I know it…I am a very blessed and lucky man.
But what about God?
What do these people… these catchers…. tell us about God?
And never mind comics and films… what about the Bible?
What does the Bible tell us?
What does Jesus say about being a catcher?
The passage I am going to turn to is one from the beginning of Luke’s Gospel. It is a passage early on in Jesus’ ministry and work, when Jesus ‘as it was his custom’ stops by on a Sabbath (that is a day of rest, which was and is every saturday for a Jewish person) in a synagogue (a local church to us) and reads a passage from the Prophet Isaiah in the Old Testament.
When need to understand as people looking back 2000 years to the stories of the Bible that if Jesus read or quoted something from the Jewish Scriptures or Bible then it was really important and it meant something significant for him and for the people around him. If the writer of the Gospel of Luke puts it at the beginning of his book about Jesus then it is really important for us to pay attention and listen. Luke is telling us that Jesus must have believed that these words from the Book of Isaiah are REALLY important. We need to pay attention. Here is how Luke tells the story and what Jesus says. Luke writes:
Luke 4: 14-21
14 Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. 15 He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.
16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
When Jesus reads this passage he is telling us exactly what He is about…the kind of work he is doing, the type of society he wants to live in, the kind of values he believes in, and the power he is operating with.
What is more is that it also means that Jesus is telling his audience the Jewish people at the time and all of humanity since, including us… exactly the kind of work, society, values and power that God, Jesus’ Father is also about.
So what does it mean?
Well, marvelously it means that Jesus and God have come to earth to carry out a rescue mission to the ‘fallen’….yes, ‘fallen’ world we live in. Suddenly, a new kind of person…a new dynamic is unleashed on Creation and society and He is different!
This new thing IS different!
It is different and new because it is about rescuing…it is not about trying the best you can in life to manage with the broken life you have been handed, but it is about renewal…a giving back of life and health and freedom and peace to those who have been living all their lives without it.
Suddenly, Jesus says to the small Jewish community in Nazareth gathered together in that dry and dusty synagogue:
“I am THE Messenger of God.
God’s Breath of Life, his Hurricane, mighty Power is resting on me
And this whirlwind-God-power flows on me, like the oil of a priest and of a king running all down my forehead, not water but thick, rich, perfumed oil…
And you know why I the Messenger… have come as a priest and a king… it is to do one thing…
It is to proclaim to YOU poor people…Yes, You guys and gals, old men and women, babies and children…all of you beaten up and oppressed and suffering folk who have fallen in your lives and fallen and fallen with no one to catch you until you crashed and broke against the unforgiving concrete of life… I have come to you to shout out from the rooftops absolutely, brand spanking new…totally wholesome…totally awesome….Good News!
Do you know what this Good News means?
It means this, people…
It means… freedom for the prisoners….that’s liberty I’m talking about an you spell it capitol FREEDOM….freedom for people trapped in the harshness and barrenness of life’s circumstances.
It means…. blind men walking about, playing football and telling you what beautiful rainbow colored day light they see…when they used to live in the 24hours 7 days a week pitch blackness of night.
It means you little guys chained up by injustice and cruelty and brutality and meanness get out of prison ABSOLUTELY FREE. Fresh as daisy with a spring in your step with a chance to start life brand new again.
And why, do I hear you ask, has the messenger come with this Holy and Awesome message?
Here’s why, brothers and sisters, because debt-free day has finally come along…Jubilee the ancients called it…well now you know….the day of God’s Big Smile and big handout has finally come about, his big favour for you…and its starting right now in this little, dusty, dry, insignificant town with you lot….God’s Happy Day is starting with You!”
The people are stunned….
That’s not what our normal preachers say…are you quite sure? Are you quite sure you are not out of your mind? And aren’t you from around here? Aren’t you Mary and Joseph’s son? Haven’t we known you since you were a little rug rat, crawling about in the sand pit?
For some people the message is hard to accept…
They have got accustomed to their chains and their poverty and the hierarchy where even the one legged beggar is better than the blind beggar and everyone has someone they are higher up than. Unfortunately, some people are so familiar with darkness that they struggle to see light even when it burst through the curtains of their mind and shines right into their souls….
But Jesus is undeterred…He has stated his mission and he has begun at home…often the hardest place to preach….and from now on he will take this message across Israel and his disciples will begin to take it not just around Israel and Judea, but beyond Israel’s borders into neighbouring lands and eventually across continents and seas and civilizations and time.
