I love the Shrek films – I love the humour, and the wry observations of life, but most of all the skilful way in which they work on a number of levels at once, and are therefore accessible for even very small children while being satisfying for the adults too. The same is true of the Toy Story series.
Shrek – The Sermon?
From time to time I have the privilege of preaching or leading services at my local church, and my aim is to achieve something of the same layering – not for the sake of cleverness, nor to produce entertainment, but because at root most truth is simple, often very simple. Sometimes the simpler the more challenging. Which is not the same as dumbing down. More akin to Augustine’s comment that “the Gospel of John is deep enough for an elephant to swim and shallow enough for a child not to drown.”
Jesus of course often taught in stories, drawing his audience in to simple truths presented in often startling ways. That is what I see in the encounters of Jesus in the gospels – the Pharisees struggled, either in wilful opposition, or like Nicodemus because he had so much to unlearn. Jesus was drawn to those at the margin, those with nothing invested, the sick, the lame, the children. And his teaching method of choice, the parable, drew people in at different levels. You could call this multivalency.
The same should in principle be true of our church buildings. Traditional church buildings allow us to connect with the story being played out at many levels. We are used to thinking that if there is a message to be preached, then that will be verbal. A Gothic cathedral for example uses a wider variety of means – the stained glass for example would retell the biblical story. And what of the gospel enacted in the gathered community? How well do our buildings facilitate Christ being present among us when we gather? Lots of parallels I think.