By Amy Butler
When I first took up preaching every Sunday I made the decision to follow the Revised Common Lectionary as a guide for worship planning. It would be nice to say that I chose to do this because I wanted to lead my congregation to stand in solidarity with Christians around the world (or some other equally spiritual-sounding reason), but the cold hard truth of the matter is that, even by that young age I had already heard way too many sermons in which the pastor clearly had run out of ideas and had walked into the pulpit that morning with something he’d dug up in a place not too many of us would want to go.
Because of this conditioning I’ve been a little fearful of diverging from the Lectionary in my worship planning. But time heals all wounds and all that, and, believe it or not, we’ve just begun a four-week non-Lectionary-based worship series here at Calvary. The series is called “Kingdom Parables,” and the idea is to explore in as many ways as we can that elusive-yet-favorite idea that Jesus liked to call the Kingdom of God.
Passages (off-Lectionary!) were chosen for worship, but it seemed like we needed something more. Jesus’ Kingdom Parables, after all, are a little obscure for us modern city dwellers — those of us who are most likely to run into a mustard seed, if ever, in the aisles of Whole Foods.
So I challenged the congregation to a collaborative-liturgical-art project: While we explore what Jesus had to say about the Kingdom of God in worship, I asked members of Calvary to spend a few weeks taking pictures of modern Kingdom parables — images that reminded each of them of what they know to be God’s dreams for our lives and our world.
Slowly the images began to trickle in, and they were soon paired with little phrases explaining their relevance:
The Kingdom of God is a sign that something big is on its way!
The Kingdom of God is an ideal that can look scary from far away.
The Kingdom of God is like sometimes walking through the darkness because you know the light is there.
Following in the tradition of past creative liturgical projects, Calvary member and artist Caroline Armijo dreamed up a look and design for a photo gallery, and installation began. Panels and gallery lights were a little tricky in the narthex of our 140-year-old sanctuary, and our shoestring budget didn’t help either. But slowly the gallery came into being, and on Sunday worshipers were studying the incredible collection of images on their way into the sanctuary for worship.
Ministry is full of harebrained ideas; good pastors have to try as many as they can to hit a few that connect. This reality leaves us with dusty shelves full of great ideas that tanked; you can never really predict what might work. But as I walked into the narthex on Sunday morning and saw all of those pictures representing the creative effort, thoughtful intention, and spiritual depth of my fellow church members, I had to swallow hard when I recognized the investment and engagement they represent. I guess I technically knew this, but I was struck again by the rich wealth of insight that surrounds me in this place: photos of sweet babies reaching for flowers, tattered lost-and-found signs, piles of fresh bread, brothers walking together — all images my community has used, yet again, to teach me new ways to understand my faith.
After worship I wandered around the gallery again. I took in those images, and they became conversations in my mind — spirited faith discoveries, shared with friends as all of us strain and struggle and rejoice and embrace this faith adventure. And as I turned to go on Sunday, I thought to myself: Most days I have a hard time knowing much of anything for sure. But today I am fairly certain that the Kingdom of God is like congregations of faith that take all the challenge and possibility of following Jesus and live it with abandon!
Thanks be to God.