A few days ago I attended a wedding reception. It was a very joyous occasion, celebrated by eating and drinking and yes, being merry! It should surprise nobody that much of the joy was expressed on the dance floor.
Now it would be quite enough for me to say that the joy was expressed on that dance floor. But I also saw some marvelous things happen out there.
- I saw several couples lose their looks of solemnity and trouble, and look at one another with pure joy and acceptance.
- I saw a lady who wondered if she would ever again enjoy dancing learn that she could.
- I spent a some minutes with my own daughter building our relationship – a relationship for which I praise God daily.
- Last, but not least, God was present.
At the end, even after the bride and groom left there were those who wanted to continue the celebration. A few people left for other obligations, but it was not difficult to keep a crowd present to enjoy what was available.
I contrast this to the difficulty we have getting people into church. I contrast it to the looks on peoples’ faces as they endure our worship services. I must compare the way in which people hung around as long as the DJ could remain with the speed with which people want to leave our church services.
Could there be something wrong?
Do our worship services meet with Biblical standards?
“May we shout for joy over your victory . . .” (Psalm 20:5)
“Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.” (Psalm 100:1)
“Let the faithful exult in glory; let them sing for joy on their couches.” (Psalm 149:5)
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice!!” (Phil. 4:10)
Which of our worship services sound anything like what is described in these texts?
One use of tithe money was to celebrate before the Lord:
24 But if, when the LORD your God has blessed you, the distance is so great that you are unable to transport it, because the place where the LORD your God will choose to set his name is too far away from you, 25 then you may turn it into money. With the money secure in hand, go to the place that the LORD your God will choose; 26 spend the money for whatever you wish-oxen, sheep, wine, strong drink, or whatever you desire. And you shall eat there in the presence of the LORD your God, you and your household rejoicing together. 27 As for the Levites resident in your towns, do not neglect them, because they have no allotment or inheritance with you.1
— Deuteronomy 14:24-27 (NRSV)
Our problem, I believe, is that we want to make sacred things, while God wants us to make things sacred.
- We want to create an order of worship; God wants us to take an “order” and make it worship.
- We want to create a building that is sacred; God wants us to find buildings that aren’t sacred and make them sacred.
- We want to set aside time for God; God wants us to help encompass all time and make it His.
- We want to find time for sacred activities; God wants sacred time to overcome all of our activities.
You may be thinking how often God set aside sacred space and sacred time in scripture-the Sabbath, the Sanctuary, the Temple, the annual feasts. Precisely! But why? God needed to provide an example of what the sacred could be, so that we would know how to bring the rest of the secular into the sacred realm. The example he provided was not a place of boredom. It had solemn times. It had teaching times. It had disciplines. But it also had excitement, joy, and fun. It was not a sacredness that was unable to encompass life in its fullness. It was not a sacredness that would make mental or emotional cripples. It was a sacredness that would enliven and enrich everything it touched.
As I write this, I’m sitting on a balcony overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. I can hear the sounds of the waves. This balcony isn’t a church. It’s not sacred, by the common standards at least, but I can sit here, in the presence of God. I can be aware of the sacredness of the place. The sacredness can bring solemnity as I wonder at the creation. It can bring joy, as I watch my granddaughter play on this beach. It can bring tears as I think of some of our failures of stewardship of such a resource. It can bring resolve as I look forward.
I can call this a secular moment, and wonder when I will be in church so that I can experience the presence of God. But God is not nearly so bound as I am. God doesn’t need me to wait.
But I want to go further. There’s a sacred moment when I complete a software project and it works. But even more there were sacred moments as I worked through the various decisions involved, and used my God-given mind to make the right decisions each time. There’s a sacredness about a building, made by human beings engaging in right choices and seeking truth and integrity. There’s a sacredness in the celebration of each of these accomplishments.
If we don’t believe that God is limited, why do we so much limit his worship?
Some may be wondering whether I mean that the only style of worship celebration is a party or dance. Absolutely not! Our celebrations need to be suitable to our personality. You can’t tell me how to express joy, nor can I tell you. But if you’re going to a place of worship grudgingly, solemnly, eagerly waiting for the moment you can slip out, you’re probably not engaging in worship. You may want to find somewhere where your sense of joy is expressed in a way in which you can participate.
For some that might be a study group, for others a prayer group, for others, a joyous celebration in dance, for others, the full liturgy of the church is precisely how they celebrate. But at the same time as you celebrate, remember that someone else will celebrate differently than you do.
Don’t draw boundaries on the celebration!
1 The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1996, c1989 (Dt 14:24). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.