"HE HAS SHOWN YOU WHAT IS GOOD. AND WHAT DOES THE LORD REQUIRE OF YOU? TO ACT JUSTLY, AND TO LOVE MERCY AND TO WALK HUMBLY WITH YOUR GOD?"
These words from the ancient prophet Micah boldly hang over the entrance to the headquarters of FOOD FOR THE HUNGRY where my son-in-law Ryan works. Those who work there are reminded each day that God's purpose and desire for his people is not to blithely or routinely go through the external motions of worship without a sense of our call and responsibility as God's people to serve others in the world.
Mark Labberton, in his book "The Dangerous Act of Worship" suggests that most Christians and most churches today have mistakenly focused on avoiding "false dangers" when they worship. In our consumeristic culture, for example, we tend to worry a lot more about managing a safe, relevant and comfortable worship that salves our hearts. The result is that the Church has fallen asleep to the purposes of God and the needs of the world. Instead of being a factor that strengthens us to go out into the world to be the church, worship has become a "one-hour martinizing" to take care of our individual spiritual needs for the next seven days until we can come back in to get another dose of spiritual balm.
There is no doubt that being in the presence of God should and does remind us of God's saving acts through Christ and his unquenchable love for us as individuals. But somewhere along the way we have lost our way. Like the children of Israel wandering through the wilderness on their journey to Caanan, the Church (large C but also small c or local church) has lost sight of God's call to be a transformational covenant people blessing others. Instead, we have focused on self and on safe worship.
Dr. Labberton challenges that view in his book. And I knoow that he will challenge us this weekend when he speaks at Calvary at both our Saturday night and our Sunday morning services. Someone once said that the goal of preaching is "to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable." I am sure that there will be a little of both as we hear this prophetic call to service and to justice.
This morning, as I was anticipating our weekend services with Dr. Labberton, I was reminded of a quote from the essayist Annie Dillard in her book "Teaching a Stone to Talk."
“On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.”
I had always read that quote with the perspective that worship should be exciting and energizing; that is should just really pump up and encourage the believer through a dynamic liturgy of singing, prayer and preaching. Today, however, I thought of it more in terms of this call to look outside the walls of our weekly church service. It is a reminder that true worship is an encounter with the living God and it is something explosive and dangerous because when we truly worship, we are so transformed that we will also be a transformational force in the world.