Monday, May 2, 2016

Where is Holy Ground--A Worship Wars Question

photo by Erica Joy / flickr
Carlyle Marney, great preacher used to say the funniest thing. He said God does not come to church every Sunday. God being God does what God pleases. And sometimes he doesn’t show at all. Some Sundays God strays home in his pajamas and reads the newspaper. But Dr. Marney said but every so often God puts on his clothes and comes down to worship. He’ll walk through the vestibule, through the doors to the Sanctuary, and walk down the aisle and stop at your pew. And Marney said So you better get up and come on to church because if God comes down that aisle and stops at your pew—something great is going to happen. Lightning will strike. You’ll be turned inside out—and you’ll never be quite the same again. 

I tell that story to talk about worship. One of the concerns that many of you expressed in our survey dealt with worship. Traditional and contemporary. Several of you feel like we need to deal with this subject. And so on Wednesday nights beginning in two weeks we are going to dialogue about worship. We have a guidebook. And you’ll have an opportunity to pick one up—but it seems like in our time that when we come to the worship wars we focus mostly on should it be traditional or contemporary. Some say God only comes to church when we have a traditional service—while others say that God only comes in 2016 when we have a contemporary service.

There is a whole lot of confusion today about what worship is and is not. In our desperation to try to undergird church attendance everywhere preachers and congregations are trying all sorts of things. Some of them are downright scary. 

ButI would remind you that everything that goes on in church under the banner of worship may not be worship at all. Worship is not entertainment. We do not come here to titillate our nerve endings—the entertainment world does a better job than we could ever do—but that’s not worship. Real worship is not predictable—just doing the same old same old Sunday after Sunday. When that happens no wonder people stay away. Worship is not simply an emotional experience. We can’t leave emotion out of what happens here—but if it only emotion—something is missing. Others say worship is an intellectual exercise. Not so.  Real worship is not just a heady thing. Dr. Fosdick used to say people do not come to church just wondering what the Jubusites or the Hittites were doing. And we might even add the mark of the beast axe heads that float or do not. That has nothing  to do with us. Worship is not preaching. We used to say just: “Are you going to preaching?” Despite what we Reverends think—people do come to church to hear a good sermon—but there’s a whole lot more to worship than preaching.  

photo by Rich Orris / flickr
Well, just what is worship? When is it that God walks down that aisle and stops at your pew and something happens? We frame an answer to this question by turning to Exodus 3. This was the call of Moses. He was just a sheep herder—and sheepherders were way down on the social ladder. They were not important in the eyes of the world.But as Moses was trying to take care of the sheep an angel appeared in a bush that burned. One translation says that Moses “turned aside and looked.” He had never seen that before.He looked. In fact before that nine verses is over ten times the word look or see is used. 

The text says: :When the Lord saw that Moses had turned aside to see…” God spoke. What would have happened if Moses didn’t have his eyes wide open. Hmm. God called Moses name. “Moses…Moses.” And God said the strangest thing: “Take off your shoes .” Do what? “Take off your shoes…Moses.” And I am going to ask you to do something right now you have ever done in church. I want you to take your shoes off. And if you take your shoes off—I will take my shoes off too. It was an old custom even then—when you came to a sacred placed you took off your shoes. So Moses took off his shoes. And God said: “The place where you stand is holy ground.”

Now we must remember where he was. It was just an ordinary place. Nothing special. Stubborn sheep. Probably burning sun. Ordinary. Nothing special as Moses looked around him. A place where he had tended sheep again and again. And what was it God said: “The place where you stand is holy ground.”

Let’s leave Moses and that place for just a minute. This is as good an understanding of real worship as anything I know. God speaks. God speaks not in some spectacular way—but in the most unlikely of places. The ground right here.Right chere. This ground. This is why we take our shoes off—to remember that where we are…not just church but where we live and work and just try to get along. 2016 with a crazy election going on and problems galore everywhere. This, my friends,  might just be holy ground. 

Real worship is when you open your eyes. We miss so much—don’t we. Because we have all that other stuff on our minds. Wonder how much longer this is gonna last? When will he stop? Did  I turn off the stove before I left?  Look at old Margie over there with pursed lips—wonder what going on with her? We do everything we can to make sure we don’t see. What? 

