This post is an excerpt from Chapter 4 of Scott Daniels’s new church-wide study, Embracing Exile: Living Faithfully as God’s Unique People in the World.
There is a parable credited to Søren Kierkegaard about a town of ducks. These ducks for decades had waddled everywhere they went. mornings they waddled to work and to school. In the evenings they waddled back home. Every Sunday the ducks waddled to church. Each week the duck pastor would open the duck bible and preach about how God had given ducks the gift of wings with which they could soar above the earth and see the world from a different perspective. This sermon would always bless the ducks, and they would all quack their amens. Then the ducks would stand up and waddle home.
My version of the duck parable happened several years ago when I was preaching a revival using the Sermon on the Mount in a little church in Arkansas. It was one of those wonderful, loving country churches where the people are warm and responsive to the message. There were several folks throughout the week who would say “Amen” or “Hallelujah” or even “Keep preaching!” during the message. That was all I needed! They helped me preach with everything I had to give.
I saved my favorite parts of the Sermon on the Mount—all of the peacemaking, forgiving, and loving-your-enemies sections—for the concluding service on Sunday morning. The sermon could not have gone any better. The congregation was alive and responsive. I was on fire. Heaven and earth touched. Many people responded to an invitation to come and pray at the altar. I closed the service convinced that the spirit of revival had indeed come to that little corner of the Ozarks.
What the church also needs are practices of reconciliation and forgiveness that rehabituate the lives of the faithful into people who might actually go into the world and turn the other cheek or go the second mile.
After the benediction I went just a few steps down the hall from the sanctuary to the nursery to pick up our oldest son, Caleb—who was probably three or four at the time. I asked the nursery attendant how the morning had gone for him. She responded, “Oh, Caleb is such a sweet boy. He’s done so well this week. Well . . . , we did have one little problem today. There was a new little boy who kept hitting the others. So I told Caleb, if he hits you again, you just hit him back.”
I smiled and said, “You don’t get to hear the sermons in here do you?”
She laughed and replied, “Oh, yes we do. And I thought the message today was just what we needed.”
Her answer amused me but didn’t surprise me. Sometimes I think I can see written above the doors at the rear of every sanctuary these words: “That was nice, pastor. But now as we go back into the ‘real world’. . .” I’m not surprised that any person shaped day after day by the fears and violence that pervade the culture would instinctively respond to being hit with immediately hitting back. I was just shocked that morning that I only had to walk about a hundred feet from the sanctuary to be back in the “real world.”
What the church needs are not just more sermons telling the stories about the reconciling nature of the cross, the call by Jesus for disciples to love their enemies, and reminders that peacemakers are the blessed children in God’s kingdom. We do need to constantly be reminded that our story is a one of overcoming the evil in the world with good. But what the church also needs are practices of reconciliation and forgiveness that rehabituate the lives of the faithful into people who might actually go into the world and turn the other cheek or go the second mile. In other words, until the ducks practice flying, they will simply keep waddling home.