‘God who rescues’ and Messy Church
Who doesn’t know and love the story of Zacchaeus in Luke 19? It’s a Sunday school favourite, of course, but have you ever wondered what God might be saying to us in Messy Church from this story?
Well, this was exactly what the BRF Messy Church team, plus some invited online guests, explored recently on the second in a series of distance quiet mornings. Linking up through Google Hangout, we shared some initial thoughts and then gave ourselves time and space to pray and reflect on the theme of ‘the God who rescues’ and listen to God.
There is so much more to this famous story than just a little tax collector stuck up a tree – though one of our group actually did go up a sycamore tree in his garden to take a picture of what the view might have looked like! Maybe Messy Church can offer that sort of opportunity for some people, to view church ‘from a safe distance’ before they come close or, in Zacchaeus’s case, are invited to come on down!
The word ‘rescue’ has all sorts of resonances, and it got us thinking about the rescue services or the many TV programmes and books where rescue is the central theme. To be a member of a successful air-sea rescue team, for example, takes a lot of training and expensive equipment; it’s a specialised job. Maybe this helps explain why Messy Church demands so much energy and commitment from a team, as well as money from the supporting traditional congregation, if they are to bring people home to God. Rescuing families from isolation and consumerism today, and giving them a safe place where they are welcomed, known, loved and valued, is demanding work. But surely Jesus calls us to throw a lifeline to people who need rescuing – or, in the words of Jesus to Zacchaeus, ‘to seek and save the lost’?
And what a fascinating character Zacchaeus is! Some of us began to wonder what had prompted him to climb that tree. Maybe he had heard what John the Baptist said about tax collectors some three years earlier? Maybe Matthew (Levi) was in his ‘regional team’ at some stage, and he had been intrigued that he was now a disciple of this amazing rabbi from Galilee? Or perhaps he had just heard the news of what had happened to Bartimaeus as Jesus arrived in Jericho and now he too would like to ‘see’ for himself? We wondered whether we ever stopped to think how God has already been calling the families who turn up at our Messy Churches long before they receive an invite or see an advert. The journey to faith is a long one; too often we tend to focus just on the moment of conversion and imagine it will always be as simple as that! Whatever the backstory, this was ‘Zacchaeus’ day’ and Jesus knew it. Are we praying that we likewise can be sensitive to ‘the day’ and give people a chance to respond to Jesus?
Now, most artists and storytellers tend to focus on the tree, but really it was at the party meal in the home where everything changed! This led us into focusing on how the values of celebration, creativity, all-age and hospitality are so important in shaping the rescue work of Messy Church. At the centre, of course, is Jesus the rescuer, as families are invited to come as they are, to enjoy the opportunity to explore the Bible in playful and non-wordy ways, to share in this with children in the midst and to make friends around a shared meal. Messy Church offers a model for an evangelistic congregation – an intergenerational missional community – where lives can be transformed just as happened for Zacchaeus. And not just for Zacchaeus, but his whole household! It seems that God is in the business of rescuing households, not just individuals.
Our distance quiet morning produced a wealth of creativity – pictures, poems, stories and photos (see the attached images). It prompted more questions and further thoughts, as we will continue to listen to how God is working out his great rescue mission through Jesus using this strange new, messy shape of church! Zacchaeus’s dramatic change of heart must have had a huge impact on the community in Jericho; so we ended by wondering how Messy Church was impacting our own communities. This is surely a good question for all of us to ask, as reflective Messy Church practitioners.