St. Stephen Lutheran Church
A number of Christian denominations use a system called the Revised Common Lectionary to assign Scripture texts to be read during worship. This means that on any given Sunday morning, many Christians in Marshall and around the world are engaging the same Scripture texts in worship, though our other practices, and even our interpretation of that Scripture, might be very different.
So on a recent Sunday, many churches read from the gospel of Mark the story of Jesus' first public act of ministry: a man possessed by demons cries out during a worship service attended by Jesus and his disciples, Jesus heals the man, and the story spreads throughout the region (you can read the story in Mark 1:21-28).
This story always catches my attention because it seems so different from what we really expect - and want - worship to be like. I wonder what the other worshippers' reactions were when this happened in the middle of the service - were they annoyed? Frightened? Intrigued? Disgusted? Like most of us, they had probably gone to worship that day expecting it to be just like it always is: a predictable service that lasts a predictable amount of time, with the same people acting in predictable ways, the same Bible stories, predictable songs, and a predictable sermon that says the same things we already believe about God and ourselves and the world around us.
And when the service ends, we mostly go about our lives just as we had been doing before, almost as though worship hadn't happened at all. Going to church is just a nice thing we do that makes us feel good about ourselves - that is typically what we want and expect, at any rate.
But what would it be like if we approached worship expecting to be challenged, expecting to be uncomfortable, expecting to be changed?
Many churches include a practice of worshippers greeting one another as part of the service, and it is common during that time to shake hands and say something like "good morning" or "peace be with you." I once visited a congregation where, during the sharing of the peace, a smiling elderly woman went around shaking hands and saying "may the Lord disturb you!" I couldn't help my curiosity about her unusual message, so after the service I introduced myself and asked her about it. She said to me, "In my experience, it is during those times when you are challenged that your faith grows, not during the predictable times when you're just going through the motions. I believe God has called us together so that we might be changed people, so why would I wish peace to someone?"
The next time you attend worship, I encourage you to go in to the experience open to the possibility of walking out a changed person. And rather than wishing you God's peace, I will pray that the Lord might disturb us, so as to shake us loose from habits that make us unreceptive to God's call.