So Gill & Ben & I went to church on Sunday. It was good to go together. And the band was great - I mean very good indeed. Plus when you are faced with that kind of technology in a church you have to be impressed - it makes our screen look decidedly tame, as they have videos running, live feed behind the words, all kinds of graphics, lighting rig etc. And I must have been greeted 37 times before I took my seat. Scarlette & Chuck & family seem to have settled really well into the church now, which is great.
But Gill hasn't, and I do get why not. I kind of hated the sermon.
A huge part of this is cultural. Church is always cultural - because it is about people and God, and though God is God is God, the people bit is the stuff that changes, and we worship and relate to God from within our own culture. Of course, if you are lucky to be British, then that culture is pretty godly and so we are the lucky ones, but for everyone else there are real issues they just don't see... (!!!)
The sermon was number two in a series on "the Bible's Se7en (sic) deadly sins". The front of church looked like this:
Not quite this, as I can't find the picture on the net, but pretty much this. Their art dept is good, and does a good job. But did somebody ever stop and go - "do we really want people to come for church for two months and face 'lust, pride, greed etc as the focus of their worship?" Seems not. So there are no Scriptures to look at, no Jesus, just Se7en deadly sins. Hmm. I found that hard as a worship focus. There is a cross over in a corner, but it really is over in a corner, and it is dark and not lit over there.
A cultural issue? Well, it might not matter as much to them as it does to me what they are looking at. They might not notice.
As for that sermon. Let's start with the concept of "the Bible's se7en deadly sins". They don't exist. It's an idea from Roman Catholic dogma, which has become vernacular, and finds its origins in the 6th Century Pope Gregory the Great. Trying to tie Proverbs 6.16 with this list, as the preacher did on Sunday, is pretty poor. Yep, there are seven sins listed, but they really are not the same. Saying that a heart that devises wickedness is lust "right there" really won't do. The Bible calls lust "lust" when it wants to.
After that, it was a "good advice" sermon. When the Devil gets you, this is what you should do to resist. Now - fine. But. BUT - this is where the cultural stuff really kicks in. In Britain, a church with good fellowship, a Biblical priority (not that there was much Bible in this service or sermon - we never had a Bible reading, for example), decent worship etc - such a church would not necessarily be so very conservative. Women - that men lust after you is your fault for dressing so provocatively. You are flaunting yourselves. Stop it - or do it at home only for your husbands. (There was no issue of men preening themselves in any way.) I am not making this up - this what we were told.
And ultimately - the main way to avoid lust is to make sure you are having regular sex with your spouse. I did wonder if Gill & I were the only non-married people in the building. I guess it was possible. Though there were teenagers present, maybe they didn't count. Being adult & single clearly was unthinkable. This again is what I mean by cultural differences. In the UK, there is such a rise in single adults that such a line is tantamount to pastoral neglect. Is that not true here? Or is serial marriage honestly seen as better than responsible singleness?
But more than this: Jesus wasn't mentioned. I said this was an advice sermon. So it was. Self help. The pastor's tips. Occasional proof texts thrown in. But no Jesus. No grace. And no cross. Which means - no recognition that people fail and hurt and need help to get up & try again with forgiveness and a clean start. If you are preaching on sin, how can you do it without ever mentioning the cross? This guy did it.
Gill & I had a good chat afterwards. And I saw lovely things there - good people, a great set up, a super band, an amazing technical awareness, real growth - but I do understand why Gill has stopped going. She says every now & then he preached in a way that really spoke to her, but too often it was like this. The first time I heard him I thought he was great. This time - really, and trying to be aware of the cultural stuff that does make a huge difference, I'm struggling to give more than a 1 out of 10.
So here are some pictures to cheer me up. Gill & the cats, George & Martha - George is the white one, Martha the grey. George climbs up from this cat nest up on top of the TV unit up to a high shelf where Gill has some pottery...
And here are some birds that wandered down the road. Herons, I think, which apparently mate for life, and which clearly have social outings. They also sound like velociraptors when they get distressed...