Thursday, September 07, 2006

Beginning Again

From Chapter 4 "Beginning again with church" in "Beginning Again" by John Pritchard

Our expectations of the church should be high but realistic. Every church is a gathering of the walking wounded, some doing better than others but all of us damaged in one way or another. This is what makes churches potentially such places of healing. The church is a laboratory of the human, the place where we find out and experiment with the glorious task of becoming fully human and alive - ransomed, healed, restored and forgiven. But there will be disappointments along the way and we must not throw out the baby of faith with the dirty bath water of the church.

It may help to think of a room where young children have been playing all day. When we go in after they have gone to their tea the room looks like a disaster area. Toys and games lie everywhere, scattered around chaotically. What we may be conscious of is simply a mess. There is no life in these discarded objects lying knee-deep across the floor. However, when the children come back after tea and begin playing again, the whole situation changes. Life returns. The chaos becomes meaningful; the mess is actually an area of purpose and pleasure for children and their parents. Similarly, the church, when viewed by an outsider, may appear a mess. This is the way it is sometimes portrayed in the media. All that appears is muddle and confusion - lifeless objects covering the floor. However, when you see in the midst of the mess the presence of Christ, it all begins to make sense. This is the area of divine play, of the rich and colourful life of God, poured out for us in reckless love. In response to that love we play the best we can, and try to keep hitting each other to a minimum! But what was formerly unintelligible, now becomes marvellously alive. Our expectations of the church therefore have to be high, but realistic enough to recognize that it often appears to be a bit of a mixed bag, both to us and to others.

Expectancy, on the other hand, can never be high enough. When we come to church to worship, we are coming to meet with God. Worship is the technicolour film of our faith. It is offering all of ourselves to all God has revealed himself to be, and the outcome should be change. The result of truly encountering the terror and beauty of God is not conformity but transformation. We are broken open to the invasion of the Spirit, to the mystery of each other, and to the wounds of the world. When we come to worship we don't come to twiddle our thumbs. Expectancy is fully justified because it is directed towards God's activity and not ours.
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