Monday, 21 March 2011

Of Earthquakes, Inconvenience and An Unspeakable Gift

Thanks to the most excellent Anglican Down Under, a touch of the indomitable post-earthquake Kiwi spirit in a sermon by Lynda Patterson (Theologian-in-Residence at Christchurch Cathedral) preached yesterday at the cathedral service in Fendalton Primary school (because the Cathedral was all but destroyed in the quake):
One of the things I most enjoy about living in New Zealand is the Kiwi sense of humour. It’s dry and it’s understated, but it gets the point across.
I’ve particularly appreciated some of the one-liners that have been doing the rounds since the earthquake. How do you know you live in Christchurch? they ask.… 
You know you live in Christchurch when you don’t have to stir your coffee.
And my favourite – you know you live in Christchurch when you take a plastic bag with you when you go for a walk  – even if you don’t have a dog.
And this, which also works with Japanese tragedy in mind:
Again and again I find myself asking, Why us? Why here? Why now?   But you know, here’s the thing. The religious life doesn’t give us any guarantee of security. There’s nothing in the Christian faith which tells you how to have a easy life.
There’s nothing which will make you well-respected, or loved by your peers, or even get you a decent seat at a dinner party. There’s nothing about being fitter, happier or more productive. There’s nothing in the gospel about our convenience at all. (Lynda's sermon all here.)
Going to church is not about our convenience either.

Which reminds me of something Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote about what a blessing it is to have a church to go to at all (Life Together: a Discussion of Christian Fellowship (Harper & Rowe, 1954) - trans John W Doberstein):
It is by the grace of God that a congregation is permitted to gather visibly in this world to share God's Word and sacrament. Not all Christians receive this blessing. p18
…some, because their church building was destroyed; others, like Bonhoeffer, because of the inconvenience of being imprisoned for his faith in Jesus during another cataclysmic event. He writes: 
It is true, of course, that what is an unspeakable gift of God for the lonely individual is easily disregarded and trodden underfoot by those who have the gift every day. It is easily forgotten that the fellowship of Christian brethren is a gift of grace, a gift of the Kingdom of God that any day may be taken from us, that the time that still separates us from utter loneliness may be brief indeed. Therefore, let him who until now has had the privilege of living a common life with other Christians praise God's grace from the bottom of his heart. Let him thank God on his knees and declare: It is grace, nothing but grace, that we are allowed to live in community with Christian bretheren. p20 
If we do not give thanks daily for the Christian fellowship in which we have been placed, even where there is no great experience, no discoverable riches, but much weakness, small faith, and difficulty; if on the contrary, we only keep complaining to God that everything is so paltry and petty, so far from what we expected, then we hinder God from letting our fellowship grow according to the measure and riches which are there for us all in Jesus Christ. p29
The Gospel and going to church can, indeed, be taken for granted; "easily disregarded and trodden underfoot" and for far less important reasons than earthquakes and war.

What a waste.