Last night I did something I hadn’t done before, it’s always a risky/fun/scary thing to do in church world.
I was on the preaching plan to speak in our current series on the Psalms, Songs of Experience. It’s a short series where we’re looking at a selected group of psalms that have a particular experience that they speak about. Last night was Psalm 139, a psalm that reflects on being known by God, and a little about knowing God too.
So far so normal. However, I’d had an idea that instead of doing a straightforward preach - something I love doing but suspect (no, am pretty convinced) has become increasingly culturally irrelevant as a means of either communication or as a learning experience – I would approach the text in a different way, by involving other people in a conversation / dialogue about the passage.
One of the delights of coming to a new place is the new friendships that develop, and especially those with people who have a heart to see God’s kingdom established. In the last few weeks I’ve been getting to know a couple who are involved in community development in Central Asia, sent as missionaries from here. They’re back home for a rest, and to reconnect a bit with the folks back here. They’re a delightful, generous, humble and open couple, and we hit it off as soon as we met. Last week we spent a couple of hours poring over the text, thinking of what it meant in both our contexts, sharing stories with each other of how these words were a reality for us, and for others we knew.
So, I began on Sunday night with a few introductory words, then picked up six key themes that I introduced, then the couple or I shared stories that illustrated each point in a real, practical and honest way.
It was a good way to get into the text, to free it from the confines of the page, and to get to know this couple and their work much better as they shared with us.
It might not be revolutionary to you, my guess is that folks have found how good this is and been doing it for ages, but I hadn’t and it came a fresh revelation of how teaching in church can encourage, educate and inspire.
At the end of our talking together we reflected on how the psalm can be either incredibly comforting and encouraging, or terrifying, depending on the hearer / reader’s understanding of God. If we have an image of God that is punitive and judgemental, never ceasing to find a reason to beat us with His big stick, the idea of being completely known can fill us with terror. The couple shared how this is a dominant view of God where they live and work. For the person with a view of God that is based on the love that is revealed in Romans 8, a love that cannot be broken by death, life, spiritual or earthly beings, that have been or will be, this sense of being known becomes a source of real, hope-filled comfort. There is freedom from our fears and darkness, because they are known, and we’re not alone.
We followed it with a Nooma DVD – Lump – that spoke of the reality of God’s unending and unchanging love for us “there’s nothing you can do to make me love you less”, a great moment.
I’d love to hear from people who have done a similar thing with the text in an otherwise traditional context. Did you carry on? Is it a part of what you do now regularly, or has it helped you transition into more contemporary ways of doing church?