God walks down this aisle and calls your name, much like he did Moses. Worship is personal. Our names are called. Our names. Bill, Helen. Mary.  Alison. John. David. Henry. Worship, real worship is when we are addressed. And the reason that the ground is holy—here of all places is because God calls our names.

Think about a time when you had a real worship experience. Something happened you couldn’t quite explain—and it turned you inside out. Now that doesn’t happen everyday. But if you only look for what we can see on TV or Netflix or Facebook…you’ll never hear what God has to say. 

There’s an old movie that I keep remembering. Danny Glover plays big part in the movie. It is set in some run-down
photo by Curt Mills / flickr
neighborhood in Los Angeles. Danny is a tow truck operator.He lost his wife. He has a hard time paying his bills. And at night the bullies come out—and it’s scary where he lives. Some with guns. Some were selling drugs. Life is rough and raw. But once a year he saves up his money and goes out west to the Grand Canyon and stays a couple of days. One of his friends kept wondering why does he do that. He' doesn’t have enough money for a vacation out west. And so he asks Danny, “Why do you take off and go out to the Grand Canyon of all places. Why don’t you go to Las Vegas or Dallas or somewhere.” And Danny says, “I’ll tell you. Sometimes I get it up to here—and it just about strangles me. And so I get in the car and drive to the Grand Canyon. And when I get there I stop my car and get out and sit on the ledge and just look and look. It never gets old. But then I get back in my car and head back to my hard reality.  My tow truck.  And I keep remembering that somewhere in this world there is a place that’s quiet and beautiful and takes my breath away. I find something out there bigger than I am. And I come back and I can make it another year,”

That’s what I’m talking about folks. Opening our eyes and looking. Just looking. Where we are. The book says the ground on which we stand in our bare feet is holy…holy. You can have all the rah-ray you want…but if there is not a place where your name is called and you are not touched by something deep, deep down—then you are missing something.

Think about your own life. When was it that some bush burned. It’s back there on my left in the third window from the back. A burning bush. Reminding us Sunday after Sunday that in everybody’s life there just might be a holy place.

Let me tell you about one of those times in my own life. Like you—like all of us—this doesn’t happen every time we come to church. There are just enough mountain peak experiences in our lives to help us get through the valleys. But once in a whole like Danny Glover we stop long enough until our names really are called. And when that happens we know we are loved and that we are somebody and whatever happens to us or ours—he really does have the whole world in his hands. And you and me brother and sister, and the tiny baby and everybody here in his hands. 

When I was Pastor at Clemson my little boy and two of his buddies joined the church and we scheduled a baptism. But it was tricky. One of the boy’s fathers had cancer—and he was taking chemo and it made him so sick—we had to plan a time between treatments when he wouldn’t be so sick and could be there. Our family went on vacation and we got in on Sunday afternoon—and we were to have the baptism for my son and the two other boys that night. When I got to the church and the cars were coming into the parking lot—I discovered somebody had forgotten to fill the Baptistry. One of these Baptist bloopers. What were we going to do? We had scheduled this service around the boy whose father was so sick—and a time when he felt pretty good. Well, in church you better have  contingency plan. I called one of our members who had a swimming pool and and asked him if we could use his swimming pool in about 30 minutes. He agreed. But  I was heartsick. I could just see that baptism in a swimming pool of all things…and everybody standing around snickering. That didn’t happen. I had asked the Daddy so sick if he would have the baptismal prayer. And what a prayer it was. Not a dry eye around that pool. After the boys got dressed this same Daddy took them in his car to McDonald’s for a baptism celebration. It was that father’s last public appearance. We don’t ever know when God is going surprise us. And in the most unlikely of times our names may just be called and something will happen to us that we can never, ever forget.

I guess it is time for us to put our shoes back on. Knowing this is part of real worship. And all that other stuff that in our desperation we try is just cotton candy. Moses was told to put his shoes back on and leave there to lead his people out of slavery ,across the Red Sea, through the wilderness into the Promised land. Reckon what is it that God wants us to do. So since we have put our show back on—maybe it is time to open our ears, look around us and find out what God wants us to do. And maybe where our feet ought to go.

photo by photo by Mobeans / flickr

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