Sometimes you plan something that you're a little wary of. Sometimes you wonder if it's really going to work. Sometimes you wonder at the last minute whether you really shouldn't change your mind and forget it altogether.
Today was a bit like that.
I was preaching in one of our churches - a small congregation, mostly elderly and mostly those who have worshipped in the church for many years. They are lovely people but concerned about the future of the church, and unsure where to begin to look for growth. Like many of us. they sometimes they don't like new things, and sometimes surprising them with something unusual doesn't work. So what I planned for my sermon today was a little risky and I nearly didn't do it. But I'm so glad I did.
Today's Gospel passage was Mark 9:30-37, and in these short verses there were many things I could have preached on. I even found my sermon from three years ago, preached in a very different setting and I enjoyed reading it - but it did not address the thing that was really standing out for me this week.
"They [Jesus' disciples] did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him." (Mark 9:32 NRSV)
I don't always use the internet for sermon preparation but when I do I often visit Working Preacher where the commentaries can be helpful (or, as is the case with most commentaries, unhelpful!) I was struck by one of the suggestions on there which was to get the congregation to be braver than Jesus' first disciples and ask him a question. So I handed out slips of paper and pens at the beginning of the service, and then preached on the importance of a questioning faith - a faith which seeks answers from God and trusts that He is big enough to take our questions in his stride. The I asked the congregation to write an anonymous question for Jesus on the slip of paper. The questions were collected
in the offertory as a sign that as we bring our gifts in faith we also bring our questions to Jesus' table.
After the service I took the questions home and sat at my desk to read them.
I hadn't realised until I read them what a gift I was asking them to give. I was unprepared for their honesty, puzzlement, pain and insight, and for my own reaction to that. They range from the practical to the intellectual, and I felt humbled to be reading them. I wish I had easy answers, or indeed any answers for them. But I think that above all Jesus wants us to ask questions of him - about life as his followers - and that in asking the questions we are able to begin to live the answer.
I'd love to know, and offer a hug and reassurance to the person who asked how what they did was important. I'd love to talk further with the person what asked why they found it so difficult to ask Jesus a question. I rage with the people who are dismayed and angry about suffering in the world and current levels of violence over matters of faith.
And I will. Perhaps not directly but this has given me such an insight into God's precious people in that church and their concerns that I hope we will address at least some of them in preaching to come, and as we discuss a possible year of mission for our 80th birthday.
I am hugely grateful for the promptings of the Spirit who I'm sure gave me the courage to see my slightly mad idea through, and to the congregation who have trusted me enough to share what's on their minds and hearts before God.
So, what question would you ask?