23 October 2022 with The Village | Ephesians 4:1-6 & Mark 10:46-52
That our worship and our acts of service bear witness to the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. – A reflection by Dan Spragg
It always makes for a sometimes humorous but always shocking story to hear of the person who has been living a double life. The classic one of course being the husband who has one family in one place and another somewhere else. I read a story this week of a man who went missing during the Spanish civil war. He was presumed captured or killed. However, when the war ended it turned out that he hadn’t been fighting at all but had rather snuck over the border from Galicia (Northwest Spain) to Barcelona (northeast Spain), and he had done so to marry the younger sister of his wife! He had married one sister on the republican side and one on the nationalist side. The two sides of the family still don’t talk to this day!
Most of us, thankfully, don’t end up in these situations but the temptation to live a divided life is very much a real thing. I had a boss once who often pushed us as workers into unreasonable territory. We worked on ladders in dangerous situations, regularly weren’t allowed to take breaks and often wouldn’t let us finish for the day even though we were working outside and it was dark and raining. As well as this he often spoke to us rudely and criticised our work. He died a number of years ago and I decided to go to his funeral. Well, the man spoken about in the service was not the man I knew! Here was, apparently, an exemplary christian man who lived his faith with kindness and generosity with a cheeky sense of humour! I had to work quite hard to reconcile the two different sides to him. The person I had experienced was not this man of christian living remembered at the service. There wasn’t much congruence between this man’s church on Sunday and work on Monday. How is it that putting one’s faith in a box that doesn’t get opened during the week can so easily happen? I don’t know, really, but it’s funny how it creeps in. Some things get marked as sacred which makes other things, by default, not-sacred. Sunday, the holy day, set aside for holy things… and all of a sudden the other days can’t contain any of that stuff because they are not holy. Or, think back to the past, where we’d never think about getting rid of the pews or using the communion table for anything else… aren’t you glad we’ve been able to make a few shifts around this stuff?
We’ve of course tried to be intentional about breaking down the sacred/secular divide. We have buildings that reflect an openness to the community and that can be used in a variety of ways by a variety of people. We don’t need a building to look like a ‘church’ for us to gather together in worship. We could do it in someone’s backyard if we had to! Another way we’ve tried to break down the Sunday/Monday split is largely symbolic, and I have heard a comment from time to time that it makes some uncomfortable, which is fine because when things are done differently it can take a bit to get used to them. Here it is: Each time we gather for worship whether on Sunday or on Thursday we have a time of sharing and notices; and lately we’ve been hearing ‘stories from The Village,’ right in the middle of our worship. What this says to us and reminds us every week is that what we get up to in the week is very much caught up in how we express our worship. Our faith and our service, our faith and our lives are not divided, they are part of the whole.
There is an old word I’d like us to focus on for a minute or two. Liturgy. Liturgy is normally used as the formal description of the order or form of a public service of worship. The order and shape of the worship service is the Liturgy. Any service of worship has a Liturgy, some would like to say they don’t, others pride themselves on being ‘liturgical’ but actually any service of worship, whether it is a sing-a-long and a sermon or an elaborate bells and whistles affair, they all have a form, they all have a Liturgy – a pattern of worship.
The old meaning of the word is interesting. It comes from two Greek words which literally mean, ‘public working.’ ‘Activity of the public’ or ‘the work of the people’ is what liturgy means. I like that! Liturgy – The work of the people. Worship was an activity that belonged to the people. It was only throughout time that it exclusively became related to narrow forms or patterns of Christian worship only led by the clergy.
For a number of years I’ve become interested in what would happen if we workshopped the meaning of this word a bit, to try and make it mean something a bit wider. Let’s try this out. Liturgy, ‘the work of the people in the form, shape, or pattern of worship…’ work and worship… which leads me to think perhaps our work is worship… So, the peoples’ work is the shape of their worship. Do you see the movement here? The movement from work to worship. But perhaps we can have the movement the other way too: worship to work, worship that gives shape to the peoples’ work… It seems this can become quite a dynamic thing. How’s this then for a new meaning: Liturgy, The form of our worship that gives form to our work which is the shape of our worship… I like this, we’ve started to remove that false distinction between Sunday and Monday here. Work of course is anything that you do, that you put energy into, not just something you are or were paid for or something that you find tedious! Liturgy: The pattern of our worship that gives shape to all of our activities, which are the activities of our worship. The work of the people. We could call this, The Liturgical Life.
You might be able to guess where I’m going with this. The belief and value underpinning our Vision and Purpose that we are looking at this week is: That our worship and our acts of service bear witness to the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. All of our lives are works of worship and it is in our coming together at times like these that helps give our lives shape and content. We are formed by coming here together and listening for the voice of God. It is good for us to be reminded who God is and who we are and to be reminded about the story that we live in. We come here in worship to remind us that all of life is holy. And we go from here to remind ourselves that the work of God is always to be found in the midst of life as we, like Bartimaeus, follow Jesus on ‘the way’ together.
Which is what stood out to me in this story of the healing of blind Bartimaeus. Right at the end it says he followed Jesus on ‘the way.’ There are a number of other stories of blind people being healed in the gospels. But in this one, the recipient of grace, followed Jesus on the way. Now it could be that ‘the way’ is saying he followed Jesus as Jesus was walking around from town to town. But it could mean more than that. ‘The Way’ was how the first Christians were known. They were people of ‘The Way’. So Bartimaeus is called by Jesus and he follows them in ‘The Way’. What does healing lead to? What does new sight, new ways of seeing the world lead to? What does fresh understanding lead to? Bartimaeus followed, Bartimaeus pursued Jesus. He was called, ‘what do you want me to do for you?’ Jesus asked him. Bartimaeus was healed and he followed, he became part of a community centred on this man called Jesus. Bartimaeus moved from being unknown to known and he belonged. A gift of life, of new sight, a gift of light into a dark place gave rise to something new. Bartimaeus moved from being outside society to now belonging to a community. His faith and his living were one – a participant in ‘the way’ of Jesus.
A little later on in the New Testament the Apostle Paul picked up on this in his letter to the Ephesians. In chapter four he encourages them to ‘“Live lives worthy of their calling… for… There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling… one God… of all, who is above all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:1-6, paraphrased) Note the word ‘one’. God who is one is above all and through all and in all… there’s not much separation in that… if we are to live lives worthy of our calling, then it doesn’t seem like from what Paul is saying that there is a god of the calling, and a god of the living… a god of the calling and a god of the responding… a god of Sunday and a god of Monday… Paul said, live the life you are called into… a life of one-ness. Do not be divided in how you see things, do not be divided in how you live. Live the Liturgical Life.
That our worship and our acts of service bear witness to the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. This we believe and this we value. That we gather at certain times for worship reminds us of the story of grace we are part of. And, we get about our living… our market, our birthday dinners, our donations of food, our clothing shop, our foot clinic, our music moments, our preschool music, our partnerships in the community… all the activities in our life… these we do, which connects our worship with the real world and before we know it our gathering together and our activity throughout the week are one, together part of the whole of what it means to live as followers of ‘the way’ of Jesus. Each informing and feeding one another.
God of grace, love and fellowship. May we always resist separating some things off as holy and as such designating everything else as not-holy. May your oneness inhabit our worship and our service and may they be good and true witnesses to your ongoing and unfailing love for all. Amen.