When Church gets Messy

November 17, 2013

Isaiah 65:17-25; Matthew 18:1-5

Life is messy, and church life is no exception. There’s something in us that expects things to go smoothly, and we tend to be surprised when they don’t. But both science and faith teach us that life itself depends on messiness. It depends on chaos, for that is where growth and adaptation emerge. We tend to think that when things get messy for us, God must be absent; yet again and again in Scripture, it is in the messiness that the most important events occur. Even a child knows that in order to be creative you have to make a mess. Think of the delight of squishing paint – or even chocolate pudding – around on shiny paper in kindergarten class. Think of the excitement of digging your hands into the soil and planting seeds that will blossom into new life. Ever been to a dance class? It’s pretty messy until everyone learns the steps – and even then it requires something a little different to turn a routine dance into a show-stopping number!
Church life is messy these days. What worked 50 years ago, or even 20, doesn’t work anymore. People drift from church to church or even from religion to religion, searching for something they can’t find in the structure of organized religion – a freedom and a creativity which may seem absent from established ways of worshipping and seeking God. The edges of church are fuzzy too. We used to know who was a church person and who wasn’t. If you were baptised, confirmed, and attended church nearly every Sunday, you were a church person; if that didn’t apply, you weren’t. But we’ve been wise enough to discard some of those hard and fast dividing lines to dance on the edge of a much fuzzier understanding of what it means to be a church person – and we’ve begun to understand that you can be a church person , and not a Christian, and be a Christian, but not a church person – at least not a church person in the way we used to think about such things. Don’t get me wrong – I think faith community is important to Christian living – but I think it can take different forms from the one many of us are used to.
Church has gotten messy – and that makes some of us really uncomfortable. I get that – I really do! I’m a person who likes order, if not predictability. It’s safe, secure, and gives us at least the illusion of control in an increasingly chaotic world. That’s the adult – perhaps even too adult – part of me. There’s another part of me that loves to get into the mess – that’s still that kindergartener painting with pudding, that preteen mucking about with paint and crayons – even the adult who every now and then has to put on some dance tunes and bop around the house. There’s freedom and creativity in the mess. I think it’s where God plays – and where God invites us to join in.
This is one of the reasons I love being around kids. Kids have the ability to throw inhibitions to the wind and just enjoy the mess. Jumping in puddles, slapping together mud pies, building sand castles, rolling down a grassy hill, running through the rain – children – especially young children – enjoy mess in a way a lot of adults just don’t anymore. But I’m going to invite you today to learn something from the children – just as Jesus did.
Now it’s pretty clear that in the Bible it’s not children’s playfulness that Jesus is pointing to, but their vulnerability and their humble place in society. It is in this that we are to be like children – to open ourselves up, and to be vulnerable to one another – to see the world, not from a position of power and control, but of dependence and relative powerlessness. Despite what we say about children having more control and influence than ever in our society, we can be under no illusion that they have any real power. Perhaps it’s that lack of control that allows children to play. Little ones know the universe doesn’t bend to their will; they simply play in creation as they find it, messiness and all.
I’m going to invite you to join with me in a new venture – a partnership between Church of the Advent and Gordon United called “Messy Church”. Instead of trying to slot 21st century life into the order of the mid-20th century, we are going to play in the messiness of this time in the church’s life. We’re going to have fun on the fuzzy edges of church – hopefully with some of those folk who can’t find a place for themselves in more ordered forms of church. Our hope is that we will be able to do this once a month, in alternating locations.
Our first event is coming up in two weeks, on Saturday, November 30th. “Getting Ready” is for everyone – adults and children of any age. We’re going all out for this first event – there’ll be music and crafts and a bouncy castle and a time to learn about Advent and Christmas from a Christian perspective. It’s come as you are and when you can, from 10:30 to 12:30. We’ll be serving a light lunch, free of charge. I’m hoping that some of you will be able to come and have some fun, some of you will be willing to help out, and some will be able to do both – and that those unable to participate will hold us in prayer. I’m going to have a sign-up sheet in the CE Hall today for those who want to help.
There are two things I want you to know: one is, that this is not necessarily a way of getting more people in the pews on Sunday morning. This is outreach – a way of sharing the story of Jesus with people who may never be comfortable or able to attend on Sunday morning. Some may, and that would be great, but that’s not its primary purpose. The mission of Gordon United is to honour our faith, engage the present, and work for the future – and this event does all three.
Second, it won’t be like any church service you’ve ever been to. This is an active participatory event with different activity centres and a lot of hands-on ways of interacting with the Biblical story and the traditions of the Christian church. Most of us learn better when we get into the mess – so take your cue from the children, let them lead you, and enjoy the messiness. I can just about guarantee you’ll enjoy yourself. You may even find yourself wishing our Sunday service was a little messier too!
On this Children’s Sunday we honour children all over the world, and the energy, playfulness, and vulnerability we see in them. We also honour the same in ourselves. As we sing our Sunday School songs and prepare for a new venture in ministry for all ages, we ask God’s blessing – in the order, and in the messiness. Amen

MESSY CHURCH needs you! Nov 30th
Church of the Advent folk will also be volunteering.

Supervising Craft tables:
We’ll be doing an angel craft, a mini advent wreath, and painting some ornaments – possibly another craft.
Minimum 3 adults or teens needed:
Supervising cookie decoration:
Preferably 2 adults:
Games tables:
1 adult or teen:
Bouncy Castle:
1 or 2 adults alternating
2 to 3 adults:
Kitchen helpers: basic prep for coffee, tea and juice at beginning; setting out light lunch at noon
3 adults, incl 1 with FoodSafe:
Table and chair set-up and take down
2 adults min
Advance prep for crafts, buying supplies, etc (I’ve already got a lot of what we need)
1 adult:
Food! Sandwiches or buns, crackers and cheese, muffins or scones, fruit, veggie sticks, Christmas treats. Please – no nuts! Please put your name and what you’d like to bring:

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