‘In him we live and move and have our being’;…
Years ago a parish pastor wrote a book outlining fifty ways to liven up worship. Each Sunday had a theme such as, ‘Bring Your camera Sunday’, or ‘Hawaiian Shirt Sunday’, and so forth. The problem with his approach is that it worked. And, it missed the point. Worship now became fixated on trying to find new things to replace the old things and the trap was set. And it was set because out with the old and in with the new is a mantra with no end. Once style and novelty become the point, the message is clear; what matters is getting people in the door. Who can argue with that. Right?
But drawing a crowd in any way you can does not address the problem we see in church attendance. After all, we are not the PTA trying to get more parents to show up at meetings, so let’s have a raffle. As I see it, the problem at its’ root is the disconnect between religious language and ordinary experience. And this is the problem brought on by secularism.
Listen to the average group of church folk as they gather for coffee following worship. How many of the conversations have to do with the worship? I don’t mean comments about how the music was nice or the sermon wasn’t too long or there were typos in the bulletin. I mean conversation about how the language and actions of Word and sacrament worship speak to and connect with daily life and experience. I am not saying this as a criticism at all. Because our people live and breathe within a secular mindset six and one half days a week, why should we expect them to suddenly see all kinds of connections between the language of worship and daily life? In such a secular context, people have come to expect religion to be a private, personal matter. Once you’ve left the sanctuary, worship is over.
Within the walls of a church building, for example, it may be OK to ask God to change something or someone. But once we leave the parking lot, we expect change to result from health care, motivational techniques, the enticements of advertising, a better job, the right schools, more education, the right politics, therapy and so forth.
Four hundred years ago, if you became sick, the doctor was your last resort. You went to the priest first because you assumed that God had everything to do with your sickness and health. If you were undertaking a journey you went to the church to have prayers said for the safety of the journey. Today, we fasten our seat belts. ‘Be safe’ has come to replace ‘goodbye’ which itself replaced ‘God be with Ye’. In the church building if you talk to God it’s prayer. On the street if God talks to you, you’re nuts.
Christian worship does not ask, ‘What gimmick will work this week?’ Christian worship asks, What kinds of experiences, common to us all, come to expression in the language and action of worship?’ To ask this kind of question is to ask a question that takes God, people and the world seriously. Worship ceases to be privatized religious entertainment. It is now filled with possibility – and risk – because it implies God’s direct, intimate involvement in all of life.
More on this tomorrow.
“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”