Because yesterday was something of a mixed up day, though one I am completely happy about, I'm a little out of sync this morning. I've created this life in which a whole lot of solitude has become necessary, like the air I breathe and the water I drink, then when I don't get it--no matter what the cause--I'm less than I should be. And because I long for relationships, am built for conversations deep and penetrating (not the kind I find myself having with the elders, which are primarily about the workings--or not!--of their failing bodies), so when all I have is the solitude I long longed for, I am also less than myself. How pathetic is that? I want it all--all the solitude necessary to pray, think, meditate, read and write; and all the relationships necessary for His Kingdom to be expanded.
The spiritual truth is that His Kingdom cannot come alone in me. Not ultimately anyway. What I'm talking about is church. Several years ago, for complicated reasons that I won't go into here, Beve and I left a church. It was not an easy decision, and, unfortunately, by the time we finally did, we were quite bruised and bleeding. And took what I called a 'Sabbath rest' from the organized church. We gathered with friends who were also hurting, prayed together, tried to work through the pain and worship the God we all love, but the organized meeting with believers with Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs was missing. Then we began attending a community church in town, an enormous body with three services on Sunday morning, one on Saturday night, held in a place larger than any cinema that I've been in. And you know what we did? We didn't get involved. We didn't have to. For the last couple of years we've been walking into that building, and left feeling blessed by the sung and spoken worship, felt God's presence, but we haven't gotten involved. We're merely bodies taking up spots in the theater chairs, and nobody knows our names. We've said repeatedly that we've enjoyed being anonymous, but we go, we like it, we leave. The end.
So is this what we've been called to? Is it possible for us--any of us--to be really healthy spiritually without corporate worship we're explicitly called to? I don't think so. However, I also know, really do know, that it's not really corporate worship if all we do is stand there with strangers. If we don't get down and dirty and become part of a community. For a while we were disinclined to that involvement because of the hurt we'd experienced (for ourselves and others we love deeply). And we became disillusioned because worship was so flawed. It has been a blessing hide from the truth that worship is always flawed where sinful humans are involved in it. Humans will complain, humans will want it their way, rather than simply, only wanting to surrender to the One whom we worship. In the last couple of years we haven't had to see the under-belly of this truth.
But what we have lately realized--again--is that the flaws don't matter. It doesn't matter if Betty doesn't like the music or if Jack complains that we're singing that song too often. If Edgar and Edna think the pastor prays too long, and Phil thinks he doesn't pray enough. It really doesn't make one whit of difference what all the complaints are, if we simply dig in and do it. AND, of course, Holy-Spirit-entered worship, in contrast to simple human worship, isn't flawed. The mystery of worship is that I walk in, my flaws showing like warts all over me, and Jack stumbles in in his, Betty strides in with hers, yet before we've even sat down, in us--if we're really Christ-ones--there He is, a blaze of Glory, and it's real glory: Him worshipping Him. When I don't know what I'm doing and Edgar, Edna and Phil haven't the slightest idea, either, the Holy Spirit does. He knows exactly what's going on there. Even if we're only staring at each other across a 'worship-center', 'sanctuary', or whatever else the church decides to call the space--if we're watching the way each other holds her hands, or sings or closes his eyes--the Holy Spirit somehow, mysteriously, is there, lifted up, lifting us up. We are more than ourselves.
But here's the other part of the mystery: Jesus, the night before he died, when he prayed that breath-takingly beautiful prayer, prayed, "Make them one, Father." For us. And somehow I believe that's exactly what happens in worship. We aren't only ourselves, but we're Phil and Betty and Edgar and Jack. Those who sit beside us, with their broken lives and hurts so deep they could barely lift their heads, let alone get dressed and drag themselves to this place, to do this holy thing--we are them. We share in what they feel, hurt with them, because we are one with them. And those who are radiant with hope while we are the ones who came stumbling in hopeless--their hope becomes ours as we worship, because by the prayer of Jesus and His Holy Spirit indwelling, we are one.
This is why we enter in. And this is what Beve and I have been holding ourselves back from. I'm confessing this so that I'm accountable to right it. We begin again Sunday, at a smaller church, much more suiting to our digging in, getting down and dirty. Please pray for us. We need to get down and dirty...and to really worship.