A challenge to the complacencies that can beset the church, and an invitation to embrace the unsettling truths and new things that can rip us from our comfort zone.
CREATING A DISTURBANCE IN CHURCH.
(Mark 1. 21- 28)
Never doubt that I love my wife.
I once walked 14 miles
14 miles (!!)
From Doncaster to Barnsley
In the middle of the night!!
In the middle of the night!!
Just to be with her!
That was the good news.
The bad news was that
Later that same evening –
so exhausted was I by the effort of the walking
and the lack of sleep
That during the evening service
in Monk Bretton Methodist Church,
as the congregation stood to hear the minister
receive the offering and
give thanks “for health and strength”
I fainted…clean out…keeled over,
and crashed to the floor
taking about twelve plastic-backed chairs with me
on my way down.
Quite a disturbance – quite a commotion…
They remember me at that church I can tell you – and not in a good way!
People sometimes faint in church…
And the common factor in it is that they are usually more upset that they have caused a disturbance
than that they took ill.
Certainly, we don’t usually come to church to be “disturbed.”
We like things to be decent and in order.
And we, generally speaking,
are not helped by chaos, confusion
and outbursts of spontaneity
coming from left field.
We like to follow a theme,
see a shape.
Indeed, some denominations take comfort
in the familiarity
Of a written liturgy:
A form of words and worship that barely varies
from one week to the next,
and hardly at all from one year to the next.
They appreciate the security of that sameness…
that consistent form of worship.
No element of the unexpected.
Worship is an experience of serenity and stillness:
A place of refuge and solace
from the bitter blasts of circumstance,
and the clamour of a world gone crazy.
Here, we know where we stand –
And when we stand!
We know what’s coming next.
A place for everything:
a comfortable structure,
and secure landmarks to take us gently,
and without fuss, or uncertainty,
So the idea that someone might shout out
still less rampage, rage and rave
during the course of our worship experience,
is very unsettling for us
As we might well imagine it was for those
in the synagogue where Jesus teaches
and where out of the blue,
out of nothing,
there erupts an intrusive
ugly and scary outburst
from some clearly disturbed personality,
whose response to the teaching of Jesus
is violent and shocking.
Right from the start,
so it seems,
what Jesus has to say,
is divisive, disruptive, dangerous…
He teaches in such a way that it evokes a response
for or against…
Not a cosy nod and stroke of the chin;
And then go home and get on with your life,
as if nothing had happened!
As if the truth had never confronted you
in all its candour,
The teaching of Jesus
could never be that kind of bland, generalising,
tinkering with our thought processes!
It was a dare:
that left people unsettled -
and ill at ease
with where they had been before,
who they had been before.
It was take it or leave it:
But never ignore it…
You couldn’t ignore it!
When the word was proclaimed by Jesus,
there was nothing monochrome, or clichéd,
or pontificating about it…
It was raw and naked truth
that stabbed you to the core:
And if you didn’t like it…
You said so!
You got up and walked away.
You complained loudly.
You planned and you plotted
to rid the world of this turbulent tradesman from Nazareth:
You certainly did not just pop home for a cup of tea
and treat his truth as irrelevant.
It was about life
It was about you.
And you knew it.
Apart from a few muttered words of agreement or disagreement
from time to time,
I have only once experienced someone really losing the place at a church service:
When I was an assistant at St. Cuthbert’s Church, in Edinburgh.
My boss had been cranking up the “High Church” stuff…
Candles, incense – chants and the whole shebang.
On the Sunday in question,
he gave to me the happy task of intimating
that, rather than the more familiar and much loved tune Crimond the congregation would use the Gelineau Version of Psalm 23,
with antiphons and responses -and a very “High Church” –
yet, nonetheless, very lovely setting…
This was all too much for one latter day Jenny Geddes,
who rose to her feet, just as I announced this
“break from the norm”
to declare with passion and power:
“ This is all too much – all too much.”
Cue the organist,
who struck up the loudest introductory chord
of his illustrious career –
and the protestor was drowned out.
Exciting or what?
Commotion at St. Cuthbert’s!
Sure, it’s not about shocking or offending people…
There may some fun in that, short term,
for people who want to be shocking for shocking’s sake…
But it is destructive and abusive…and unfair.
The Word of God’s truth is not for shocking us with
just for the sheer devilment of it…
But, it is meant to be disturbing.
It’s not enough for us just to be
informed and intrigued
by the preaching of the word…
( though it should be informative, intriguing and even entertaining
It is meant to make a difference
To make us different.
If we sit under the word of truth year on year
And nothing happens to us,
nothing happens in us
then something seriously has gone wrong with either
the word preached,
or the way we have been listening for it:
If it just skites over the top of our heads
and never connects with us
never leaves us feeling shaken
and sometimes even stirred,
then something is missing…
something has been missed…
Now, sometimes that effect is hard to quantify.
The car salesman has it easy!
He can count the cars he’s sold.
The centre-forward knows how many goals he has scored.
The accountant can demonstrate the worth,
the effectiveness of her achievement
in the businesses that flourish, the tax reclaimed…
It is admittedly, frustratingly,
much harder to quantify how effectively
the word of truth has been communicated:
· The seeds of faith that have been sown
· The trembling faith that has been strengthened
· The questioning minds that have been given real food for thought…
How do you know?
How can you measure?
You don’t - and you can’t!
But there is a huge responsibility put on all of us to
Be prepared to be disturbed
out of our easy places
out of our hidebound thinking,
that we hardly know is there
still less want to see challenged…
There is a popular mythology about
those of us who come to church:
that we just come along with our security blankets,
to nestle into the cosiness of easy fables and soppy idealism.
And then, having had our pat on the head
from our nice old Dad in the sky,
to get on with our lives,
largely as before.
To sit under the word of truth
is a frightening and brave discipline,
for the last thing the word of God’s truth does
is leave us alone…
leave us where we are in our complacencies
about values and standards and obligation.
The teaching of Christian truth
calls us into service
invites us to cast off our old commitments
to the world’s priorities:
And to seek first the Kingdom of God.
It places before us standards of conduct
that are as tough as they come;
that demand of us
a willingness to wrench ourselves away from a selfish
into the way of the servant
into the sleeves-rolled up, feet-washing way of Christ.
So, we don’t need to worry about
disturbed people disrupting the serenity of our worship experience.
We need to worry about the word of God’s truth
disrupting our comfort-zone commitment
dragging us screaming and kicking
into the light of truth…
with its call to walk with Christ,
its unrelenting command:
“ Follow me! “ AMEN