Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The center of faith


And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13

Chances are pretty good that you've heard the above passage at some point.  Chances are more than pretty good that it was at a wedding.  I think 1 Corinthians has occupied the number one most requested Bible passage for wedding now for decades.  It is the crowd favorite.  And because of the setting, it is easy to miss that middle word, "hope".  When in the world did "hope" come into play?  When was the last time the minister at a wedding went off on a tangent about "hope" being an important ingredient in marriage?  Forgiveness, you bet.  That is a daily need in a relationship.  Love, well duh, why else get married?  Yet, hope not only under-girds our relationships; but ultimately our connection with God.  Hope is the chewy, caramel center of the faith candy bar.  

Wait...you might say...shouldn't that be love?  After all, Paul says above the love is the greatest.  Love is number one...love is number one...feel free to chat along with me.  Hope actually helps keep love grounded in reality.  If all we do is talk about love, it can be a slippery slope.  We can sound naive or easily fall into sappy sentimentalism.  Yes, it is true, all you need is love.  But a healthy dose of hope can help keep love going and growing.  Hope is like fuel.  Often, I think marriages fail as much because the couple falls out of love, as they fall out of hope.  Hope that they might rekindle the love or hope that out of this difficult time a deeper love might be found.  When we stop hoping that our best days are before us and instead are behind us, we've lost not only that loving feeling, but also our sense of hope.

Hope is (as Emily Dickinson wrote) a thing with feathers.  It is light and flighty...it is hard to pin down.  Love seems easier.  I either feel love toward someone or I feel indifferent or I feel hostility.  Hope, being like the Holy Spirit of Paul's trinity of words, holds out the possibility that I was wrong.  Hope teaches me that my first impression about someone can be way off base, especially when I learn an important truth about why the person seems cold or indifferent.  Hope teaches me to hold on and hold out for more understanding.  Hope keeps searching and probing.  Love can come and go in waves; but hope keeps asking us to hang in there.  

Maybe it does not need to be only hope at the center of the faith candy bar.  There is plenty of room for love too.  But the two seem to need each other in wonderful, even delicious, ways.  I think for love to last there needs to be hope.  At the great end, when God's realm is fully realized, I am with Paul, love will be the greatest.  Until then, I am hanging on to hope as equally as important for the living out of my faith as love.  Together, they may just help us taste more than a trace of God's grace today and in the days to come.

Blessings ~ 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

But WHY do we worship?



This is the third, and final, post about worship.  And our focus question is, why gather at all?  I suspect we have all heard someone say, "Oh, I can worship God in nature...or on the golf course." (although usually the way I heard God's name evoked in that particular setting does not seem very worshipful).  So why get together?  I recently heard Brian McLaren say that, "It is not as though God every seven days goes itching for an prelude."  Or a sermon either, I might add.  

I think part of the problem is that we think worship is only about at God.  But in some ways, worship is also about the participates.  Worship says a lot more about us and our understanding of who God is.  Consider the all-too-tired-now worship wars over "contemporary" music.  I put that in quotes because this debate has been going on so long, that some of the initial music is no longer contemporary at all!  Some find it easier to worship God with drums and guitars, others with organ and choirs, still others in silence and chants.  Too often, we approach this conversation as a zero sum game...one of the above options HAS to be right (or more right), so the others can only be wrong, right?  I actually think that approach is wrong.  Each of the proponents of the particular worship style, I think, has found something meaningful there.  People who like drums and guitars often say they feel this type of music reflects what they listen to in their car so it connects with their daily life.  Perhaps they feel more authentic singing along with such music in church.  Others believe passionately, that worship music should feel and sound differently, hence they gravitate more to organ and music that we are not surrounded by so frequently in our every day lives.  And still others say that what really speaks and sparks their souls is God's still singing voice, so we need extended quiet in worship.  And I am sure there are options D, E, etc... out there too.

