Changing Roles

(Guest blogger Ryan Beuthin contributes the following post…)

I’m not waiting for Sunday to come to me this week. I’m not coming to The Table this weekend wondering what it might be like. The first song and the first story will not be surprises to me this week.

Because this week, I am changing roles.

I’ve helped host services in the past. I’ve helped plan with others, I’ve come early to prepare to play music. I’ve had discussions on how to work with the liturgy. However, this week has been the first week I’ve worked on my own in preparation for a service.

And it has been a strange and unexpected sensation though, to feel the service preparing me as well. It’s become a bit of a reciprocal relationship.

I was given a theme: “planting,” and some suggestions for verses that may go along with this theme. It didn’t take me too long to work through these verses and get a feel for those that might complement the theme. I passed on the verse about Noah planting a garden and vineyard after coming off the ark, getting drunk off of the vineyard’s wine, and lounging without clothes in his tent (to the embarrassment of his sons). As well, I thought it might be best to save for another venue the parsing out of the Corinthians verse that says “If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you?” And I passed by Jeremiah 12:2 because it alluded to the idea of God planting people (odd mental image).

Except, the Jeremiah passage would not leave me as I went through my week.

You see, it first speaks of God planting people and them taking root, but then it tacks on a zinger: “You are always on their lips but far from their hearts.”

It’s not a phrase about planting or even planting in a spiritual sense. It’s not even going to be a verse we cover in the service on Sunday. But wow, did that verse work on me as I spent my week with God very much “on my lips.”

For, as I changed my role from participant to host, I found an immediate spike in my weekly time spent with God “on my lips.” Right from Monday, I was plowing through verses, thinking about songs, and searching for connections between passages. It was early on that I chose to bypass Jeremiah. I eliminated the verse and moved on with my “planning.”

Even still, by Monday night, Jeremiah was back. Tuesday morning the verse was lingering. Wednesday, I was still hearing the echo of that verse in my head as I realized truly how much time I had spent with God on my lips… yet far from my heart.

I’m not saying “far” like “nonexistent.” I’m not admitting to midweek atheism or anything that extreme. What I noted, though, was how much mental work I had done by Wednesday while almost totally ignoring the health of my heart and my spirit’s connection with its Creator.

Had I sat quietly in the shadow of the scripture I had chosen to hear it speak? Had I consciously opened my inner ebbs and flows to be open to the Spirit’s subtle nudging? Had I stopped doing stuff yet? By Wednesday, I knew I had not. My lips and my mind had been running a mile a minute, and my heart was far behind.

So right in the middle of my “service preparation,” the service turned around and started preparing me instead. I took heed and changed pace.

This was not a normal occurrence in my former role as “service participant.”

But strangely enough, I could guarantee you that it was always needed.

So as I approach this Sunday with a list of songs, scriptures, hopes and dreams for what the Spirit might do with the gathering of her Church…

…for the first time in a long while, my heart will not be far away.

(Ryan Beuthin is a graduate student at the Center for Justice & Peacebuilding at EMU.)