“The Why’s and Wonders of Worship: We Interrupt This Service…”
Matthew 18:20 and John 1:14
Jill A. Kirchner-Rose, MDIV, DMIN
August 12, 2018
As many of you know, I grew up in this church. I loved being a part of this congregation. I, especially, loved worship services. No, I didn’t always understand the sermon or the scripture passage. The hymns sometimes sounded a bit like dirges to me and they were not my favorite genre of music. I much preferred Depeche Mode, Madonna, and Billy Idol in the 1980’s to “At the Cross.” And communion? Communion always seemed to be a bit cannibalistic to me, but the youth group and I loved to eat the left over bread after church – which was baked by St. Helen of Arth. No, I did not always understand the Bible reading, the sermon, or particularly enjoy the genre of sacred music during that stage in my life, but the hour of worship here on Sunday mornings was my very favorite hour of the entire week. I know we don’t hear too many teenagers saying that these days, but I was a little unusual as a teenager. Somehow I believed that there was more going on below the surface than meets the eye. It was as if the Spirit whispered in my ear, “Pay attention. This matters. This is important. This community is the face of God.”
So you can imagine my disappointment when I spent a Saturday night at Toni Momberger’s house (we were in youth group together) and we missed worship on Sunday morning. That’s right. Dianne Landeros, Toni’s mom, “let us” sleep in on Sunday morning and we missed church. I am sure Dianne thought she was doing us a favor, but I was heartbroken. I looked forward to Sunday worship so very much. Dianne had already left for church by the time we woke up on Sunday. Sensing my deep disappointment over the matter, Toni compassionately suggested, “Why don’t we create our own worship service?” Brilliant idea, I thought. Toni led the two of us in a hymn – I think it was “What A Friend We Have in Jesus.” She offered a prayer. I chose a scripture passage and preached the sermon. It was a service I will never forget. Matthew 18:20 became tangible in a very real way, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there with you.” Undoubtedly, the Holy Spirit was in our very midst! It was probably the most memorable worship service of my teenage years. And in fact, Toni and I were at a dinner gathering with some of our high school friends earlier this year. She sat across the table from me and we had so much fun reminiscing over that worship service we created in the upstairs room of her home over 30 years ago.
This is the second week of our new sermon series, “The Why’s and Wonders of Worship.” We will be looking at each part of the worship service and asking the question, why do we do what we do in worship? Last week, we looked at the central role of the Bible in worship. Certainly, the Bible is problematic in many ways. The Bible commands women to be silent and slaves to be obedient. The Bible has been used to justify the oppression of the LGBTQ community. There are contradictions in scripture and is subject to the cultural norms of the day. And yet, while I do not believe the Bible was ever meant to be the inerrant, infallible word of God, I do believe that there are inspired words of God within its text. There are some eternal truths – “God is love” to name one. “Love one another” to name another.
The Bible is Christianity’s sacred text. But in the United Church of Christ, the Bible is not the only sacred text. God is not a stagnant pond, but a fresh flowing river. God is still speaking as we say in the UCC. One of the gravest mistakes we ever made in the Christian faith was put a back cover on the Bible and say, “This is it. This is the canon. This is the word of God. The literal word of God. We cannot add or subtract anything from its pages.” That, of course, limits God’s ability to share a fresh word. In our particular worship services, we will almost always have a Bible passage, but then we may add another sacred text which gives us greater insight and understanding to the ways the Spirit is on the move in our midst.
Today, I would like to address specifically the role of “Joys and Concerns” in the worship service…and in our worship service that time begins with announcements. A friend of mine who attends another church said to me, “There’s one thing about worship that really gripes me. To me it’s like fingernails being scraped across a blackboard.”
“What’s that?” I asked. I thought my friend would speak about the gender inclusive word change with the Christmas carols or politics in the pulpit or sermons on tithing. But it was none of those issues.
“Announcements,” said my friend. “I just hate it when the minister spoils the mood of worship with all those dull announcements.” And I completely understood. One minute we are soaring above the pews on Sunday morning. We are singing, “Every time I feel the Spirit” and we are feeling the Spirit in the depths of our being or we are singing, “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee” and feeling joyfully blissful or we are singing, “Holy, Holy, Holy” and feeling oh so holy.. and then, thud… “The Christian Education committee is in need of volunteers to teach.” One moment we have risen high on Eagles wings and the next minute we plummet back to the world of flesh, dust and committees.