So, the starting place is to accept that we like what we like.  And yet, if worship is about something other than just consuming a product, and I think many of us can agree that we want worship to be something other than a play we pay to see, one way we jar ourselves out of the consumerist culture is to make sure every worship service has elements we don't like.  You read that right.  If worship is not all about you, then at some point you need to say, "That particular moment does not get it for me, but I am glad that my friend here finds it meaningful."  And maybe even deeper, "The meaning of that prelude, is that it mattered so much to Sally."  Worship is a dance where we get to participate fully, and sometimes we sit watching as others dance.  There is a give and take.

Too often, I wonder if we have missed that.  We have made worship an "all or nothing" zero sum game.  Far too many meetings have been spent chasing this issue, when we could have said, "It does not get it for me, but I am glad, truly glad, it gets it for you."  And even more so, "Can you help me understand how this type of music, prayer, style of preaching and worship is meaningful for you?"  Then listen to the answers and thoughts the other gives...hopefully s/he will ask/listen the same of you.

One of the reason, I think we argue, is because we do want to be right and we want to feel our preferences affirmed.  Second reason is because worship is art.  Remember the last time you wandered around a museum?  Chances are good that you liked the Picasso, but not the van Gogh.  You cried in one wing and whizzed through another.  And did you go to the museum curator and demand they only have your preferences?  I hope not.  I hope you noticed that the museum was not only for you, it was for others.  And while you walked through one room quickly, you maybe saw someone else linger there for a long time.  So, here is my invitation to you; talk.  Talk and listen to others about worship more.  We cannot have this conversation enough with our friends inside...especially outside the church.  We need to move from arguing and trying to score points to coming to find the beauty in worship through a variety of styles.

If you can, ask why don't your neighbors...or children...or grand-children come to church?  What do they find meaningful and what kinds of music, prayers, sermons, and rituals would help each group feel alive?  Then how can you, yes you, work with the pastor and church to make that happen?  What is at stake is helping people connect on a deep level with the grace of God together, with each other and for the sake of each other!  I believe with my whole heart, the more we ask "Why", the more we sense a trace of God's grace.

God's blessings on your conversations with each other!

Peace ~

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Divine Drama of Worship


You arrive in the parking lot frazzled.  The morning had not gone according to your plans.  Maybe you are late because your children refused to get dressed or you got a distressing phone call or some how time just slipped away.  Now, parked out in the Boonies, you hurry trying to get to the sanctuary.

Stop for just a moment and consider the threshold of the sanctuary doors.  I know many people talk about the divide between the secular and sacred; as though the sanctuary is God's home turf and outside the four walls of the church is a playground of another sort.  But, how in the world is that in concert with Genesis 1, where God creates all that is seen and unseen?

Why does it feel like there is a gap between the world we live in Monday through Saturday and the world we enter on Sunday morning (or whenever you worship)?

One reason might be because of communal singing or organ music...not necessarily things I do on a daily basis.  Another reason are the pews...not exactly the most styling seating (or comfortable) ever constructed.  Another reason is the architecture.  Or the simple table set with an ordinary loaf of bread and cup of wine.  Or the task of shaking hands as you enter, putting on a happy face.

Most of the rituals surround worship happen only in worship.  That makes them unique and particular and peculiar.  Worship has a different vibe and that vibe grates at some people.  The rituals were emptied of their meaning for some people, not necessarily because of the church...but because we have sometimes failed to talk about why we do, what we do, when we do it.  We just assume that everyone knows why a call to worship is first and what an invocation is.

But the difference of space and rhythm and language is what creates a gap between Sunday morning and every other day of the week.  In some ways that is good.  It is good that worship has that feeling of other.  On the other hand, those differences can become obstacles too tall to get over for some.  Since worship is central to our faith and our identity, it is good to look at the movement of worship.

