Archive: 2018 | 2017
February 28th, 2018
Well, we made it through another holiday season, didn’t we? So much activity, so much to do, so much to remember. Still, I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling a bit like my batteries are about to run down, especially when I notice that the forty-day season of Lent is just around the corner. So, maybe you won’t be getting into bed as early as you would like, and when you do, your mind keeps rushing around for awhile. Perhaps, you sometimes feel like your life is pretty much like a roller-coaster ride.
Into the midst of all of that we take notice of one more involvement: the matter of our working, worshiping, and growing as a worshiping community of Christians as a church, if you will. And when you are involved in all kinds of activities which are designed to help those less fortunate than you, couldn’t it be reasoned, for example, that what you are doing makes worship and religious stuff superfluous? So, if you are feeling that you never manage to get enough sleep in the dead of winter, that is, when you find that the only prayer that appeals to you when Sunday finally comes is the one which says, Give us this day our day in bed ... Is there any practical proof that that isn’t just as good? Maybe it has occurred to you that there is enough swirling around in your busy life that is of some help to you that the need for this thing we call church is no longer very high on your list of priorities.
Besides, religion has so many odd forms, doesn’t it ... idiosyncracies, quirks, and even scandals. So, couldn’t one legitimately question whether there is anything real underneath?
Maybe the whole business is either quaintly archaic or hypocritically exploitive, and either of which we can do without nicely. With all else you have to do, there certainly could be lurking somewhere in the dark recesses of your mind this simple question: Why bother with this, anyway?
And it is not, I hope, because you believe that God sends people to hell because they have spotty church attendance. I suppose that there are people who believe that, but we’re not among them. I also hope that you are not harboring any illusion that your pastor is the wisest, deepest, or holiest person from whom you can learn or from whom you can be inspired. That’s a bunch of hooey. My hope is that when you make the church a part of your life, it is not to keep up appearances; that is, that since respectable people are part of a church, I must be part of one, too, in order to be respected. No, the reason for being here, right in the midst of very busy lives, in all that clamor of the claims and demands upon us, and drowning in more input and information that we could ever digest, is to recover, and to try to hold onto our sense of who we are, and to regain some vision of how much we have going for us.
And, that, incidently, is where the Bible begins. It does not start with requirements and advice. It begins with who we are. It speaks about the universe and the creation of life as we know it. But the point of both of the creation stories, the one in Genesis 1, and the one in Genesis 2, was that God was doing something awesomely different in the creation of man and woman.
Professor John Bronowski, in his book, The Assent of Man, echoes this beautifully. He writes: Among the multitude of animals which scamper, fly, burrow, and swim around us, man is the only one who is not locked into his environment. His imagination, his reason, his emotional subtlety and toughness, make it possible for him not to accept the environment but to change it. And that series of inventions by which man, from age to age has remade his environment, is a different kind of evolution - not biological, but cultural evolution. We have what no other animal possesses, a jig-saw of faculties which alone, make us creative ... There are many gifts that are unique in man; but at the center of them all, the root from which all knowledge grows lies in the ability to draw conclusions from what we see to what we do not see; to move our minds through space and time and recognize ourselves in the past as being on the steps to the present.
But, of course, it has not all been positive, has it? We have been, and are, almost as awesomely destructive as we are awesomely creative. And still, despite the fact that we might use it all to become builders or destroyers, killers or healers, God chose to give us powers and freedoms and dreams and opportunities that forever changed everything about the way things could and would happen here on earth. That is who we are. In our own way, we are awesome. The world and the universe are awesome, but so are we! And we dare not forget it.
Unfortunately, though [and this gets us back to the matter of worship, in case you were wondering where I was headed] ... that sense of who we are and whose we are, is often the first thing of which we lose track when we become busy, agitated, or frightened. And there is very little at work in our world and our life to remind us or to restore it.
Some years ago now in a play on Broadway, Lily Tomlin portrays a wonderful, wise bag lady. The bag lady tells at one point of stopping to look at the stars one night. She says, As usual, I felt in awe. And then I felt even deeper awe at this capacity we have to be in awe of something ... I felt so good inside and my heart felt so full, I decided I would set time aside each day to do awe-robics; because at the moment you are most in awe of all there is about life that you don’t understand, you are closer to understanding it all than at any other time.
Precisely! Hold on to them if we can. I think her awe-robics might be more important to our staying alive in the deepest sense of life as abundant life, than aer-obics could ever be to physical health. It is not a bad way of describing what Christian worship, at its best, ought to reawaken and renew and develop in us.
Awe, wonder, gratitude, and some creative humility should follow from our being reminded as we come together like this, of God’s specific involvement in our life and world, of our own incredible place in the midst of it all, of the amazing possibility of our being God’s servants in the midst of all this loving and hating, building and destroying, daring and fearing that goes on around us and in us. For those of us who can keep that in front of us, it makes a difference in the way we see ourselves, each other, and our world.
Those of us who, on the other hand, lose our sense of wonder, of mystery, of awe, are to mourned for. We are not necessarily bad. It is just that we are losing out on so much which is available to us. Our imagination becomes stunted, our joy shallow, curiosity undernourished, and our appetite and tolerance for change disappears.
Those folks look at beauty and see only the price tag, or raise questions about practicality. They cannot enjoy something without trying to own it. Religion, faith for them, because it lacks wonder and humility, is mostly negative, made up of duties, dogmas, and diatribes about stuff everyone had better believe or else. They look a newness, variety, and the unknown and see mostly threat. They look at other human beings and worry as often as not about how those others might be the source of hurt, error, or danger, rather than excitement and blessing. But, again, they are not bad. They are spiritually undernourished, worn down, and uptight.
So, I am suggesting that even people who think they don’t need it, particularly people who don’t think they need it, do need a regular dose of awe-robics. It is, one might say, where the heart goes to school, that is, where we step back long enough to see again what is enduring, and what the sources of meaning, joy, hope, and healing really are, or, at least, could be.
And, I think it takes something like every Sunday, and then some, to get it right. I suspect that the further we get from our last session of awe-robics, of allowing ourselves to be carried away, to be touched by God’s Spirit, we become more agitated, and unsure about a lot of things.
Now, the church is not the only place that happens, because sometimes it doesn’t happen here either. But as our lives become more and more compacted, nosier, and volatile, there is not much else working toward it; not reading the paper in your underwear with a cup of coffee, not eating bacon and eggs with the usual group, not cutting the grass, or not even driving that little white ball from hole to hole all over an manicured meadow. That stuff is pleasant, but it is mainly filler. It stops way short of awe-robics.
I am convinced that sharing this kind of time with the whole spectrum of diverse and complex lives that come here with you to open themselves in worship, that through words of wonder, of forgiveness, and of hope that are part of worship, through the silences, the music, the prayers, and maybe sometimes through that awesome awareness of standing as we are at the head of a procession of hundreds of generations of searching people who have worshiped like this before us, all this, you see, God uses to restore our very souls.
I am also convinced that much, if not most, of the time you will leave here not only more deeply in touch with God, but more confident and excited about who you are, and more hopefully about life in general. It may not make you always right or perfect, but it stands an excellent chance of leading you toward becoming real ... that is becoming that person God created you, and you alone, to be.
So, here endeth the commercial, if this is what this has sounded like. Well, maybe not quite yet. When this incredibly enjoyable community of Christians gather this year for our times of worship, be here, for God’s sake ... and for your own sake, and for the sake of each other. What do you think?
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