Are you ready for God?

Lent 3 2012

John 2:13-22 (Exodus 20:1-18)

Marian Free

Dressing for church

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

Annie Dillard is an American writer who spent two years on an island off the western coast of the United States Puget Soundto reflect on “time, reality, sacrifice, death and the will of God.” Her reflections of this time are powerful and confronting as she faces the violence and capriciousness of life, and struggles to come to terms with a God who seems to stand back and simply allow tragedy and suffering to happen.  During her time on the island, Dillard attends the local church which is led by a Congregationalist pastor.  She discovers that she likes the occasional and therefore surprising spontaneity and the honesty of the pastor, who one morning during the intercessions simply “stopped, and burst out, ‘Lord, we bring you these same petitions week by week’ and after a shocked pause, continued reading the prayer.[1]

She goes on to say:  “The higher Christian churches – where, if anywhere, I belong – come at God with an unwarranted air of professionalism, with authority and pomp, as though they knew what they were doing, as though people in themselves were an appropriate set of creatures to have dealings with God. I often think of the set pieces of liturgy as certain words which people have successfully addressed to God without getting killed. If God were to blast such a service to bits, the congregation would be, I believe, genuinely shocked. But in the low churches, you expect it any minute. This is the beginning of wisdom.”

Elsewhere Dillard states: “I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible, aware of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blindly invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children, playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we

should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.” [2]

These are powerful words. They make you wonder. Do they describe us, our liturgy, our approach to Sunday morning?What is it then that we do when we come here Sunday by Sunday? What do we expect or hope for? Are we filled with anticipation and excitement, awe and trepidation – expecting to be surprised, delighted, or confronted? Do we really believe that we will leave here re-freshed and renewed filled with the Holy Spirit? Do we expect God to burst in on us, shattering our pre-conceptions, turning us upside down and inside out, making us uncomfortable with who and what we are and re-forming us in God’s image?

Do we take to heart the words of the Prayer of Preparation: “Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open?” and wonder that we should dare to be here? Does  the proclamation of  God’s word send a thrill through us? Do we feel a warmth on our hand or a tingle in our throat when we receive the body and blood of Christ?

Do we come anticipating some new insight into the nature of God or some astounding self revelation?

When we come to worship, do we really believe that we will come face-to-face with God, or do we as Dillard says, allow the “set pieces of liturgy” to enable us to keep our distance, to avoid any sort of meeting with God that might challenge or change us? Do we come to seek God’s will for us, or do we hope that our presence here will be enough to limit God’s interference in, or demands on, our time and on our lives?

We hope that God will change the world, and yet we approach God as if God were a kitten and not a lion, a beetle and not a behemoth. We want God to be strong and powerful, able to control the elements and protect us from harem yet, at the very same time we seem to want a God who keeps a certain amount of distance, a God who is within our power to tame and control.

The people of the Old Testament certainly knew what they were doing. They had a healthy respect and an appropriate sense of awe towards the presence of God in their midst. We might notice a sense of familiarity in the relationship at times, but we can see too that the Israelites had a deep respect for the power and might of God and understood that being in the presence of God was awesome and even dangerous. We see this when God calls Moses to the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments. The people are instructed to wash their clothes and to keep themselves and even their flocks at a safe distance from the mountain. If they come too close to the presence of God they will die. Then: “When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid and trembled and stood at a distance, and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die.”“

It is this power and this awesomeness to which Dillard draws our attention – not to make us afraid, but to try to raise our awareness, to help us to really think about what we are doing and to ask ourselves whether we really grasp the implications of worshiping the living God. Are we sensible enough of the risks that are entailed?

Take care when you come into the presence of God – for God, who cannot be controlled, may reach out and grab you, turn your life around, point you in new directions and take you places that you never expected to be. Take care when you come into the presence of God, you may never be the same again.

[1] Dillard, Annie. Holy the Firm .New York: Harper Collins, 1977, 58.

[2]  continuation of earlier quote from Teaching a Stone to talk.


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