I was struck this morning by the first stanza of the Gospel reading for the week, from Mark 9.38-41:
‘John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.’
Like so much of the Gospels, the stories included are the incredibly human ones, the stories which are about us, our frailties and our hopes. We can see our own faces, hear our own voices and those of our friends, as seek to follow Jesus on his way.
I can hear myself, see myself, just like John in the gospel story. Like John, we know how things are supposed to work, and this clown is making a mess, a mockery of it all. Acting in Jesus’ name? We have a mission plan, and this was never mentioned!
When we pray for renewal, do we have a fixed picture in mind? Do we see more people like us, gathered in the way we always have, or do we trust God for something entirely new?
When we ask “Lord, renew your church”, are we asking God to simply tidy everything up, or are we asking for renovation?
The last eighteen months has been a rollicking affair, as we have tumbled from church-as-we-know-it, to something entirely different, then round about and back again. Is it possible there is the hand of God, moving us and changing us in all of this? Can we sense the breath of the Spirit, urging us into new territory, not to visit, but to keep going?
What if smaller congregations are the only option for many churches in the next decade?
What if smaller congregations are God’s opportunity? What if we have to change the ways we worship and serve because this season of COVID lasts longer than anyone would like?
Renewal comes when God wills it, not when we plan for it. All our mission plans are as nought, when God acts as God desires. Walter Brueggemann writes in one of his prayers:
We are – by your freedom and your hiddenness –
made sure yet again that you are God…
beyond us, for us, but beyond us,
not at our beck and call,
but always in your own way.
Pray for renewal, please! However, keep your eyes – and hearts – open to how God will answer.
This piece was written for Ruminations, the journal of Saltbush, rural ministry in the Uniting Church.