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george wieland – “who’s getting their ass to church on Sunday?”

What follows is a Facebook conversation between a group of young adults in NZ, Friday 11 March 2011, while watching TV coverage of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami

(names changed, but their comments remain).

Amy All these natural disasters lately are scaring me and making me feel uneasy!

Ben the world’s coming to an end! WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE AHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! RUN FOR YOUR LIVES …….. or come to the end of the world party at my house mite as well end it partying ……

Cathy it’s so frickin scary. Watching the tsunami

Amy I’m watching it too. It’s intense. I almost feel unsafe, like anything could happen here anytime…Flip, Better get my ass to church on Sunday! Lol.

Amy What if 2012 really is it? :S

Ben Hahaha who cares what happns not much we can do b out it, Im thinking volcanoes shd be next, had floods, earthquakes, wildfires, hurricanes, yep def getting volcanoes next

Deb Haha that’s what we were discussing here at home. Church on Sunday it is … I no like anytime anyday anything can happen with no warning. I’m creaking. I’m with you on this one… 2012 must be true. So we shud def go to church on sunday.

Amy Yeah I was thinking the same about volcanoes! Especially in Auckland, we are flippin surrounded by them! I like your attitude Ben cos I’m kinda freaking. I want to grow old and travel and get married and have kids and all that stuff…

Ben here comes the tsunami. Wish I had a surf board rite now.

Ben I’m going to the beach, whos keen?????

Emma Amy, this stuff has been happening since the dawn of time. It is scary and I think even more so given what CHCH has just experienced. But yeah, personally don’t think the world is gona end just yet. Hopefully not anyway!

Deb Omg asolutely Amy. Travel get married if we miss out on that I’d be pretty angry. Omg volcanoes Aargh… Now a tsunami warning. For auckland.

Ben I’m pretty sure if we all die u wont care that u didn’t travel or get married lol haha

Ben but seriously like Emma said its been hapning for years don’t think we have anything to worry about

Deb this attitude you have is good in a way and bad. I love it… But seriously I’m scared.

Fraser 2012!

So if Amy, Deb and the others agree that they “shud def go to church on sunday”, what if they turn up in your church? What do you hope they will experience?

I use the term “experience” deliberately. As a preacher I do hope that what I say will bring knowledge and understanding, but I don’t think that it is primarily a desire for information nor even a nagging theological question that is impelling Amy and Deb to a church service on the Sunday after the Japanese earthquake. They are scared. And, like many other frightened people through the centuries, they are reaching out to God.

I hope, then, that in whatever church they arrive at on Sunday they experience the reality and the welcome of God. I hope that they experience what it is to be enveloped within a community that draws its strength from God. I hope that they experience the relief of hearing their real fears named and the seriousness of what has so disturbed them acknowledged. I hope they experience a dawning or rekindling of confidence that God may be trusted. I hope they experience a recognition of and repentance from anything that has distanced them from the God they now know they need. And I hope that they experience a new or restored relationship with God in Christ, and peace beyond rational knowing.

Of course all this depends on much more than the preacher, it is the task of the whole church, but we as preachers can make a major contribution when we recognize that we are addressing not only enquiring minds but also frightened hearts. It is love that will cast out fear, not a refutation of Mayan Calendrics (if the 2012 reference is a mystery, Google it – members of your congregation already have).

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George Wieland teaches New Testament at Carey Baptist College. A former missionary and pastor, he preaches regularly in a range of contexts.

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