Those of you who have read my blog entries here may have picked up on a theme that has been working on me during my time with City Square: spiritual practice. While most churches I’ve encountered tend to speak often about belief, I have encountered countless folk who aren’t sure what they believe but know they feel called into a different way of life. I’ve also encountered a number of folk who claim to believe all the right things but whose lives and actions seem unaffected by that belief. Spiritual practice has been working on me both as an opportunity for folk to to have a first-hand encounter with the divine (don’t take my word for it!) and as a way for those who profess faith to see their lives transformed in response to that faith.
In my experience, one of the most common spiritual practices within the contemporary Christian community is Bible reading or Bible study. It also seems to me that this is one of the most poorly used spiritual practices within the contemporary Christian community. Every time I hear someone quote a line of scripture to support their personal or political opinion I cringe, not only at the (often) misinterpretation of the text, but at the intention of taking something intended to transform you for God and instead using the scripture to transform God for you.
This is perhaps my greatest fear as I prepare to reenter the life of a weekly preacher. For the past year City Square Church has been deeply contextual, seeking God in the community around us and asking God wherever we find Her to transform us. Now, as we prepare for to launch weekly worship on September 8th of this year (shameless plug) we move from primarily listening to the community of Downtown Phoenix into an ongoing conversation with the community of Downtown Phoenix, seeking to teach even as we continue to learn. While I believe this is an important and exciting step in our faith community becoming a legitimate partner in the greater Downtown area I am also concerned about the ease with which so many pastors slide from seeking God to finding God right where the want Her.
This week, however, I was reminded how this particular spiritual practice is meant to work.
First off, I began preparation for this upcoming service on Sunday, June 2nd at the Phoenix Center for the Arts (work it, work it!) almost a month ago by deciding what I wanted to preach on (The reciprocal relationship between a faith community and its surrounding community) and then picking a scripture that I though would allow me to make my point, in this case a text from the 4th chapter of the gospel of John which many people refer to as the story of the woman at the well. I know, I know! My approach was flawed from the beginning, but stick with me. This is the good part!
As I worked on my sermon over the past few weeks I felt pretty good about it but some pf the parallels just weren’t coming together like I had hoped. Like any good preacher, I went back to the text, paying close attention not to any assumed moralistic teaching, but rereading the story. What I found there was an entirely different message! Here, a few days before I’m supposed to preach a sermon that I’ve been working on for nearly a month I find a new lesson in this old familiar story!
Needless to say, what sucks for planning (want to see what eventually comes out in this week’s sermon? Me too!) is exactly what is meant to happen when approaching sacred texts: rather than me shaping the story, the story continue(s)d to shape me.
For those of you who are people of The Book, I pray that the next time you turn through those old familiar pages in search of a god who affirms you that instead you find a God who transforms you. For those of you who are not people of The Book and who are deeply skeptical about how you have experience scripture in the hands of self-proclaimed believers, I pray that the next time you encounter those sacred words that you have the chance to hear the stories. Whether you believe in them or not, their really is no substitute for encountering the stories of faithful people and allowing their lessons to become our own.