Monday, May 20, 2019

Behaving in Church

One day during the coffee hour after church I mentioned to someone that I enjoyed the fact that there were more children in worship than there used to be.  "I think it's important for them to be there,"  I said, by way of making conversation.

My conversation partner agreed.  "Yes," she said, "it's important for children to learn how to behave in church."

"Behaving in church."  Is that what we are doing?  Maybe it is.  We sit and we stand at the right time.  We are silent when we are supposed to be silent.  We speak when we are supposed to speak.  We sing (or we don't sing if we don't know the song.)  We listen during the sermon, or our minds wander.  We shake the hand of the pastor as we leave, and say, "nice sermon, Pastor."  That is how we behave in church.

Or, if we are children, we sit still and try to fidget as little as possible.  We color in the pew, or we go elsewhere to have an age-appropriate experience.  Sometimes our parents help us follow along, a little.  But what is most important is to behave, not make a ruckus, not run up and down the aisles, not shout or say something inappropriate.  You know, behave in church.

There's 'behaving' and then there's worshipping.  We come to church not simply to behave but to worship.  To worship means to listen and to speak, to sit still and to stand up, to sing and to pray.  To worship is to participate.  I want children, in all of their fidgety, wondering uniqueness, to participate in worship.

When I was a little girl, I sat next to my dad most Sundays.  I looked up the hymns in my hymnal, and I sang along with my dad when he sang the hymns in his baritone voice.  He participated, and I wanted to participate too.  He said the prayers and I said the prayers.  I learned to worship by worshipping with him.  And I loved the liturgy because he loved the liturgy.  I still do.  I love knowing the parts by heart, when to sit and to stand, and to participate.

But that is just a sliver of what worship can be.  In our church now, we do something that we would never have done in my church growing up.  it would not have been considered proper.  Sometimes we invite the children up during the last song, to play musical instruments.  We let them help with the benediction by putting their hands up in blessing.  We let them know that worship is an active verb.

One Sunday, something out of the ordinary happened.  Just before the end of the service, a woman in the congregation asked for prayer.  She said she had gotten a text from her son, and her grandson was in the hospital.

So we did something that might not have been considered proper when I was a little girl.  We invited her to come forward, and we prayed for her grandson.  And I asked if anyone in the congregation would come up and surround her while we prayed, and help us pray for her grandson.

A few adults came to the front of the church.

 All of the children came up to pray.

Because, they had learned how to behave in church.  

Friday, May 3, 2019

Casting our Nets on the Right Side of the Boat

I was innocently reading aloud the Gospel story the other day, when I noticed something I had never noticed before.

I've been a pastor for a long time, and occasionally I suffer from the occupational hazard of thinking that I know the scripture passages from which I preach.  Sometimes I even think I know them by heart.

But there I was on Wednesday, reading John 21, that addendum to the Gospel of John, that beach story of fishing and breakfast and restoration.  I was reading it to a group at an assisted living center, and I noticed something.  The disciples had fished all night and caught nothing.  (haven't we all had experiences like this?)  And then -- Jesus appeared to them on the beach, but they didn't know it was Jesus.

And Jesus told them (we all know it's Jesus, but the disciples don't) to cast their nets on the right side of the boat, and they will catch something.

And of course, they do it.

And they catch so many fish they can barely handle them all.

So far, so good.

But on Wednesday, I noticed for the first time:  the disciples do what Jesus tells them to do, without knowing that it is Jesus.  They obey him, they take his advice, even though they think they are talking to a complete stranger.

Why do they do it?  Why do they cast their nets on the other side?

They are the fishermen, after all.  They know what they are doing (even though their expertise did not yield anything this time).  The person on the beach has wisdom (because he's Jesus) but they don't know that yet.

And yet... they do what he says.

I am reminded of the time I went to preach at the City and County Jail.  My text was from Matthew 4:  the call of the disciples.  I thought it was odd that the disciples dropped everything immediately and followed Jesus.  But the inmates were not so surprised.  It was Jesus calling their names, after all.  If Jesus calls you, you have to do it.  You can trust Jesus, even if you can't trust anyone else.  Of course they followed immediately.

But this time -- the disciples don't know who is telling them to lower their nets on the other side, the right side of the boat.  They do it anyway.

For some reason.

And I can't think of any reason why they do what Jesus suggests, except for this:  they have been fishing all night, and have caught nothing.  What do they have to lose?  They have come to the end of their own expertise and are willing to try something, something that might even seem foolish.

When I think of us modern-day disciples, I think that the problem is that we rarely feel that we are in this position.  Instead, we usually believe that we have a lot to lose -- too much to lose to risk casting our nets anywhere than where we have always put them down before.

I know that is often what keeps me stuck:  worrying so much that anything I do, any change I make, will mean loss to me, will mean loss to my congregation.  I don't realize that, in truth, my nets are really empty.

How do we get to the place where we have nothing to lose?  In truth, I do not know, but I know that somewhere, the resurrected Christ stands on the shore, inviting us to put our lives in his hands, inviting us to a strange and unexpected abundance.