I was sitting on a train to Wimbledon last week in a soporific mood when I suddenly jumped into a state of alertness due to an information announcement.
Earlier a typical one ‘ the next station is Wimbledon, where this train will be terminating’ had hardly penetrated my train journey sleepiness, but this one was much more arresting. It began normally enough’ The next station is Wimbledon.’ But then it took a dramatic turn which dragged me into a state of attention.
Where this train will be terminated.
That seemed a bit drastic. It didn’t seem to be ailing in any way. And I asked myself how were they going to be able to do that anyway? Is there a giant crusher, hidden at the back of the station somewhere for killing trains.
But I did get the message. The eccentric fashion it was delivered made it all the more memorable.
Jesus’s had a way of getting his message across by using verbal shock tactics. When we take a closer look at St Mark’s gospel, the one that predominates during this church year, you will notice that odd ways of expressing himself were for him the norm.
He talks a lot about the kingdom of God.
Well, his contemporaries would have known all about the Kingdom of God. It would be the state of affairs when God took over.
No more wars, or sorrows, no more endless wrangles over right and wrong, and no more Romans running the show. A perfected world with God in charge.
So when Jesus declares that the kingdom of God is like the smallest seed you can imagine, or a treasure trove hidden in a patch of scrub, people would rightly have wondered what on earth he meant. They would have been jogged into attention by the oddity of the expression, and asked themselves ‘ maybe God’ plans are different then?’
Jesus’s parables have not been forgotten though. They have a way of sticking in the mind.
Hold that thought.
When Libby Lane was made bishop of Stockport, you will probably have heard the heckle from Rev Paul Williamson, who shouted out.
No- not in the Bible.
The Archbishop of York just carried on in a dignified and authoritative manner. But it would have been wonderful if he had been able to answer the heckle.
Not in the Bible?
Ordination is not in the Bible.
Archbishops are not in the Bible.
There are no cathedrals in the Bible
and your employment protection which means you can spend so much time out of your parish indulging in vexatious litigation and being a public nuisance, without being sacked, is not in the Bible.
There are lots of other things that are not in the Bible. Including clear guidelines for the correct use of mitochondrial DNA!
It just isn’t like that. The Bible is not an ikea flat pack.
When I consider the bible and its great variety of books and characters it sometimes seems to me as if it is like a debating chamber with a bank of bureaucrats on one side and a mob of jesters on the other.
The compulsively tidy minded and those messily anarchic.
There are lots of books in the bible which are full of rules and guidelines, and then there are the prophets who tweak the beards of all in authority.
The stories of creation in Genesis provide a good example.
The newest of the 2 has God filing the world into existence.
I will put the darkness over here and the light over there,
The world here, the planets and stars up here.
Here is my task for day 4.
Now I will put in the trees.
And now the animals.
The much older version goes like this.
God grabbed some dust and made a man out of it. Then thinking the man would get lonely, made some animals for company.
That didn’t work. So he took out the man’s rib and made a woman.
He put them in a lovely garden, but then a snake, with legs, came along and all the trouble started.
The bureaucrat thinks that God worked to a serious 7 day plan, the jester suspects God was just playing or ad-libbing.
This to-ing and froing goes on throughout the whole Bible. And throughout the whole of Christian history.
That’s one reason, I think, that we have theologians and saints. Someone needs to think things through, while others need to test the boundaries, and be, like St Francis, fools for God. Risk takers and experimenters.
Returning to my terminated train story, the main purpose of the church is to get the Gospel out. God’s message for all people. It is easy enough to blame those outside for not paying attention, but it just might be that we, who do come to church, are not as good as we can be at communicating it.
Or, as I prefer to put it, it allowing God’s message to be heard.
I think we need our formal worship. When we break bread together at the Sunday Eucharist, we are doing something fundamental and vital- we will explore something more of that together during Lent , which is now not far off- but what about those outside who are uncertain, or maybe even embarrassed because of what they see as their Messy lives?
To get the message out is the whole point of our Messy Church experiment on Saturday March 21st, and I encourage you to get involved. It is a way of letting people hear the Gospel, by telling the story imaginatively, by doing craft activities, sharing food , and by having a simple, more flexible form of worship.
We will be inviting people in the neighbourhood, not just those with young children, but of any age. I have a very enthusiastic team involved who have already done a lot of work- including persuading me- my inner bureaucrat needed working on! The PCC is totally in support.
Over the next few weeks there will be plenty of publicity about it, and there are signing up sheets around today. We really do need your help. Your inner bureaucrat may be rebelling already, muttering, ‘it’s not proper church.’ ‘ Dumming down,’ Maybe even.
Not in the Bible- to which, as I have just made clear, my riposte would be.’ Oh yes it is.’
Above all we need you to come, and invite those people you know who are reluctant to come to ‘ proper church’, but might feel a bit safer with the Messy version.
If it goes well we will be doing it again, but if we don’t take a risk together, we will never know if it was worth it.