Wednesday, 12 January 2011

A matter of perspective

Yesterday afternoon I took my life in my hands and climbed onto the roof of Wesley Hall, one of the churches I look after in Sheffield. No big deal, some of you may think, but for me it was. I have suffered from an irrational fear of heights for many years. I say irrational, because if I'm in an aeroplane 30,000 feet above the ground with nothing to support me but fresh air, I'm fine: but put me on a bridge a few hundred feet up, with nothing to support me but hundreds of tons of concrete, I'm worried. So climbing up a ladder on the side of the church, firmly supported with long bolts, for all of about 20 feet was a real issue for me. But I did it.

I have to say that it was worth it. The view from the top of the church - even on a grotty day like it was here yesterday - was stunning. Some of you may know that Sheffield is like Rome, in that it is built on seven hills (it's about the only way that it is like Rome, as far as I can see), and Crookes is near the top of one of those hills. Being up there gave me a whole new perspective on the community that we as a church seek to serve: you see things from above that you often miss at street level.

The reason for being up there wasn't simply to admire the view. Over the last few years we've been having problems with water leaking into the building, and that trip onto the roof began to put the problem into perspective too. Over the 103 years that the building has stood, there has been weather damage to pointing and to roof coverings up there that have led to water getting in. At least we have some idea of the problem, and can begin to, at least, have some idea of how much it will cost to put right.

A change of perspective can often give you a better idea of what's going on, and that goes for understanding the Bible too. To fully appreciate a verse of scripture, or even a passage of scripture, one has to see it in its full context. I was always taught that 'a text without a context is a pretext', and I have known that to be true. Otherwise you can make the Bible say anything you want. Psalm 14 says 'There is no God' - out of context: what it actually says is "The fool says in his heart 'There is no God.'" Revelation 3:20 states "Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me." How often has that text been used in an evangelistic context? Yet it is recorded as words spoken by Jesus not to those outside the church, but to those within it.

This year, the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Bible, will I hope be a time when many will turn to the Bible again. The hope is that many will read the whole story, over the course of the year, which will, if done seriously, help them to put the bits they know of the story into perspective, and also to put their lives into perspective. Archbishop Rowan Williams, in his New Year message, spoke about the Bible presenting 'a big picture, a story in which [our] lives make sense.'

That's the perspective we need.