I get it! Announcements can sometimes be uninspiring which is why pastors struggle with where to place the announcements. Some put them in the beginning of the service. Get it over with. People who don’t want to hear the announcements can come to worship late. Sometimes pastors put the announcements at the end of the worship service – worship is now over, but remember to go to Covenant Hall to sign up to bring a casserole for next week’s potluck. Yes, pastors struggle over where to place the announcements. We most certainly don’t want to ruin the mood of the service.
When I began to serve as your Senior Minister three years ago, I was a bit surprised to discover that announcements were made during the “Joys and Concerns” portion of worship. But upon further reflection, one could argue that it makes theological sense. Announcements, after all, are one of those places where the rubber of the church’s theology hits the road. If we move seamlessly from “Holy, Holy, Holy” to “Let’s meet in the parking lot at 10 a.m. on Saturday for the Women’s March,” we are recognizing that all of life is holy. The earthy details of our common life are sacred. We are expressing one of the church’s most basic convictions in worship about the Character of God: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us…” (John 1:14). It is the doctrine of the incarnation. When the announcements about RWO singing at the 66er’s game, summer series, building updates about the restrooms, meetings of the LGBTQAFG meeting begin, “Holy, Holy, Holy” does not end. We are simply affirming that these are the places where the holiness is to be found. “The Word became flesh..”
Worship is both, then, a vertical experience and a horizontal experience. On the one hand, we are worshipping the Divine presence and that is a transcendent experience. But we do not worship alone on Sunday morning, we worship together in community – where 2 or 3 are gathered, the Spirit is with us. As community, we share not only the announcements, but we share the joys and concerns of our lives. We share about job changes, retirement, the adoption of a child, the trauma of divorce, illness and grief, wildfires and school shootings, engagements and weddings – recognizing that God is at work in all areas of our life.
From my own life, I have shared aloud in worship the joys of entering into a doctoral program, getting engaged, adopting a child. And from my own life, I have shared aloud in worship the concerns of the death of a loved one (my mother, my father, my mother in law, even the death of beloved pets), trepidation about going into surgery, and the diagnosis of borderline cancer. Especially in terms of illness, as the health care system becomes mores impersonal, the community then personalizes the life of the one who is sick. The community of faith, in essence, declares that no one should have to be sick alone. No one should have to carry burdens alone. The sharing of prayer concerns may not stop sickness, but they do enhance life and expand love.
And so it that through the sharing of prayer concerns, the faith community has been the very face of God for me. The community of faith walked with me through times of trial and times of triumph. The faith community loved me through the various chapters of my life. The faith community believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. The faith community supported me, wept with me, rejoiced with me, encouraged me, and empowered me. When I lost my faith, it was you, the faith community, who allowed me to borrow yours. In other words, you have been the incarnation of God for me. And you have made me more than I am! How often we hear people say, “I don’t know what I would do without my church family.” Oh, let’s not underestimate the power of sharing joys and concerns in worship.
I am reminded of the Feast Day of St. Lawrence which takes place on August 10th of every year. This last Friday was the Feast Day of St. Lawrence. The Roman Emperor had summoned Lawrence, who was the archdeacon of the church. The Emperor demanded that Lawrence to turn over all the riches of the Church. And he gave Lawrence three days to round it up.
Lawrence worked quickly. He sold the Church’s vessels and gave the money to widows and the sick. He distributed all the Church’s property to the poor. On the third day, the Emperor summoned Lawrence to his palace and asked for the treasure. Lawrence entered the palace, stopped, and then gestured back to the door where, streaming in behind him, poured crowds of people, some poor, crippled, blind and suffering. “These are the true treasures of the Church.”
I have an announcement to make. You are the treasure of the church! The church is not a building; it is not a doctrine; it is not a program. The church is the people. You are the treasure of the church and that becomes abundantly clear through the sharing of “Joys and Concerns” in worship. Amen.