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.

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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!

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That was the good news.

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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.

Drama!

Quite a disturbance – quite a commotion…

They remember me at that church I can tell you – and not in a good way!

 

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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.

 

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Certainly, we don’t usually come to church to be “disturbed.”

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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.

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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 surprises.

No element of the unexpected.

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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.

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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,

to God.

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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

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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.

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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,

and challenge…

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The teaching of Jesus

 could never be that kind of bland, generalising,

ultimately insignificant

tinkering with our thought processes!

It was a dare:

an invitation

a rebuke

that left people unsettled -

and ill at ease

with where they had been before,

who they had been before.

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It was take it or leave it:

But never ignore it…

You couldn’t ignore it!

Ignore him…

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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 reacted…

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.

 

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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…

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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!

Whatever next?

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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…

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But, it is meant to be disturbing.

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It’s not enough for us just to be

entertained,

informed and intrigued

 by the preaching of the word…

( though it should be informative, intriguing and even entertaining

in presentation…)

It is meant to make a difference

To make us different.

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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:

Or both.

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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…

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Now, sometimes that effect is hard to quantify.

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The car salesman has it easy!

He can count the cars he’s sold.

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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…

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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?

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You don’t - and you can’t!

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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…

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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.

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Not so.

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.

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The teaching of Christian truth

rocks boats

stabs consciences

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

self-satisfied life-style

into the way of the servant

into the sleeves-rolled up, feet-washing way of Christ.

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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