- What is your favorite Sabbath memory? Why?
- Think about your local church. How can Sabbath hours be meaningful, purposeful, and restful for senior youth & young adults?
- Read the excerpt below from Reinvention Stories from an Urban Church, chapter Twelve. What can you learn about how we can rethink the way we do our worship service? What can you do to make the worship service of your church more meaningful?
CHAPTER TWELVE EXCERPT: MEANINGFUL CONVERSATION
“If we are going to create space for meaningful conversation as part of our church experience, preaching may have to be the catalyst. It is, after all, the one place in our worship where people have every right to expect some engagement with the question “What does this mean?” There is a reasonable hope on the part of worshippers that a sermon should serve to draw meaning out of the scriptural texts and other elements of the liturgy in a way that is comprehensible and relevant to their lives. If preaching is meaningful in this sense, it only seems reasonable that meaningful preaching should be the catalyst for meaningful conversations.
“Good preachers know this. They preach in ways that are engaging, telling stories and contextualizing so as to draw a response from their listeners. But rarely is there the opportunity for that response to be put into words. By the time the listener has the chance to utter any words in response, those words are often reduced to “Good sermon, Reverend.” The problem with performative preaching is that even, or perhaps especially, when it is done well, the take-away can be simply the feeling of having witnessed a good performance. Without personal engagement, the story the preacher tells on Sunday soon becomes overwhelmed by the many competing stories of our lives. The hour we spend at church on Sunday becomes disconnected from the other 167 hours of our week.
“So if we need a place to have meaningful conversations, and if preaching can serve as a catalyst for those conversations, what would happen if we created space during or after the sermon for worshippers to speak and to interact, if not with the preacher, then with the people sitting around them?
“We follow the lectionary, which meant that the next Sunday after our cross-country ski outing was “The Baptism of the Lord,” and the gospel reading, appropriately enough, was the account of Jesus’ own baptism, as told by Luke. It is an event rooted in time, taking place in the 15th year of the emperor Tiberius of Rome. It is an event rooted in space, taking place by the Jordan River, just north of the Dead Sea. It is the story of a particular human being, Jesus of Nazareth, born of Mary, 30 years old. It is the story of concrete actions, of being plunged into water. It is a story of the earth.
“But it is also a story of heaven. It is the story of a divine presence, which is seen and heard. When Jesus had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened. And the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22).
“The story of Jesus’ baptism tells of one of those places where heaven and earth touch each other — thin places, as the Celts liked to call them. But there are many thin places, places and moments where we can be deeply aware of the presence of God in our ordinary, daily lives.
“What would happen if I asked our community to talk about their thin places in response to this story? Would they be intimidated? Would they be able to articulate their own experiences of God? Would they have anything to say at all?
“It always helps if someone goes first. So I told people about one of the thin places that I still recall most vividly. I was on the corner of Division and Princess Street in Kingston, in the fall of 1981. It was my second year at Queen’s University and I was riding my bike to class, as I did pretty much every morning. On that particular morning, the light was red when I got to Princess Street, and so I stopped. And in that moment, as I sat on my bike with one foot on the ground for balance, the sun seemed to turn golden, and I had a wonderful sensation of warmth, and an overwhelming feeling that God was with me. In that moment, which may have lasted a second but seemed to last much longer, I knew, I just knew that all was well.
“So, after a brief pause, I asked the congregation, “Where are your thin places? When were, when are the moments in your life when heaven and earth touch? Perhaps you can turn and gather in a small group with those around you and share them with each other.”
“There was a moment’s hesitation. Some looked at me to make sure I was serious. Then, the sound of scraping chairs and rustling in pews, and soon, steadily and surely, the hum of voices starting to build. The space came alive with meaningful conversations.”