Messy Church

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Orange jelly

Posted by Jane Leadbetter on 09 Nov 2017 (0 comments)
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Revd Fiona Pennie is Curate at St Mary's Church Grassendale, Liverpool and is on the L19 Messy Church team. She reflects on how engaging with one particular Messy activity lead to her preaching about it on Bible Sunday.

At the L19 Messy Church session 'A Holy Temple' from the Get Messy! magazine, I was on the 'Foundations' table where we organised three bases on which to build a tower and to see which one was the best. My first struggle was to try and work out what a 'best' tower looked like. Children were drawn to the table and began building with the blocks in the style of a Jenga tower with the largest surface flat to the 'foundation'. The scrunched-up newspaper was impossible and soon forgotten, which left a tray of orange jelly and a children's Bible. 

The blocks built with the largest surface area in contact with the jelly or book actually built a similar-sized tower to start with. However, the first visitor to the table soon realised that it was okay to touch and feel the jelly. Our Messy photographer captured her rolling up her sleeves and getting very Messy indeed. The now much more runny jelly began spilling over the edges of the tray, on to the chair and the floor! One or two other children looked on in horror and were happy to build a magnificent structure on the Bible but NOT happy to touch the jelly! One mum helped her son to push a block through the watery jelly so that it actually rested on the tray. The issue of unsteady foundations was overcome! A tall structure soon emerged rising out of the sea of jelly.

Eventually, I realised that gradually the children were having much more fun in joyfully exploring the orange jelly as they coated themselves and the blocks in the sticky stuff, than building a big safe tower on the Bible. Maybe the message we had ended up with was 'Build your life on jelly not Jesus, as it's much more fun'. But we know that itsn't true… so what was God saying through this Messy experience on a Saturday afternoon?

Fast forward a week to Bible Sunday and the three lectionary passages set for the day. In one of them, Nehemiah 8, Ezra reads from the long-lost book of the law of Moses and people stand from daybreak until noon, something that would have taken an hour longer on that particular Sunday as the clocks went back! Not one child questioned the fact that there was a Bible available for them to build on… nor that it was getting covered in orange jelly… It was just there. How often do we take for granted our ability to pick up and read this amazing book? It has been said that we often don't know the value of something until we don't have it anymore. How important is the 'written word', the Bible, in our lives?

The Gospel reading was from Matthew 24, which starts with the disciples commenting on the temple buildings. But Jesus tells them that they will be completely demolished and indeed that they will find themselves persecuted and killed. The end times are coming: 'This generation will not pass from the scene until all these things take place' (v. 34, NLT). BUT that generation has died and, although we look for Christ 'coming on clouds' and listen out for the 'mighty trumpet blast', it hasn't happened yet.

So what does this passage mean for us? We need to reflect and think deeply if our experience and the passage seem to contradict each other, much as the Messy Foundations message didn't fit with life experience. Jesus taught the disciples to look beyond the temple buildings; that, although this great building was built on strong foundations, it would be completely destroyed. Apparent strong foundations were found to be weak. He also foretells of the difficult lives they are about to face because they believe in him. We like to be safe and secure; it is a basic human instinct that we don't like change. But following Jesus means that life may be very wobbly, rather like orange jelly. Indeed, it may well be more wobbly because we follow Jesus, but by pushing through all the distractions of like, making space and time to meet with the living word, Jesus, through the written word, the Bible, we can build resilience to weather the wobbly moments of life.

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