Happy Sheep Ranting (nothing like Good Will Hunting, I promise)

Matthew 25:31-40
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’”

Would you mind being patient with me for a moment?  I need to rant just a little.

I am sick to death of attending worship services.  I am tired of being told that I need to worship the Lord and praise Him for His mighty works in some prescribed way on Sunday morning or Wednesday evening.  I am also weary of all the talk about worship you hear from church leaders.  I am weary of hearing people talk about how we need to have more passionate worship.  I am sick of church leaders discussing how to increase the quality of our worship so that we can increase the number of people attending worship.  I don’t want to hear one. more. word. about. WORSHIP!!

Am I making myself clear here?  I am done with worship.

I guess that I am struggling with the theological implications of what it means to worship God.  I struggle with the theological implications of having a God that wants to be worshipped. If God is my father, then I think my experiences as a parent tell me a lot about God’s experiences with me.  As a parent, I just want my kids to love me…not worship me.  It’s not just that I don’t deserve worship (because I don’t)…it’s that worship doesn’t do anything for the relationship between me and my kids.  I don’t want to have my kids ‘adore’ me…I just want to be loved and to have them be in a relationship with me. Heck, I want my kids to want to be in a relationship with me and not feel like it’s an obligation.  If God is my father…yeah, that again…it just makes sense that He might feel the same way. The older I get, the less sense worship makes to me, and the less I relate to worship, at least worship in the traditional sense of worship.

This last week has been a week filled with family and friends.  Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were huge celebrations, with 19 people cramming into my mom’s house to celebrate dinner as a ‘framily’.  The framily is what my mom calls her blood relatives along with the friends who are so close that they might as well be family.  The next day I had 10 framily members at my house for presents and dinner.  Then yesterday we got to visit with more framily when my godson Reid and his father Dave came through Phoenix on their way to 29 Palms military base where Reid is stationed.  After my yoga class this morning I stopped by to hang out at a good friend’s house for a while.  She had made soup for my mom who is about to have back surgery and I stopped by to pick it up and chat. Later on I caught up with another friend while looking up medical information for her online; half the time we giggled about stupid stuff and the other half of the time we discussed really serious stuff.  It’s kind of nice to talk to someone and know that you can giggle and weep in the space of only five minutes and be certain that things will still be cool when you’re done.

Why am I telling you this?  Because…after each visit with my framily, I found myself praising God and thanking Him for the blessings of family and friends, for the joy and peace that I feel when I’m with them, and for the freedom to laugh and cry and find comfort and support in those relationships.  I am acutely aware of how deeply blessed I am; just how much God is present in my life through the presence of these people.  I feel God when I am with them because they love me and I love them back…and God is in that love, every time.  If God produced metrics and tracked how often and how much I praise Him, God would be able to tell you that I praise Him long and loud after hanging out with the people I love.

And that’s where I suddenly start thinking about ‘worship’ again.  Because I enjoy the beautiful music, the corporate prayer, and the great sermons I hear at church, but nothing really transports me into the joy of God the way that relationships can.  And it isn’t just close relationships with my friends and family, either.  I am one of the pastors at my church and I spend a lot of time with the people who attend services there either simply catching up with them or listening as they share their current challenges and sorrows and then taking time to pray with them.  I am not close friends with each and every person at my church, mostly because there are so many people there that I wouldn’t have enough time in the day to be friends with that many people. I’m definitely a people person, but that’s pushing it, you know?  I’m know that Kim Kardashian has over 1 million ‘friends’ on Facebook, but I’m betting she doesn’t have time to get personal with each and every one of them, and if she does…well…she is married to Yeezus.  Maybe he’s helping out somehow.  Yeah.

Anyway…

Even in the small encounters I have with people at church, I am uplifted and feel the joy of Christ.  I come home from church each Sunday high on the joy that comes from serving the family of God, blessed to be allowed to be with them in their triumphs and trials, and blessed to find my best friends among the people who call God their father and Jesus their friend and savior.

I wonder sometimes if God isn’t more interested in seeing His children come together and love on each other than He is in hearing us sing songs to Him and praise Him in worship.  There are times when I wonder if God isn’t a lot like any parent whose idea of a great Christmas gift is to have all of their kids come home for a visit at the same time so that they can bask in the glow of all that love and laughter.  There is something about having the whole family together that makes everyone feel stronger and life feel easier and sweeter.

I wonder if God feels on Sunday mornings much like I felt watching my family and friends hang out together on Christmas Eve.  I took in the scene, watching all 19 of us laughing and sharing stories, and I felt deeply peaceful and filled with joy.  There was so much love!  So much laughter! Even when there were a few tears (because life is difficult even in the best of times) there was comfort and peace and so much love. God must look at moments like this and think “This is why I created humanity! To love each other like I love them…to love Me and be loved by Me in return.”

