“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (Ps 19:14)The United Church of Christ has a lot to offer on its website and through the different mailings it sends around. There are a lot of churches out there doing very well and being very creative to help them do very well, and they’re sharing what they do with others.
Congregations are different and what works in one may not work necessarily in another without some tinkering. This past week, for example, I was perusing the “Churches Alive” site.
I ran across it in the 2018 Annual Report that the Conference mails to all its congregations. There are a couple of copies on the back table if you’d like to look through it yourselves and then maybe bring it back for someone else to read.
Periodically, I also receive a copy of “Spotlight” from the Conference. The most recent one shared a story from the Rehoboth Congregational Church that was written by their pastor. It was about change, and as she put it, about being “comfortably uncomfortable.”
That idea of “comfortably uncomfortable” strikes a chord with me. I see in our faith constant repetition of the message that God challenges people, that part of our living the faith is to be alive, to grow, to change, and this means we need to deal with being “comfortably uncomfortable.”
Take this morning’s reading from Isaiah that Amy shared with us. It’s written by a prophet who scholars have named “Deutero-Isaiah,” which means “the second Isaiah.” There are three different prophets writing during three different times and they’re all called Isaiah and they’re all found in same book of Isaiah.
Deutero-Isaiah was writing after the destruction of Jerusalem and her Temple. He’s writing during the time when Israel was a people living in exile in a foreign land. Almost every anchor of their faith-lives was destroyed when the Babylonians tore through the walls of ancient Jerusalem and destroyed the city and deported her citizens. But the Jews in exile did not abandon their faith; they changed their faith. They became “comfortably uncomfortable.”
This is what the prophet is talking about when he shares the experience of communicating with God: “Morning by morning [God] wakens — wakens my ear to listen, as those who are taught. The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backwards.”
The prophet’s calling is to listen and that doesn’t sound surprising at all. What he says next is surprising. Deutero-Isaiah makes a point of letting us know that he was not rebellious and did not turn away. In other words, God’s revelation was unexpected and maybe even unnerving, but the prophet persisted in listening. And the prophet was true to his calling because he was willing to be “comfortably uncomfortable.”
Today’s Gospel is the same powerful message, but in the negative. Jesus has just been reassured by Peter that at least His disciples realize that He is the Messiah, the Christ. Then, however, all heck breaks loose. Jesus reveals directly for the first time that He will suffer and die when they arrive in Jerusalem.
Peter has the audacity to pull Jesus aside and reprimand Him for saying such a thing. Then in Jesus’ most powerful rebuke ever recorded, He says to His disciple, “‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’”
Peter wanted to follow the Messiah he expected. Peter wanted a triumphant, powerful, vengeful Messiah like he had always been told about. This expectation was so commanding that Peter dared to rebuke Jesus.
In the negative, this embarrassing account that was so bravely repeated in our earliest traditions, yells out as loudly as possible that Jesus did not come into the world to confirm our expectations or to conform to our plans. Jesus came to challenge us, to make us different, to make us “comfortably uncomfortable.”
At the Rehoboth church this idea made itself real one Sunday when the person in charge of getting the little cups used during Communion forgot to buy them. Rather than not have Communion, the sacrament was shared by intinction.
There’s a picture of intinction on the cover of the Annual Report. It’s each person coming forward and taking the bread and dipping it in the chalice of wine. This new practice caused a conversation to begin among members about intinction and whether they liked it or not. And this incident is what got the pastor thinking about “comfortably uncomfortable.”
I’d like to share what she wrote: “People do not like to be uncomfortable. They like to know what is coming next. They like their traditions to be predictable and their spaces to look or feel a certain way. We do this in the church all the time. We worship a certain way, we arrange our flowers a certain way, we set up our sanctuary and our narthex a certain way and we do not want those things to change.
We have the same events, year after year. We have traditions that we hold fast to. We often do not want to try something new because sometimes it is hard to picture something that we have never done before. Many of us are so accustomed to the way we do church here [in Rehoboth] that we cannot imagine doing church any other way.
But guess what?, the pastor in Rehoboth continues, Jesus … broke tradition. ... God’s grace is kind of a funny thing sometimes. My point is this: It is okay to be a little bit uncomfortable sometimes. It is okay to try something new. It is okay to do something that has never been done before, even if that means stepping onto a path that has never been traveled on. It is okay to walk away, even if it is just for a moment, from the rituals and traditions that we do by rote and see what else God is calling us to do in this moment.
Friends, she continues, … sometimes doing church means being comfortably uncomfortable. It means being willing to compromise so that everyone feels like their voice has been heard and that their opinion is valued. It means not immediately dismissing something just because it is different and actively listening to new ideas. … It means listening to God’s still speaking voice guiding us along a journey that is filled with a grace and love that will exceed even our wildest imaginations.
So do not be afraid to be comfortably uncomfortable. Push your boundaries. Stretch yourself. Try something new. And be amazed at God’s potential within our community. As a church, we can and will do great things.”
I thought this was a great message from our sister church in Rehoboth. Their church has also been around for hundreds of years, just like ours. And just like Hatfield, they have traditions that have been in place for generations. But they also realize that a living tradition, as in all living things, entails change.
We heard today in Isaiah and in the Gospel that God surprises. Keeping the traditions means being “comfortably uncomfortable.” Let’s try to listen as did Deutero-Isaiah to God’s Word. Let’s not try and tell Jesus what to do as Peter presumed.
As we start to talk of next year’s budget and of stewardship, let’s not only talk about the future in terms of money, as absolutely important as that is. Let’s also talk about what God wants us to do, needs us to do. Let’s let Jesus have a voice in our plans, even if that means being open to the surprises of change, and of being “comfortably uncomfortable.”
For this may we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
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