Monday, April 20, 2015

Your Church Is Just Too Ordinary

Does Everything Have To Be Extraordinary?

Excellent husband that I am I am able to understand both what my wife says and what she means. When we go out for dinner, and she begins to eat the food she has ordered, I almost always ask, "How is it?" If she says, "OK," I know it is not OK but disappointing. What she means is that, while it has the virtue of being food, she wishes she had not ordered it and/or that we had not spent the money. "OK" means "disappointing." But if she says, "Good," then I know it's OK. And if she says, "Really good," I know it's good. If she says, "This is great!" then I know it is extraordinarily good, and that she will order it again. In fact, knowing her as I do, I know that it is highly likely she will never again order anything other than that dish at this restaurant.

No matter what I think about my meal, I am always disappointed if her food is not extraordinary. This is another evidence that I am too much of this world, thinking that the ordinary is bad and that only the extraordinary is good. 

Take church. If someone asks me, "What did you do today?" I might answer, "I led Morning Prayer," to which this the person might reply,"Don't you find saying those same prayers over and over dulls your spirit? Don't those prayers become rote? At my church we rarely, if ever, say even the Lord's Prayer, because we don't want it to become ordinary. And, while we want prayers to be only a sentence or two, we want them to be heartfelt like, 'God, we just really thank you that we can be in this great church and be part of this great worship experience that really moves our hearts.'" 

I say, "Well, our prayers are longer and more theological; they include many themes every week, including the confession of our sins; our prayers are connected to the worship of the church through the ages; we have a sense that we are praying with God's people all over the world and across the ages." "Oh," says the person, "that sounds too old, too long, and too stiff for me. I really need something that that's up to date and meets my needs."     

That same person may ask, "Did you preach?" I answer, "Yes, I had the homily today." He says, How did it go?" I answer, "I preached from the Bible, and I think the congregation could understand what I was saying."  

The person, unsatisfied, may then ask, "But was it Spirit empowered?" Or, "Did you have the feeling the people were really being moved?" Or, "Was it transforming for those who heard it? Or, was just one of those ordinary normal ones?"

Or, I might say in answer to the question, "We celebrated the Holy Communion." The person says, "How often do you do that?" I say, "We celebrate Holy Communion first and third Sundays, though many Anglicans celebrate it every Sunday." The person responds, "Well, at our church we do it four times a year. We don't want it to become ordinary. We want it to be special." 

I respond, "We believe it is part of ordinary worship." But the person says, "I want it to be an extraordinary experience when I take Communion, and, besides, if we celebrated it every Sunday, it could cut into the pastor's sermon time in our carefully timed service that gets us out in an hour." 

The person may pursue our practice of frequent Communion, "But do you find it meaningful to celebrate the service that often?" to which I respond, "Well, that's not really the point. Jesus told us to do this and that he would nourish us with his body and blood when we come with a true and lively faith. But the truth is I do find it tremendously meaningful to press the wafer into a parishioner's hand and say, 'The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ which was given for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life. Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed upon in thy heart by faith with thanksgiving,' and to put the cup to the congregant's lips and say, 'The Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was shed for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life. Drink this in remembrance that Christ's Blood was shed for thee, and be thankful.'"

Consider a parishioner who comes in contact with the same person. He asks, "What did you do yesterday?", and the parishioner answers, "I went to church." The person asks, "What did your minister preach?", and the parishioner answers, "His homily was from the Gospel lesson." "Well, how was it?", and the parishioner replies, "It was an ordinary homily, taken from the text. I could understood what Jesus was saying to the to the Samaritan woman." 

"Yes," the questioner persists, "but did it move your heart? Did it transform your life? Was it powerful?" The parishioner answers, "Well, I don't really think about homilies that way. They are the ministry of the Word which goes with the ministry of the Sacraments. Together they feed my soul." The interested questioner says, "Well our pastor is just so powerful; his sermons are just extraordinary. I never go away without my heart stirred and several things I can use in the next week. And I just don't get having the Lord's Supper that often." 

The person pursues his questioning, "Is your church a great church?", and the parishioner says, "Well, I guess I would say it's an ordinary church." "Oh," the person says, "we have a really special church that meets our needs. The youth program, and the music, and our pastor are just great. And our church is doing so much for the good of the community. We want to practice justice and transform our city with Christian values. My church is just so extraordinary." 

The parishioner asks, "Have you always attended this church?", and the questioner replies,"No, we were in another church for several years till we found this one." The parishioner inquires, "What happened? Why did you change?" The person replies, "Well it was a good church for us for those years, but we just got bored. The praise band seemed stuck in the last decade. The minister's sermons didn't have the old zing. All we did for outreach was to visit the nursing home and volunteer at the soup kitchen. Then the kids our kids play soccer with didn't go to our old church anymore, and the kids were getting tired of the youth minister who, after all, was ten years older than when we started there. We felt we needed to move on, that God must have something better for us." 

"Oh," the parishioner says, "I guess my church is an ordinary parish with the ordinary services and ordinary expectations about how God works through the Word and Sacraments."

The ordinary is the new extraordinary.  

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