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Sneaking into Worship

Once, I was one of the sneakers.  Maybe the old folks didn't know we were there, but we were. 

A long time ago, back in the revolutionary 1970s, my co-conspirators and I would sometimes sneak away from the dignified worship services of our own tradition.  We weren’t abandoning the faith.  But, we had to sneak anyway.  I mean, what would people think?  We were going to visit, shhh -- please don’t say this too loudly, a Charismatic worship service.

Preaching in Black and White

This post is about a mystery and what I found that solved it.

Here’s how it began…
In my first year in college, I went with several other students to visit the worship service of an African-American church.  This was my first experience with traditional black worship and one of those amazing moments that fostered my lifelong passion to explore the many forms and styles of Christian worship throughout history.

Celebrating Violence in Church

In Eucharist we have to face a table of great violence.  

Flesh torn.  A body broken in pain. 

The table is not made of wood.  It is carved out of betrayal, cruelty, torture, and, finally, the violent taking of a life.

Relax.  We'll get this mess cleaned up. 

A Church Where no one Worshipped the Spirit

In the early church, no Christian offered praise to the Holy Spirit.  No prayers to Him are recorded.  No praises to Him can be found.  No one thanks Him or asks Him for anything.  Not a single phrase of a single song.  Not once.  It is just not there. 

This blog post will be the first of several posts (not in a row) that will address this thorny issue. 

Larry Hurtado, in his insightful book, Early Christian Worship, makes note of this.  He refers to this as the Binitarian nature of early Christian worship. 

a Reading for Worship: The Nearby Faraway God of the Psalms

Without ever sitting down and saying it out loud, many of us have decided we need to censor the Bible.  In our admirable desire to make worship joyful, we end up making it inauthentic.  No where is this clearer than in what passages we choose from the Psalms as lyrics in our songs or passages for worship.

As the deer pants for water, so I long for you, O Lord is a beautiful thought carried on a sweet melody.  But, we stop singing Psalm 42 just before the more disturbing, "My tears have been my food day and night, while others mock me all day long saying, 'Where is your God?'"

Not every Sunday can be a mountaintop.  Not every prayer has to be a celebration of what God has been doing in our lives.  

1000 Tongues 10,000 Reasons

Charles Wesley’s joyous hymn has endured for well over two hundred years.  “O for a thousand tongues to sing, my great Redeemer's praise, the glories of my God and King, the triumphs of his grace!”  Each stanza pours out new causes for worship: He bids our sorrows cease. He breaks the power of sin. He brings life to the dead. 

The words reflect both Wesley’s skill as a hymn writer and the depth of his own immersion in the Bible.  It is theologically rich. 

Slow Jesus: Why Quick Isn't Right

          "Doesn't this guy know there's no such thing as a bad short sermon?"
          "Shhhh.  He'll hear you."
          "He's too busy preaching.  You'd think anybody with anything at all to say could get it said in an hour.  This guy's been going on all day."

Questioning Worship

For many, worship is all about answers.  Big answers.  Little answers.  Even ordinary answers.

“Where can I find meaning for my life?” 
“What do I do now that my marriage has fallen apart and I feel like such a failure?”
"How can I know if there is a God and if he even knows I exist?"
Answers are good.
For many, worship is all about answers.

Can You Stand It?

I confess to a secret dream.  I have imagined beginning a forty-minute sermon by looking over at the members of the praise team and saying, "Listen, why don't you guys all stand up.  Right.  Now, stay standing.  I think this sermon will be a lot more meaningful to you that way."

Romancing Jesus

Call it heresy, but I think in worship we need to put some distance between us and Jesus.

I want to hold you.  Embrace you.  Be embraced by you.  I'm running to your arms.  I'm gazing longingly into your eyes.  You are beautiful.  I'm touching you.  You're touching me.  Wow, we're touching each other.

Read those words to any hormone-endowed adolescent and they will know what you're talking about.

A Fraction of the Truth

I am dyslexic.  And not just a little.  I am blessed with one of those odd brains that seems perpetually baffled by such complex issues as which direction an "S" is supposed to face; or which is right versus left.  Yes, I've heard the old tried and true solution: "Now, make your thumbs and index fingers into the Letter L and then look down and see which Letter L is correct [left hand] and which is backwards [right hand]."  OK people, this doesn't help.  Both L's look perfectly fine to me.

Like other dyslexics, mathematics was not a high point in my education.  

What a Waste!

Logic does not always serve us well in worship.

It makes more sense, for example, for a church to meet in a barn and take the money that could have been spent on a nice building and send it to hunger relief.  Think about it.  We see the logic of usefulness.  After all, you can get more people to pray by convincing them that prayer will do something for them.  Get them a bunch of money.  Make their hair grow back.  Whatever.  We tend to market worship, much like we market the gospel, on the basis of a clear bottom line.

Epitaph for Hymnals

I to the hills lift up mine eyes,
from whence shall come mine aid.
Mine help doth from Jehovah come,
which heav’n & earth hath made.

These words, adapted from Psalm 121, and written in common meter, are part of the first English book printed in North America. The “Bay Psalm Book.” And yes, it was a hymnal.

The “hymnal” was more than a collection of songs and words and musical notation.

The Centrality of Weather in Worship

The results of my informal survey proves it beyond all doubt. Resting firmly within the central focus of Christian worship is the weather.

"Father, we just thank you so much for this beautiful day."

Some may wonder why issues of transcendent importance are not higher on the scale. I suppose we may note that they fail to see the theological significance of cumulus cloud formations.

Contemporary is Traditional

Many favorite songs of Sunday worship in the 1960s are not properly classified  hymns.  They are gospel songs.  These are songs that focus on personal testimonies of how great it is to be a Christian.  “Blessed assurance!  Jesus is mine!  O, what a foretaste of glory divine!”  “What a fellowship! What a joy divine! Leaning on the everlasting arms.”  “What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear.”

The words of the songs are words we give to one another.  We are not addressing God.  We are not telling God, “Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?”  The “we” in “We shall rejoicing, bringing the sheaves” are the people around us. 

Excellence in Worship?

I need to make it clear at the outset that I'm not promoting half-way, unplanned, and needlessly bland worship. As we are created imagio dei, the urge of the lover to produce something of beauty toward the beloved is inherent.

That said, where in the world did we get the idea that we can give God "excellence" in worship?

Evangelistic Worship?

It is a question central to the life of a church. “Why is it the community of believers assembles weekly?” There may, of course, be several reasons (including some really nice donuts). But, inevitably, one rationale and overarching purpose will exist. Is it the evangelism of the lost or the worship of the saved? I will suggest that the use of the assembly for evangelism weakens both worship and evangelism.