Allow me to play the provocateur, to scribble outside the lines, to upset (or at least bump) the apple cart. I was recently challenged to think again about what preaching and worship are for. My tendency has been to slide into a view of worship and preaching as things that bring stability, soothe troubled waters, and evoke peace and safety. Sermons are for answering questions, diminishing cognitive dissonance, making everything fit. Worship is for helping us feel better, picking up our spirits, creating clarity.
But, I was reminded, the God who is portrayed in Scripture is very difficult to manage. God doesn’t seem to like to be pigeonholed, systematized, or tamed. God may be good, but he is not safe, to paraphrase C.S. Lewis. The problem with God, is, well, that He is God. God creates and judges. God makes alive and brings to naught. Does God really need or want me as a preacher to “protect” God’s people from God, to shield them from God’s disruptive, invasive, dislodging work? An idol will never shock you, surprise you, or throw you for a loop. But the living God is far too unpredictable for that.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that a sermon is the gutsy willingness to let Christ walk around your congregation. No telling what might happen if Jesus really got loose in one of our assemblies. We say we want the truth. But can we handle the truth? Do we really want church occasionally to be a destabilizing force in our lives, a force that calls into question, challenges assumptions, disrupts accepted modes of thinking, calls for new birth, and shakes us to our very core?
The truth is, on most days we’d rather have God support our causes, validate our friends, endorse our candidates, and bless our wars. We’d prefer a tame and domesticated God, rather than having to deal with the unruly, demanding, and intrusive God we so often read about in Scripture. I don’t think we have to choose between worship services that comfort the afflicted and services that afflict the comforted. But if we let God be God, we may find ourselves embarking on adventures in faith that could shake us up and transform us in ways we never bargained for. I know that I need to remain open to God’s surprising, unpredictable, and disruptive work in my life. How about you?