Pastoral Series

Worship Matters: Gathering

   Sunday morning. You get out of bed. You go. God can meet you in your bed if you don’t get up, but there’s something about the movement, the effort, the commitment. And you never know whom you’ll run into there, either. God wants us to know each other – as if in knowing others, and in loving them, we will know and love God.

It really is a lonely world. A sense of isolations dogs us, even if we hang out with gregarious people or attend parties. God made us to know one another deeply, and for the broken, beautiful people we are in God’s eyes. A few years ago, a friend of mine spent a week at Lourdes, the shrine in France where the Virgin Mary appeared to Bernadette Soubirous, just fourteen years old, in 1858. Thousands of gallons of water flow there each day, and thousands claim to have been cured in its streams. When my friend returned, I asked her, “Did you see any miracles?” She said, “Oh yes, every day.” “Every day? Tell me!” She explained: “Every day at Lourdes, no matter who you are, or where you are from, or what’s wrong with you, you are welcomed, and loved.” This is the Church – or God’s dream for us as the church.

When we worship: who isn’t there? Who isn’t welcome? Not officially, of course: we never post a list of the shunned on the door. But more hurtfully: when are there chilly stares, a sarcastic remark, a raised eyebrow, a curt silence? Sometimes you are understandably stressed or in a hurry at church, and you just don’t notice that stray person, washed up alone on the beach of this place, reticent but very much like a kindergartner wondering “Will I find a friend?” Some churches are very friendly, all abuzz with smiles, laughter, handshaking – but these church folk are friendly with one another, while nobody at all speaks to the new or different person.

Many report feelings of fear and trepidation before entering an unfamiliar church. Partly this is about being a stranger, or a sense that church people are judgmental or downright chilly to outsiders. But this anxiety is also something we’ve all learned well outside of church. N.T. Wright explains what’s at stake: “People have learned elsewhere today to expect rudeness and even violence as the norm. They are thirsty for gentleness, for kindness, for the sense that they matter. They need to be shown that there is a different way of being human, that the true God embraces them, as they are, with the healing power of the cross and the life-giving breath of the Spirit. That welcome is our work, because it is all God’s work, and he invites us to share in it.”

Worship matters. We aren’t one more club or gathering. We are God’s Church.

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