A grouchy church member complained to the pastor of another church, “I just don’t get anything out of our worship services so I quit going to worship.”
“Tell me,” responded the pastor, “did you receive the benediction? If so, you got a lot!”
I get a lot from our worship services, and don’t have to search to do so. I’m surprised sometimes by what I receive from worship. Sometimes it can be a very small thing to most eyes and ears, yet to mine its tremendous. This happened at GPPC worship Sunday, August 30, 2015.
Carla was away, and GPPC member and seminarian Ashley Diaz Mejias was our preacher. For the call “To Assemble in God’s name,” Ashley used an unsettling statement by Jurgen Moltmann:
“That is why faith, wherever it develops into hope,
causes not rest but unrest, not patience but impatience.
It does not calm the unquiet heart, but is itself this unquiet heart in man.
Those who hope in Christ cannot put up with reality as it is,
but begin to suffer under it, contradict it.
Peace with God means conflict with the world,
for the goad of the promised future
stabs inexorably into the flesh of every unfulfilled present.”
So deeply and strongly did the statement resonate with me, after worship I gathered up 20 bulletins to send to close friends. I was like the woman who found her lost coin and called friends to come celebrate with her!
Why did the Moltmann statement strike so solidly a chord within me? I’m not sure. But it could be that it was liberating in the sense “the truth shall set you free.” Maybe because it brought together a lot of rambling thoughts about the life of faith, and clarified that special life.
One thing the statement helped me see from a perspective I had not seen is that the Christian, living by faith, lives in two worlds, this everyday world of fallible laws and injustice, terrorism and corruption, as well as admirable efforts toward peace, fairness, and compassion. And the other world variously referred to as the Kingdom of God, heaven, paradise. There the follower of Christ stands, one foot in this fallible world and the other foot in the Kingdom of God.
This two-world stance was brought home to me today when a continuing controversy between Covenant Woods (CW), a Continuing Care Retirement Community, Administration and me was all but concluded. The Administration thoughtfully saying it would rather I choose to stop having a blessing over breakfast in Health Care than their having to insist I quit and enforcing their order.
By way of explanation, Anne and I live at CW. I help feed breakfast to a patient in Health Care three times a week. It has developed that I pray a breakfast blessing with all patients eating in the breakfast room.
The CW Administration has said that is against licensure regulations because the “public prayer” infringes on patients’ religious liberties.
Without going further into the controversy, my point with this story is the complexity of life when the ordinary Christian lives as a citizen of two worlds. Moltmann chose his words carefully.
What is the right answer? Is it an infringement on patients’ religious liberties to offer public prayer in the Health Care breakfast room where the patients must come to eat? What about the patients who desire, indeed, ask for, prayer? Could it be that the Administration, consciously or unconsciously, is standing in the Kingdom when it safeguards the religious liberties of patients who may be incapable of protecting their liberties? Maybe I have not been sufficiently circumspect in this matter.
The controversy, going on now for a month or two, has been stimulating and stressful. That is the nature of the life of faith, not because Moltmann says it, but because it is, and our Scriptures caution us accordingly time and time again.
Kim Sydnor joins our Session later this month as a minister member. His is the concluding reflection from the Session class of 2019, who have been sharing in this space throughout the summer. Kim and Anne recently moved from King and Queen County, Virginia to Covenant Woods Retirement Community in Hanover County. They had three children who married, thereby giving them a total of six children, and eight grands. About a year ago they joined GPPC and are very pleased with that decision.