Go on, risk it!
by Des Parker
What could the following drawings represent?
|A||The most obvious is a 'house'. It could also be a 'boat' or a 'church' or just a 'building'. It will be referred to by all of these names in what follows.|
|B||A smiley face of course.|
|C||A sad face.|
are important in that order.
The smiley face
|The sad face
Breakdown of relationships.
The language that we use can distort its meaning. When we use the word 'relationship' it has many meanings in today's culture. I use the word 'relationship' to mean the mutual support, encouragement, friendship, enriching, ennobling, respect, acceptance, recognition of differences that form part of people's sharing and journeying together and that we can experience with God.
With this in mind, our building can look like this:
|Here are many people who are happy with the 'rules' and 'rituals' but some people who are not. The building provides safety, a place that is familiar, people we know, ways of doing things that we understand. For many of us this is what the church represents. We all need to feel secure, wanted and comfortable. But when this becomes the purpose of our coming to Church we need to refocus our vision.|
The church can easily become a comfortable 'club' rather than one of the places where we learn about and grow a closer relationship with God. Notice the sad face in the diagram above. They too want to feel as though they belong…perhaps it’s the 'rules' and 'rituals' that make them feel uncomfortable.
The Gospel calls us out of our safety net to risk the way of faith. Notice that the explanation of the building at the top of the page shows that a church can too easily become a place where rules, often expressed as 'what do you believe?', and rituals 'this is how we do things here' can become more important than relationships.
Jesus calls us into relationship with God and each other, not rules and rituals. Think about this. Jesus and scripture is not saying that rules and rituals are unimportant, they are very important to the way we humans develop our identity and feelings of self confidence and security. Rules and rituals provide a framework within which we develop as individuals.
And that is just the point…they are a FRAMEWORK. They should never become walls that close us in. Again and again scripture points to the prime importance of relationships. In theatrical terms, rules and rituals are the supporting cast that contribute to the success of the performance…they are not the performance, relationships are the performance. Lets explore this thinking a little further.
First a revised diagram:
Jesus call us into relationship within the church building and outside of the church building. Notice that there are some faces representing people who have not formed a relationship with others. They are isolated from the others and have sad faces.
Also there is a face that is moving out from the confines of the building connecting the community that meets inside the building (church) with the world outside of the church. Notice also that the faces are all different distances from and in different positions around the larger face that could represent Jesus. This does not mean that some are right and others wrong...it simply means that they have different ways of understanding.
Here is a picture of the church as people in relationship with God. In this context the building simply provides one place where some of the people might meet. The church is people wherever they might be, who ever they might be who are in, or seeking to be in, relationship with God. Not relationship to God but with. 'To' suggests a one way street, 'with' suggest some mutuality, sharing, communion. So the church is everywhere. Are its numbers declining? Emphatically NO! The number of people attending the institutional church in western society is declining although some churches are expanding rapidly. To use this as the only measure of church growth/decline is an exclusive, limiting and arrogant way of thinking about 'the church'. Many of the institutional churches in the USA, Africa and Europe and some non-institutionalized churches are experiencing enormous growth. The revitalization of 'faith communities' and study groups that meet in homes continues to grow. The world wide church is far broader and greater that those who gather each week in a building. This is a enormous topic that we do not have the space to discuss here.
Lets explore the idea of relationships further with some examples. During the early part of August, scripture readings recommended for use in Uniting, Anglican and Catholic churches had some general themes, three of which were:
· stepping out from your comfort zone,
· acting differently from what convention might suggest,
· taking hold of faith and allowing that faith to be a catalyst for action.
Three stories to illustrate these points:
The disciples were in their fishing boat on a turbulent lake, in fear of their lives. Jesus is described as coming to them walking on the water. Impulsive as ever, Peter recognizes Jesus and asks to come to him walking on the water. Jesus responds 'come'. Peter sets out, leaves the relative safety of the boat and risks putting his faith into action. He is successful until he take his eyes and mind off Jesus. Then he begins to sink. (Matthew chapter 14, verses 22 to 33)
A Canaanite woman asked Jesus to heal her daughter. Jesus is recorded as saying that he was only sent to the house of Israel so why does she come to him? But she was persistent and received the healing she sought. (Matthew chapter 15, verses 22 to 28)
Joseph, who was sold as a slave by his brothers eventually became a powerful ruler. He sent for his brothers and forgave them. (Genesis chapter 38 verses 1 to 4 and 12 to 28, chapter 45 verses 1 to 15)
What do these stories mean in the context of our discussion?
Peter leaves the safety of his understanding of the natural world, of what is possible and impossible and is prepared to respond to Jesus' invitation. He moved out of the boat (building) because his relationship with Jesus was more powerful than the confines of what the boat represented…relative safety, livelihood, familiar, known, what he understood etc. So Jesus' invitation to us is to step out…faith is a risky business as Peter found out. BUT! There is always a BUT! Jesus was there, an active part of the relationship, Peter and Jesus reached out to each other. I think that too often we rely upon out own resources. There are many people who can be a source of strength for us and Jesus is the ultimate strength.
The Canaanite woman is an interesting story that shows both Jesus and the woman moving out of the confines of the 'building' or social and religious 'rule' that would determine their dealing with each other. Jesus is inclusive in his healing, affirming, encouraging and praising the woman's faith. She is seen as a model of faith in contrast to the house of Israel. On her part, the woman risks ridicule, rejection by stepping out of her 'building', recognizing Jesus, having faith in him and being prepared to act on the faith. How do we live out our faith? Are we bold enough to declare it in a largely hostile environment as the Canaanite woman did? One of the very salutary lessons here is that faith is found in places we might not imagine. Are we able to listen for the voice of God wherever it is heard and wherever its influence is seen and demonstrated? God is alive in the world and in places that we might not imagine.
Joseph stepped out of the 'boat' of conventional behaviour that would have demanded punishment for his brothers. Joseph's action emphasised the importance of restoring relationship. Imagine what courage that would have taken. Imagine the thoughts of his advisors who probably considered him mad not to punish those who had been so cruel to him. But he stood firm, he broke free of the boundaries set by convention. What are our boundaries or 'buildings' that may have begun as a safety zone in which we could feel loved and enriched by the fellowship of relations that have now become a prison that confines us? Do we need to step out of the 'boat' more often and risk the way of Jesus…not with fear but with confidence grounded in faith?
Jesus said that all of the law and the prophets rest on two things…in other words the most important things are:
Easy to say…not so easy to do. It's about relationships and these need to be worked at and on. To discover more about this with other people and growing in a knowledge and understanding of Jesus is exciting, challenging, enriching an adventure of faith, a life journey. Enjoy!
Note: The stories and diagrams referred to are so rich that their meanings have been explored in a limited way. It would take many more pages to delve more deeply. Perhaps you can do your own delving and be surprised, encouraged, challenged and begin a new dimension in your relationship with God, a new path on your journey.
Rev Greg Fry for the idea of diagrams.
Borg. M (2004) The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith, Harper, San Francisco, USA