Researcher Rene Brown writes, “Life-paralysis refers to all the opportunities we miss because we’re too afraid to put anything out in the world that could be imperfect. It’s also all of the dreams that we don’t follow because of our deep fear of failing, making mistakes and disappointing others.”
One of the characteristics of modern humanity is the expectation to be perfect, perfect in how we look, in our work, even in our hobbies and our worship. To exercise we buy the best fit wear, have our fitness tracker attached to our arms and ears and our water bottle, colour coordinated with our outfit, all visible for others to see.
Students at school fail to try because they are afraid their best is not good enough, that they might get it wrong and therefore fail. They fall back to what they know and stay stuck, not achieving their full potential because they are fearful that they are not enough.
Churches remain stuck in the past in a very similar way. The corporate secular world has embraced new ideas of corporate governance, of marketing and promotion, of technology and media, but the church remains attached to a governance system best suited to small collections of people in the sunny English countryside. We are afraid to change because we are afraid that our enough will not be enough, that we simply can’t possibly apply such ideas to the work of the church.
The result? We keep polishing the brass, putting the flowers in the same place and singing the same songs. We continue to focus on detail, on the minutiae, in parish councils, synods and parish meetings. We have forgotten the big picture or are, in fact, scared of the big picture because we do not believe our enough is enough to make the steps into the real world.
The writer to the Colossians reminds us bluntly whom we belong to. In the hymn we read in verses 15-20 make it very clear.
“15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation;16 for in[a] him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He himself is before all things, and in[b] him all things hold together. 18 He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,20 and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.”
It would take many sermons to unpack the power and might of this Christological hymn, suffice to say, this is the Jesus we have given our allegiance to- the image of the invisible God, the first of all creation and the source of all that is and will be created, the power which holds all things, including you and the church together. He creates, animates and redeems all of creation.
He is indeed awe-some, the indescribable abyss which blinds us and our focus on the minutiae and opens us up to the immense possibility of creation at its essential beginning. Jesus the Creator holds within and is held within the source of all being, God. By his very act of obedience and redemption we are gathered within and hold within ourselves the power of all being. We are not powerless. We are not imperfect. We are one with all things and with the initial source of all things.
We have within us the potential to bring the power and presence of God into our world. We are able to rise above the detail which so occupies us and to move mountains, change paradigms, shift cultures without fear of failure.
In the Gospel Jesus reminds Martha of this very truth. Get out of the kitchen Martha, you are enough, you have done enough. What you have done is enough. Fussing about in search of perfection gets in the way of the good things available to you. See Mary, she is sitting here soaking in the goodness that comes a relationship with me. Your relationship is no less real than hers, except you are preoccupied with the little stuff and that prevents you from getting the big stuff.
A training principal of mine once said, “If it’s worth doing it is worth doing badly’, implying tat if you wait until you can do it well you may never in fact do it. In the words of Voltaire, (In his writings, a wise Italian says that the best is the enemy of good.) “Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without.” (Confucius)
The writer of the letter Colossians pens a powerful antidote for our fear about the future of our church and of ourselves. Maturity for the church and us is to hold fast to the truth of who Jesus is who has redeemed, given birth to the church and lives within you and I. Maturity is the ability to translate this hymn, this Christological mission statement, into our lives and our practice.
We are not to become a church of occupation, fighting grimly to hold our ground in a rapidly changing world, but are to be a church of invasion, ever moving out from where we are into the world confident in the Christ who knows us and lives within us, the church. The church has become a place of hibernation, of drawing in, in the hope that somehow we will survive.
The best defence is always attack, not violently but in a gentle moving out into the world in full confidence. St Oswald’s will not survive if we try to hang onto what we had or have. We will only survive if we begin to look out, then move out and engage, finding new ways to make the word (the life of Christ) fully known in the world. This is the living out of the grand portrait Paul pens for us, experience the reality of Christ alive in ways that are different to those we have experienced and want to remain with.
Martha is challenged to get out from behind the familiar and become open to the vulnerability a relationship with Christ brings. We are to step out from behind the safe walls of the church and our Sunday practice and become open to the vulnerability of relationship with the world in the reality of Christ.
What a difference we would experience if we were able to live out of Pauls hymn to Christ! Our enough will be enough in his awesome presence and we will indeed go into the entire world and make disciples of all we meet.