The passage of scripture that opened this blog entry is frequently quoted and often the subject of sermons.  What we do for others we also do for Jesus Christ himself…and of course Jesus wants us to give not just to the people we love but also to the people we don’t even know and don’t love, to people that we wish we didn’t have to know, and to people who will never really want to know us“Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Matt 25:40) In almost every sermon you hear on this passage, the preacher will focus on caring for the people on the edges of society: the marginalized; the immigrants; the widows and orphans; the disabled; the veterans; the homeless.  Absolutely! I couldn’t agree more with that interpretation.

But I want you to also hear this interpretation:  true worship is not about singing songs or reciting scripture passages or remembering to thank God for what you have been given in a litany of prayer on Sunday morning.  It is about coming together in love and friendship, loving each other freely and in doing so, loving God.  Can you imagine what it feels like for God to watch us gather together and laugh with each other, love on one another, cry with one another, and pray for one another? Each prayer, each hug, every single word of comfort, every moment of laughter—each and every one is actually shared with Christ Himself.  These aren’t casual moments and they aren’t trivial encounters.  There is no such thing as casually laughing with Jesus.  Believe me if Jesus showed up in your living room this afternoon to share some holiday cheer with you it would not be something you would think of as casual or trivial; you would remember that moment as a pivotal, life changing encounter!  You would also remember that moment as one where you asked yourself if you were hallucinating or if the world was coming to its end…but you’d get over that soon enough.  I’m guessing when Jesus says “Fear not!” that his proclamation pretty much ends whatever panic attack you started having when he walked through the door (or the wall…I’ve heard he does that.)

Coming back to where I started, I don’t want to hear about worship—I don’t want to discuss how to make it passionate, or how to draw more people to attend.  You might as well ask how you get more people to come and visit you in your home, or how to be more passionate in your relationship with your kids (doesn’t THAT sound weird and disturbing?)  Don’t ask those questions because they aren’t useful and they won’t change anything.

Stop asking about worship and start doing what Jesus told you to do.  Love one another.  Love one another. Love. One. Another…just like God loves you, and that means unabashedly, without limits, overmuch.  Infuse your love with laughter and joy, with tears and honest sharing of your pain, and with a true commitment to serving one another.  You want passionate worship?  Start there…with LOVE.  You want more people attending ‘worship’?  Love.  Start with love.  You can’t go wrong with love. Love is passionate and it will draw people to you.  No matter what you do, you can’t go wrong with love.

I’m done ranting now.  Thanks for listening.  I feel better already.  I’m going to go get ready for this evening’s festivities because the framily is getting together for worship, so to speak.  We won’t do much singing, and we might not do any praying, but we will love on one another quite a bit and where there is love happening there is worship.

Happy New Year and many blessings in 2016!

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3 thoughts on “Happy Sheep Ranting (nothing like Good Will Hunting, I promise)

  1. Sherry Brady

    Thank you for coming outright and saying churches are being judged by their “worship.” That seems to be what the measurement of a “growing”and “successful” church. But this is such a “me-centered” approach. It reflects a thinking of what can church do for me rather how can I love others by being the church.

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  2. chaplainjimshc

    All I can say is, “Fail to plan, plan to fail.” I would agree that focus on numbers is a bit worldly, but it is a metric – one of many. What your ‘rant’ points out is that we can become disillusioned with corporate life in, and out of, church. Planning for better worship is not the same as secular planning – to draw more audience members. It is to draw more worshipping members. Numbers in church reflect, hopefully, how many barriers have been removed for those who would be ‘framily’, as you put it, but currently feel distant. I had one person say that they would stop coming if we ever discontinued the traditional service. Initially, I thought that to be selfish and short sighted. But on further thought, I realized that providing a traditional service removes a barrier to them joining us for worship. I now celebrate such complaints as God’s prompting on how to make ‘worship’ more accessible to the spiritually, emotionally AND physically handicapped. So if you’re “tired of worship”, perhaps it’s a sign that you need a break? Your frustration seems to come from a secular worldview of improvement. I say that because you have a Godly view of relationships. Our task as leaders is to apply all the wiles of the secular world to gain souls for the spiritual realm. Relationships are the foundation, as you have clearly communicated. But relationships are built by removing barriers – both real and inagined. Thank you for being you. Knowing you has made me a better me.

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  3. Ann Greenberg

    Your reply, Pastor Jim, put my ping-ponging thoughts perfectly into words. I love worship at my church precisely because of the relationships I have with the people there. “Wherever two or more are gathered in my name, i am there.” I spend much time alone due to a physical disability and worshiping with God’s people gets me out of myself and in with a group of people that share God’s love with me. Singing familiar hymns brings back so many memories. Having communion reminds me of all the people and places I have had communion with. (One Sunday, my then-6 year old cousin saw the communion table set and said, “Oh goody! Reunion!”) Praying with others is so powerful. The fellowship of the greeting time is such a blessing. I love this song: “Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place. I can feel His mighty power and His grace. I can feel the brush of angels wings. I see glory on each face.
    Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place.” God is present in all situations. Worshiping at church is where ALL of us come intentionally to experience God.

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