In the last post, I mentioned Soren Kierkegaard's vision of the divine drama.  If worship is a drama it needs to tell a story, it needs a beginning; middle; and end.  The beginning needs to introduce everyone to the cast of characters (which remember Kierkegaard said was YOU).  The introduction happens by passing the peace, by settling in with music, and through some entry prayer that I believe needs to provide people of God with a drawbridge between the world outside and inside.  Opening prayers that do not acknowledge we live in a beautiful and broken world in the majority of our life, are asking people to take a leap of faith to enter into worship.  The middle part of worship is engaging scripture and usually a reflection on scripture by a pastor.  You might think that is the climax of the drama.  But I believe the offering is.  NOT because I am interested in money and how much you put in the plate, but because I believe God is interested in our whole lives that you metaphorically place into the golden rimed plants as they clank by you.  When we offer all that is in our hearts, it is a powerful moment.  Maybe, offering could be first in that respect.  To offer your prayers, your gifts, your hopes/dreams for the coming week, could be the first part of worship.

Like all good stories, the point is not rigidity and that you always have to follow the same format.  Some of the most beautiful and creative stories, come out in fresh ways when you tell the story backwards, or start in the middle, or shake things up.  Story structures are permeable and our best worship is too.  So, let me ask you arm chair worship planners again.  Would you like the offering first and why?  Would you like the sermon last and why?

Obviously, what I am most interested in is your answers to "Why"?  I pray it causes you to reflect about what is at stake.  The  more we can do that, be honest, the more our worship can bless us with a trace of God's grace.

Blessings ~

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Why we do what we do when we do it...Worship


26 What should be done then, my friends? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. 27 If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn; and let one interpret. 28 But if there is no one to interpret, let them be silent in church and speak to themselves and to God. 29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. 30 If a revelation is made to someone else sitting nearby, let the first person be silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged. 32 And the spirits of prophets are subject to the prophets, 33 for God is a God not of disorder but of peace. 1 Corinthians 14:26-32

Today is Sunday.  This morning, for a little over an hour, our church worshiped together.  We came together...as Paul says.  We sang a hymn...well actually three hymns.  But really hymns are like potato chips...you can't just have one.  We had a scripture lesson from Exodus.  Then...well, I am not sure if the sermon was a revelation or an interpretation?  I pray the words I offered were done for building up the people there and those who watch online. At this point, the rest of Paul's advice might as well been, "Talk to an alien, spin in a circle, and stand on your head."  Because we did not do anything else Paul suggests in worship today...OR ever!

What is it that we expect when we enter into church for worship?  Does Paul's words fit with our expectations?  We can start with an honest statement: when it comes to worship, we like what we like. For some it is a guitar.  For others, you just turned up your nose.  For others the sermon should last forty minutes. For others, you just rolled your eyes.  We like what we like.  

There is nothing wrong with that.  Except.  Except, well, the focus of worship is not really about us, which is really hard to accept in a culture of consumerism.  Everywhere else we spend our free time and give our money is about us.  And if it is not, well then, we just go somewhere else.  Which has happened more times that we can count in the church today.  Rather than trying to work through our disagreements, usually over worship, a faction breaks off and forms a new church.  It is a lot easier than dealing with those people who like (fill in the blank here).

But if worship is not about us, if worship is about God, are we assuming that God prefers one style of music or preaching or praying?  I think we all fall into that trap.  Over the next few posts, I want to explore worship.  Why we do what we do when we do it...in worship.  I will look at my own reformed style, but also other styles too.  But before we dwell with that...I think it is best to start with you.  I know this is a contradiction from the above, but stay with me here.

If you were in my robe/stole, what kind of worship service would you design? What is most meaningful in worship for you?  Would you sing a lot or little?  Would you pray?  How many times?  How much scripture?  What about a sermon?  Communion?  

Soren Kierkegaard once observed that worship is a drama.  But rather than seeing the preacher or the choir as the actor/actresses, Kierkegaard said the CONGREGATION is the main actors/actresses.  The preacher and choir were like stage managers, prompters.  And God is the audience.  I also believe there are times when God moves in our midst and becomes the actor/actress in our midst.  Those are some of the most amazing moments.  

So, now is your chance to play armchair preacher.  How would you design a service?  And once you do, ask yourself why?  May there be a trace of God's grace guiding you as you do this...I know for me as I plan worship God's grace is what I lean into every single moment in planning...especially on Sunday mornings!

Blessings ~