A High Holy Day

It’s hard not to be envious sometimes. So often people point off down the street to that other place of worship that packs people in with upbeat music, cafés outside the worship space, and dynamic presentations.

But today I am joining in with one of those mega-worship experiences. (Yes, I’m writing this during the worship but it’s not disturbing anyone…I’m watching their live stream on my TV.)

The place is packed with worshippers. My own congregation can boast of attendees from two different states (granted we’re pretty much on the border of the two). But this worship I’m watching? People from everywhere! They even arrived early and were waiting in line for the doors to open. I think anyone could wish for their worship attendees to have such energy and enthusiasm.

They are closely attuned to the activities of the worship team. They are so eager for a clear reception of the message that they erupt in shouts of joy and praise when they see one occur. And yet I sense a reluctance on the part of some to receive it. After all, what constitutes a clear reception of the Word? Is it in hearing only, or must our hands and feet demonstrate, by their action, a clear and controlled reception?

And the building? It’s impressive. I mean, our congregation has a beautiful, cathedral style presence with stained glass and an impressive pipe organ. We’ve added some technology with a big screen up front and PowerPoint slides during the service. But it’s no match for what I’m seeing on my big screen. The worship space is in the round (so to speak), altars at either end, separated by what seems like a hundred yards. They have video screens on all sides, constantly replaying especially significant moments of the worship. There are multiple exits from the sanctuary, each one opening out to a café area which promises all kinds of refreshment.

I do have a disappointment in this worship. For years, I have tried to teach that the offering is not an “intermission” but an act of worship in itself. This worship, though, not only takes a definite break as people go out to make their offerings, but the music team takes the stage and practically performs a concert. Not my style but, hey, it’s not a salvation issue.

I guess I also have to admit that there seems to be more law than grace involved. I keep hearing about the “fundamentals” and wish perhaps there was less emphasis on our own efforts and the penalties for failing. There are moments of grace but there also seems to be a lot of competition as the worship team strives to launch its message to the far corners of the turf.

Jesus is present but hardly noticeable. Every now and then, one of the members of the worship team will acknowledge him with a finger pointing skyward. He is present in the congregation in a person who intercedes in prayer when a worship team member appears overcome by the physical demands of leading worship. Another intercedes more directly in a little “church spat” between members in their pew, encouraging them to be “good sports” about their differences. Yet another member takes their meager lunch, purchased with the equivalent of a day’s wage, and shares it with those around them.

Ah, the moment of grace arrives at last as the service concludes with an adult baptism. A full immersion, of sorts, in crystal blue water.

And now, the worship has concluded. (By the way, it was looooong! I don’t want to hear any more about my 75 minute services.) And I noticed something else when the worship was over. Many people were leaving looking disappointed and dejected. Others were joyful and ecstatic. And I ponder: is this what I want worship to be? An experience that seems to have winners and losers? I saw few attempts at comforting the sorrowing or binding up the broken-hearted. Can a congregation like that, focused on success, truly inhabit the Christ-like characteristics that should be the hallmark of the Church?

Perhaps I’m not so envious after all. Perhaps my congregation, on its smaller stage, with its pipe organ rather than drum line and pyrotechnics, has its focus right where it needs to be. Caring for the widow and orphan. Bringing good news to the poor. Proclaiming the good news that the Lord’s favor is for everyone. Perhaps it doesn’t matter what they’re doing down the street as long as we are being true to our call, our giftedness.

And how do we take our gifts and move forward together as a team? It depends on the spot. We are on God’s field, God’s mission field, and God has marked us down at this time and place in order to serve this part of the kingdom. God’s game plan will bring victory and we can be a part of it. As long as we keep our eye on the ball, so to speak.