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Posts Tagged ‘worship’

A Gathering

At first glance, 212 North High Street may not stand out. There, you will find a fine brick building with plenty of character. The imprint in the concrete near the front steps say it was built in 1912. Multiple things go on here. In just the next few weeks, among other things, the building will serve as the site for a dinner, study sessions, the local food distribution, a board meeting, and a party. Next Thursday evening, we will sit on the front steps and give treats to the neighbors.

 
But the primary thing that happens here is a gathering on Sunday mornings. We don’t take these gatherings casually; in fact, we believe heaven and earth meet here. We gather with allies to acknowledge who rules the world. We gather to remind ourselves of our role in such an important narrative. We gather to pray, sing, and bless one another for the ongoing journey. We enter sacred space and read words of hope out loud. We are reminded of what is real in contrast to the artificial news we hear so much of the time. On account of these things, I suspect most of our gatherings leave attenders somewhat ‘spirited.’

 
But recently we were reminded that what we do is not always ‘spirited’, at least not in a sense that feels good. In fact, we were reminded that our gatherings can be sobering. It is hard to feel good when one of your own is hurting. It is easy to talk about retaliating toward a perpetrator. It is difficult to talk about forgiving them. It doesn’t feel good when a friend is pouring out the emotional pain of her soul because of a literal catastrophe.

 
At first glance, 212 North High Street may not stand out. But there is something going on in those Sunday gatherings where we attempt to “bless those who persecute… rejoice with those who rejoice… mourn with those who mourn.”

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We have been exploring worship in recent weeks. We have talked about worship as something that happens in the presence of the Risen Lord. We have discussed worship as where the reign of God is announced. Worship as a place where our stories intersect with God’s story, as a gathering of people we did not choose, as a people God brings together for God’s mission, as something we do in response to the activity of God.

Yesterday, we talked about worship again. Worship as a place where a battle is waged. Worship as an acknowledgement we have an enemy. Ephesians was our catalyst for conversation. In chapter four, Ephesians gives us a list of gifts within the body. Unity is important and we read chapter four and realize we cannot be discipled alone. Following Jesus requires others. As hard as unity is, it is necessary.

As hard as that is, things get harder still because we have an enemy. We are not paranoid. There is actually a plot designed to destroy us. A plot that requires us to reckon with principalities and powers and authorities and forces of darkness.  We have an enemy and that makes it important to take seriously chapter six.

“Be strong… stand firm… put on the full armor…” This is no appendix, not some add on to the letter as it comes to a conclusion. This makes sense of the rest of the letter. Living in a pagan world is hard. Together, we war against an enemy. To sign up for what we do in worship is nothing less than war.

It is easy to think of this war as optional. It is easy to think we can stay on the sideline while others fight against darkness on our behalf. Just as Christ gave gifts to the church in chapter four “so that the body of Christ may be built up” is a corporate statement, so is “put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground.” We are in this together. 

I once heard Greg Boyd tell a story that highlighted this thought well. Since I can’t remember the details of Boyd’s story, I am taking some liberty with it here. 

This story starts on July 1, 1863. Imagine you are on vacation. You, the family, and some family friends are enjoying a cottage in a wooded area near Lutheran Theological Seminary in Gettysburg, PA. You have been coming here for years now. It is peaceful and relaxing. A fine place to stay during a hot part of the summer. 

But on that morning, July 1, 1863, you are awakened by a knock on the door. You open it to find General Meade of the Union Army. He is requesting your cottage and asking you and your family to share resources and join the fight. The Confederate Army is on the way and fighting is inevitable.

However, you have vacation plans. You have chicken marinating in the refrigerator and have already planned a corn hole tournament. This has always been your time. You tell the General you will not be participating in his fight but wish him luck in the war.

Think about this scenario. You are on the battlefield. War is going on all around you. You are literally caught in the crossfire. To ignore this and cheer from the sideline is foolish. Ephesians states clearly, we have an enemy. Together, we are at war. To ignore this due to busyness or disinterest does not make it go away. We are caught in the crossfire. To cheer from the sideline is foolish.

 

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I love this potential scene given by Scot McKnight of one of Paul’s house churches.

“Lets transport ourselves back to one of Paul’s house churches and imagine yet again the make-up of that group – the morally unkosher sitting with the unpowerful standing with an arm around the financially drained, addressed by an apostle who was being chased daily by opponents of the gospel. In that context, with all those people around, hear again the grand Yes of God.

‘Who can be against us?’ Paul tauntingly thunders. The answer, No one!”

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Ben Witherington creates an interesting story about life in Corinth and one of the things I find most interesting is the description of Christian worship. A Week in the Life of Corinth is the tale of a fictional character by the name of Nicanor, a former slave. Upon visiting the strange new religious cult for the first time, he understandably has some questions.

“What sort of religion met under cloak of darkness in a home, and without priests, temples or sacrifices? And then there was all that singing and apparently some kind of prophesying, and then a sort of fervent speech in a language Nicanor had never heard before or since. It had given him chills…” His skepticism helps us understand how unusual first century worship would have been for first timers who encountered Christians.

Later, we follow Nicanor as he makes his way into a worship service. He was “just along for the ride.” Or so he thought. The reader is listening as Nicanor processes what is going on. And his questions keep coming.

“But would a god not only take on the form of a servant, but submit to a rebellious slave’s death on a cross… This totally inverted the normal notions of honor and shame… Nicanor was going to have to ask some questions about these things, but now his curiosity was piqued.”

And then my favorite, “The one question that presented itself immediately was, ‘How could such loving and honest and kind people, who otherwise seemed in their right minds and not prone to religious mania, believe such a tale? Unless of course there is some sort of compelling evidence that it is true.’”

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It was Sunday morning and we were gathered for worship. There had already been some excitement in town that morning. A herd of cows had escaped from a nearby pasture and had been wandering around in the borough. Most had been returned to where they came from, but some had spent the night in town and were yet to be found. Sounds like just another day in Duncannon.

During morning announcements, Crystal shared she had seen a cow that morning. She had texted her son who told her she should have invited it to church, then it would be a “holy cow.” She reported she did not, so there was no “holy cow” in worship. She then went on to say there would however be holy communion. I heard Joel who was seated near the front quickly reply “Holy Cow-munion?” (great word Joel)! Moments like these may not be what some think of when they think of worship, but for some reason they make me very glad to be part of this group.

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Peter Oakes has uncovered a house church in Pompeii. Not really, but he does give some valuable information about who might have worshipped in a first century house church. He tells us that the church may have looked like this;

 

        A craftworker who served as host, along with his wife and children, some male slaves, a female slave, and a dependent relative.

        Tenants who lived in the house along with their families, slaves, and dependents.

        Some family members of a householder who does not participate in the church.

        Some slaves of owners who do not attend.

        Some homeless people.

        Migrant workers who have rented some small rooms in the home.

 

It is helpful for us to get this picture of a first century Roman congregation. It helps us to see the diversity of social class, economic class, and ethnicity of this people who were considered as One in Christ. Scot McKnight makes a reference to Oakes study and later goes on to say, “The church is God’s grand experiment, in which differents get connected, unlikes form a fellowship, and the formerly segregated are integrated… They are to be one in Christ Jesus.”

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God, Thank you for the way you fellowship as Father, Son, and Spirit. Thank you for your desire to pull us into your fellowship. Help us be open to your invitation. Give us the desire to become more connected to you that we may grow to know the fullness of your joy… Amen

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