A message of God coming back into life to catch those people broken by falls. Their suffering may still be remembered, but their wounds will be completely healed…and happiness and day light and sunbeams and fresh, sweet water will characterize a person life.
And as the Catcher God moves through Jesus and through Jesus’ followers…people will be healed…one by one… and society will begin to change and the cold, short days of winter will be replaced by the glorious warmth and light of summer.
As C. S. Lewis once said: the life after this life will not be like the autumn and winter after the summer, but it will be like the ending of the school term… and the beginning of the summer holidays!
So, it is with the Kingdom of God – Jesus the Catcher and the Redeemer…it’s like the beginning of a new dawn…the start of a summer holidays that will not run out after six weeks, but will go on and on and get better and better forever.
For many people life is a shattered by terrible falls that smash their lives…Perhaps naturally, they presume that there can’t be a God or they reason that God either doesn’t care or has a bitter and cruel streak. As one person said to me recently: “I don’t know if God exists or not, but if he does he’s a cruel bugger.”
Part of me thinks that is a natural…even if a mistaken…assumption to make, and as Christians…as religious believers…we could argue with them and tell them how wrong they are.
Or we could do something else?
We could open our hands and hearts, our souls and minds to the message Jesus spoke 2000 years ago…that God was starting a new thing…where his people his messengers would bring rainbow colored good news of freedom, healing, wealth and love to people brutalized and hurt by the falls of life.
In this way they could…we could put aside the intellectual arguments of who is right or wrong…and start a revolution of love, goodness and peace.
We could become Catchers….Catchers like Alfred the butler in the comic book…Catchers like Clive and my Grandpa in my life…Catchers like Jesus of Nazareth….People…and I emphasize that word…people who go out into the world to lift people up and out of their suffering and set them free from their financial and spiritual and emotional prisons.
Do you want to be that kind of person?
Do you want to be a catcher?
Would you like to be a Catcher living and working for a Catcher God?
My prayer for you, for all of us, especially for the Bridge, but also for the whole Christian Church in this country… is that we will get a new vision of what it means to be a Christian and what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. It means being a Catcher because our God is a catcher God.
One last story. Heidi and Rolland Baker & Iris Ministries Mozambique
Heidi and Rolland Baker are two American Christians who decided to follow God’s call to live and work as missionaries to the people and country of Mozambique. Mozambique at the time of there decision to move there was according to UN statistics the poorest country in the whole world. They went and lived there with only limited resources and were given an abandoned, but inhabited orphanage to look after. The orphans many of whom had lost their parents (had fallen) during Mozambique’s bloody civil war….were left to scavenge and slept on concrete floors living without food, clothing, education or care in a place without proper sanitation. Rolland and Heidi Baker took the orphanage on and transformed it…They provided fresh water, clothing, soap, medicines and bedding. They renovated the kitchen to prepare fresh bread for children and local people to eat. They taught the kids about Jesus and the children joined in willingly and freely into the worship services they organized. 100s becoming Christians and all the children calling Heidi and Rolland…Mama Aida and Papa Rolland!
(An excerpt from the book – There is Always Enough by Heidi and Rolland Baker)
Heidi and Rolland took in the poorest and most disheveled and broken and wounded people Mozambique had the abandoned orphans and street children who scavenged and sold themselves in order to survive. In the poorest country int the world. Heidi and Rolland went to the poorest people in the poorest country in the world….the abandoned children.
Somewhere in the Bible one man speaks of the kind of religion God really appreciates. The man is James the Brother of Jesus some called him and he speaks a pretty fiery word. He says:
“This is the kind of religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself being polluted by the world.” James 1: 27
The Bible tells us that God is a Catcher….Our God is a Catcher God. In the book of Deuteronomy in the Old Testament it is written:
The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.
Deuteronomy 33:27 (NIV 1984)
These words are so very true.
But I think they should come with a clause. I don’t think that it means that God Himself will catch every person falling and stop them from being hurt. I think what it means is that God in Jesus Christ is sending his people to be rescuers and catchers for those who are broken or breaking. God tells us to go out into the dark, poor and oppressed places of this world to catch the wounded. People will not see that God is a catcher God…until we his people become catchers like Jesus too.