Monday, June 25, 2007

Help us to change

God help us to change.

It is good to be away on leave. Down by the sea, I arrived to find that a storm the night before I arrived had swept away most of the beach. It is a weird feeling to be walking along what is left of a beach, one you have walked hundreds of times before, and to be about 2 metres lower than you should be. Your head is where your feet ought to be. Two metres of sand got swept away in this storm.

So I've been walking on the beach, and going to church. Part of my holiday is to go to church.

Going to church is, in my experience, a risky business. You never quite know what agenda God has for that day, or for you personally. Do you know the feeling? Sunday morning, it’s out of bed and off to church. Normally it's not a big decision to go to church, because I’m the vicar, and things might become a bit grim if I didn’t turn up. In reality it is a delight to worship our great God. Nevertheless, one of the things about going to worship Him, is you never quite know what He'll be up to.

Two things hit me at church this week. One was the readings. There was Jesus’ deliverance of the demoniac who was infested with a legion (thousands) of demons, and another was from the books of Kings about the flight of the prophet Elijah after his show-down with the prophets of Baal.

What took me aback was, at the end of both readings, there is a command is ‘Go back’. I said to the preacher afterwards that it was a bit rough to come on holidays and have not one but two readings tell you to ‘Go back’. I’d only just arrived!?!

Anyway, I could relate to the Prophet Elijah. He flees, exhausted, and spends time eating, drinking and sleeping before God sorts him out on Mount Horeb. Yes, that is something I can relate to at the moment. Elijah didn’t have an eroded beach to walk on out there in the desert, or else I’m sure that would have been in the story too.

The other thing that struck me at church was that the congregation was growing, it was full of life, and it was happy. There was a prayer in the weekly bulletin, which they quaintly called the ‘pew sheet’. (Actually it should have been ‘pew sheets’, because I got three pieces of paper. But that was all. I did feel a bit naked coming in without getting a prayer book and hymn book. The welcomers saw my hand reaching out for a hymn book, and proudly assured me I wouldn’t need one: everything would be on the big screen. And so it was. And it was great.)

Anyway, the pew sheets’ prayer read: Parish Mission and Evangelism Prayer. “God help us to change. To change ourselves and to change our world. To know the need for it. To deal with the pain of it. To feel the joy of it. To undertake the journey without unerstanding the destination. The art of gentle revolution. Amen.”

What a great prayer. Yes, change does bring joy. It does bring pain. It does take courage. You can never anticipate completely in advance where it will take you. It begins with us, and reaches out to others. My only quibble came at the end. I thought: truly blessed are those who can keep on changing God-wards in ‘gentle revolutions.’ My own experience is that there can be so many of those storm-tossed God moments when the whole beach gets swept away.

It was very encouraging to see this small country church coming alive. May all our churches be able to pray such prayers, to the honour and glory of the Name of the Lord.

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