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In formation vs Information

I’ve been learning from you  as a congregation. I’ve been learning that my way of doing things is creating a situation where with some of you you cannot hear me anymore, you feel so threatened and confused by what I do and how I do it. That makes me sad on a number of levels. And it is frustrating, because I cannot force anyone to try to understand, or to give understanding another try. Yet I want as many as possible to give what I believe God is trying to teach through me a chance.

At the Pastor’s retreat this past weekend I also learned a lot of things, and some of what we were taught showed me that my feeling deceived by the CRC ways of the days of my childhood may still cause some anger in me that some of you are picking up on when I think I am innocently telling stories of what I remember. So I am looking into my heart afresh to see if there are changes I need to make.

But here’s the part that frustrates me and saddens me. And it saddens me because I have learned that self awareness and the examining of the motives of my own heart, and asking God’s help with heart cleaning, has been the most refreshing way of growing. Sure it is hard. But it is worthwhile. It is what the message of Christ’s resurrection enables us to be fearless about, as I explained Easter Sunday morning. So I desperately (maybe too desperately) want everyone to learn the value of it. But, except for a small circle of people, I have no evidence anyone is doing exactly that for their own heart. I don’t have evidence of a lot of people saying “What if Pastor Pete has a point?” “What if the meaning of our rituals has been lost and needs to be found back?” ” What’s the harm of looking at all we do and looking back at the bible again to see if they are fitting?” And that is sad to me. In most of what I have said and done so far here I have very little intent to chastize, or be angry. Yet that is how people seem to be experiencing me. Defensiveness seems to be a default position.

We carry the title “Reformed,” part of the meaning of which includes the job of constantly reviewing and reshaping who we are as a church and what we do in light of God’s word and the context God has us in. I am simply calling for that kind of reflection around our practices here at NCRC.

Some of you did the kind of rethinking I am speaking of when at the Good Friday service you felt uncomfortable taking the bread and cup right away when you got them. And some of you thought that through biblically, and remembered 1 Cor 11 and Paul’s admonition to eat together lest the body of Christ be torn apart. I get real encouraged when I learn people did that! This is exactly what I hope to have happen. Go back to scripture and look for good biblical principles and teachings (not just proof texts) for what we do or don’t do, discuss it, and make collective choices about our cultural expression of our Christianity based on that discussion. By the way, I didn’t want to overexplain at the time, but the eating immediately was part of living out the Passover side of the biblical narrative, where God said “eat it in a hurry.” So, as such, it was not a ‘wrong’ way to do it. What I find delightful is that having done it differently some of you began to think back to why we did it the other way most times. If you never try doing  things a little differently now and then, you have fewer opportunities to relearn the value of doing it a customary way.

One other matter has come up that I would like to address. There were more, but I’m just covering two in this post. This second one was that several people felt that sermons on Good Friday and on Easter Sunday morning could have explained the meaning of the crucifixion and resurrection more directly and better. I’m doing a bit of assuming what I think is meant by that, but I suspect you are used to more theological/doctrinal/propositional sermons. What I mean by that is that the sermon would re-explain the doctrines and theology we have in logical language that goes something like: “This happened, therefore this doctrine is formed.” That is one style of Reformed preaching that is possible. But many many people also find it dry, lacking life, and lacking connection with life. It is great for brain food, and sometimes touches the heart as well. But it can be a bit clinical, too sterile. Where I struggle with this approach is that it treats the Bible very similarly to scientific evidence from which proofs can be taken. It treats the bible as information to be shared and explained. See my Dissecting Frog post for more of an idea what I mean. What I have learned, and what I hope to help you see, is that the Bible is living history. The Bible is His Story. And as such it has life and meaning in it that treating it scientifically kills off to some degree. So the Good Friday service was designed to not so much share information (though lots of that happened too) but to give you an opportunity to live into the story and so understand, just from hearing it anew, just from singing songs related to it, and just from seeing symbols and actions and sounds. I believe us to be a people in formation, formation that comes from living into the scriptures and living their message out today, more than a people in need of information about the scriptures. 

I admit that my approach to preaching expects more from you than you might be used to, it expects you to work harder than you might be used to. Having the information nicely packaged and presented is easier to receive than being expected to do the work of finding your way into God’s story wherever we are exploring it. But I have seen again and again that when this living into the story grips people, the new life in them begins to bear fruit for God’s glory in ways the information-only style could not.

We are a congregation of people who spiritually are in formation. Receiving information serves that purpose but it is not the purpose alone. Being in formation means being open to God and God’s word working on us to change us, not just inform us.

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