Billy Connolly is 75 years old. To mark the occasion three artists were invited to make a portrait of Billy, pictures which now hang in a gallery in Glasgow, Billy’s sweet green place. John Byrne, Jack Vettriano and Rachel Maclean are the artists in question and their work has also been made into giant murals on three buildings in Billy’s city.
These three very different portraits are gifts given to Billy in gratitude for all the gifts of humour and insight that Billy has given to the world during his fifty years of public life. Billy is loved by so many people because he talks to them so easily and with such fun and expresses in his stories how our life really is. He has been a verbal camera for us, showing us how we are in all our shades of good and not so good.
Billy does not tell jokes, not many anyway. Life is far too rich in funny stories for him to need to resort to jokes. Billy helps us to laugh at him and to laugh at ourselves and to laugh at life. It is a very important service that he performs. Many comedians make us laugh but their jokes are there as a kind of counterbalance to life’s woes. They give us momentary relief from the serious stuff of everyday life. Billy is not interested in that.
Billy wants his words to stay with us as permanent companions that help us change our way of thinking and which help us form our positive attitudes to life and its difficulties. He can play the jester, but the jester was a very important person in society long ago. They helped rulers to maintain a healthy balance and attitude to the reality of our world. They kept important people from taking themselves too seriously.
Billy’s popularity has grown with the years and has not diminished. This is because his humour is not a product of his time, which suffers a sell by date. Rather Billy has been our companion on our way all through these years. His words and his stories are true human conversations addressed honestly to his audience and as such they can never become stale. In other words Billy does not perform. He engages.
This is the very quality of Jesus. Jesus tells stories and invites his audience to interpret them and draw their own conclusions. His moral teaching, gathered up in the Sermon on the Mount is poetic and inspirational. ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit. You have heard that it was said. But I say this to you.’ Jesus does not force his version of the truth down anybody’s throat. He is like a mirror, reflecting to us the world in its true colours. His words forever challenge us to live a greater life. But he never forces anyone. He does not need to. The truth, by its nature, is compelling on each person whenever they come to see it.
Here is our model for preaching and for all human conversation. Our words can be gifts that we give to one another. What we say to another person, if we present it properly, will be received and heard in the heart. If, however, we throw words carelessly at another, we will only create resentment in them.
One day a man approached Jesus and began by saying, ‘Good master.’ Jesus responded by saying, “Why do you call me ‘good’. Only one is good. God.” In this way Jesus demonstrated the level playing field of all human life. He had no wish to standout as being better than others. He was human.
Human life knows all kinds of conflict in communication. Dictators exist in politics and in domestic life. Party is part of our daily experience. We all wish to raise our voice at some time and to be heard. To be given a platform is to be given a privileged space in which to say what you have to say.
The pulpit is one such place of privilege, although in recent times we have done away with using the pulpit and have come down to a level place in which to address congregations. Pulpits were necessary and helpful for being heard in the days before microphones, but they also became places of abusive power, from which people could be read out.
Jesus shows us in every page of the Gospel how it is possible to speak fully without giving offence, how your words can be gifts that others are hungry to hear. Our daily meditation, our silence in the presence of the Lord is the source from which we may gather the wisdom in which to clothe our daily speech.
As Billy Connolly stood in a Glasgow street, after viewing his portraits in all their mural splendour, a man came up to him and hugged him and thanked him for being Billy, and then lost for words went off. Billy stood there in amazement and looking at the camera said, ‘What can I say?’
Billy Connolly lost for words! What can I say?