Our church theme this week was ‘encounter’. I’d asked the children how they encounter God…to which at least four of them enquired “what does that mean?” “Hmmmmm…encounter? Well kind of like ‘experience’ or ‘meet with’?” Trying desperately to clutch at words that they might hang some meaning off without suggesting answers. “Erm …what helps you know God’s there?” I left it at that and let them think about it for a few days!
We gathered together in our usual chaotic style, some sat round the table, two refused to leave the train track in the other room and one was there fully focused on her iPad! Our seven year old had a friend round so they decided to build “the way to church” out of duplo…again! Whatever works I guess!
And then we talked and it was awesome! Our eldest talked about needing ‘quiet time to think’ and that helped him meet with God…one of the girls said she liked to read the bible ‘because of the wisdom’ and if she didn’t understand it it she’d ask God what it meant….one of the others said she told God her feelings…another said “well I pray”…we talked about noticing how nature reveals something of Gods character, the abundance and the faithfulness of creation…Sid talked about riding his bike and the head space and freedom just to be.
As we talked we realised that everything we’d shared with each other in that moment was about solitude and space…not one of us talked about encountering God at church! Which really made me think! Why go to church?
So I left to walk the dog and as I walked through the woods I meditated…? Mused? Prayed?! Which got me thinking about the very beginnings of church!
There was something about the first church back two thousand years that believed a different way was possible. A new community was born, sometimes referred to as ‘The Way’*, inspired by the teaching of Jesus. This community, this “way” offered a radically new or different lifestyle to the dominant one around at the time…and throughout history the true church has often found itself victimised, persecuted and questioned because it was so contrary to the worldview being lived out in society.
Today should be no different, as we seek a way of love, peace, forgiveness, reconciliation; a way that delights in original goodness; a way that offers hope and life in the midst of fear and death; that “way” should create a community that is radically different to the dominant culture! If church really is offering a different way then it would make sense that we go to church to be encouraged, to find others who are wanting to live in a way that offers something more than the way the world offers…and then to share the stories of how we live that out!
An American pastor/writer/professor called Eugene Peterson wrote:
“I was now well on my way to learning that congregation (church) is a place of stories. The stories of Jesus, to be sure. But also the stories of men and women…it is never just my story; it is a community of stories. I learn my story in company with others…we’re looking for meaning to our lives. We catch a thread and we follow it, receiving the good news that God is gracious…and then we bump up against someone else’s story that we don’t even recognise as a story…”
The Pastor pg 106/107
This ‘bumping up’ against other stories, this is how we grow, how we learn, how we encourage and are encouraged. Sharing our stories of encounter, listening to stories of encounter with God, with something or someone other, inspires us to keep following The Way! To believe, as Richard Rohr writes, that “a new or different life was possible”.**
The question this all raises though is what actually is ‘the Way’? What did Jesus teach? How do we live lives that are radically different? What does this new or different life even look like?
*see the book of Acts in the bible!!
** Richard Rohr Daily Meditations May 7th 2018