Living Dangerously

Lent 2 – 2015

Mark 8:31-38

Marian Free

 

In the name of God who invites us to take risks, to live dangerously and to have fun. Amen.

Over the past week or so I have been reading an interesting book entitled: “Why Men Hate Church” by David Murrow. The book addresses the obvious – the fact that in most Christian denominations women outnumber men, often by a considerable number (something which is not entirely accounted for by the reality that, on the whole, men die at a younger age than women). Admittedly I have only had a cursory look at the book[1], but from what I have gleaned it is something of a “Men are from Mars, and Women are from Venus” sort of thesis. Murrow argues that men and women think differently, act differently and want different things. He suggests that even though until recently men dominated the leadership of the church; for the last 1300 – 1400 years, the church has been increasing feminised. Murrow contends that around the year 700 the church lost its edge. At that time, he claims, the church gave up the emphasis on struggle and sacrifice and replaced it with a call to passivity and weakness. The image of Jesus changed from someone who was strong and courageous to someone who was meek and submissive. This in turn, he suggests, has led vast numbers of men and some women to feel at best uncomfortable and at worst unwelcome in many churches.

Assuming Murrow’s thesis to be true, we can of course document exceptions to the rule. As ill-conceived as they were, the crusades provided an opportunity for displays of courage and self-sacrifice, as no doubt did the two world wars. Throughout the ages, Saints such as Joan of Arc, missionaries such as Graham Staines and his sons Phillip and Timothy, clergy such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Bishops such as Oscar Romero have been willing to take greats risks and lay down their lives for the faith.

By and large though, the institutional church has settled down, become a part of the surrounding landscape and played it safe. It could not be argued that we at St Augustine’s live dangerously or that we take risks that might cost us our place in the community, let alone cost us our lives. Murrow suggests that this is one of the reasons why some people do not come to church – they don’t want to be safe. They want to be dangerous. Risk-takers, fun-lovers and builders he claims, do not find enough in our liturgy or our community life that is challenging or that takes them to the edge and so they stay away.

I am not at all sure that I agree with Murrow’s overall argument (among other things he is writing from a North American perspective) but his book does provide some food for thought and leads to a number of questions. Have we created a kind of mono-culture which leaves some people feeling as though there is no place for them in the church? More importantly it forces us to ask – what are we really about? Have we forgotten that the gospel is all about living dangerously, not about building a secure and comfortable place in which we can now (and forever) feel at home? Worshipping in our beautiful churches, using a liturgy with roots that are ancient, gathering with our friends week by week, have we lost sight of the fact that the Son of Man had nowhere to lay his head and that the early disciples were called away from all that was familiar and secure to a life in which almost nothing was certain except for uncertainty and risk. In our efforts to be part of the world around us, do we allow injustices to go unchallenged? In other words, are we really living gospel lives?

I suspect that we all suffer from a form of collective amnesia and that for the most part we put our efforts into keeping the institution of the church alive, rather than worrying about the survival of the gospel. That said, that model has served us well for centuries. As long as the community around us was predominantly Christian, the church has served the purpose of building up the community of faith. Through worship and prayer we have supported one another through difficult times and been challenged to grow in faith and faithfulness. Our faith has enabled many of us to take risks of sorts, to trust God when we have had to make difficult decisions or to step out in faith when we had no idea what the future held for us.

Times have changed. We can no longer assume that members of our local community hold the faith or that those who do will join our worshipping community. This being the case, how can we ensure the continuity of the gospel? How, in this changing world can we share with others this amazing gift of faith?

One answer is this – if people don’t come to us, we must go to them. We must ask those who do believe in Jesus Christ why they don’t join us. Is it because our culture and practice make them feel unwelcome? For those who do not believe we must explore new ways of making conversation, new ways of letting them into our secret. If the Christian church is to survive, we must be bold and courageous. We must seek out builders, risk-takers and those who are prepared to live dangerously and we must allow them to make us feel uncomfortable for a change. We must step out of our comfort zones and do things differently for a change.

Whether we like it or not, we must change or die. Or, perhaps as today’s gospel puts it, we must die to all that we are and all that we have known so that God’s purpose can be worked out through us. Jesus didn’t call us to be safe – anything but. His call to follow is an invitation to live on the edge, to let go of the past and to begin each day as if it were our first. We are not invited to be comfortable or complacent, but to be adventurous and daring, open to change and to challenge. We are only here because twenty centuries ago there were those who were brave enough to step out of their comfort zones and leave everything behind in order to answer Jesus’ call. Their courage and willingness to take risks ensured that the gospel message, not only survived but spread throughout the world?

In the twenty-first century, do we have the courage to answer the call? What are we prepared to leave behind to enter the future God is preparing for us?

[1] If you are interested, I suggest you read it for yourselves. Murrow, David. Why Men Hate Going to Church.

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