A New (Church) Year’s Challenge to Pastors, Priests, Liturgists, and Worship Leaders….
Devotional/Pragmatic THeological Thoguht of the Day:
18 “But can you, O God, really live on earth among men and women? Not even all of heaven is large enough to hold you, so how can this Temple that I have built be large enough? 19 LORD my God, I am your servant. Listen to my prayer and grant the requests I make to you. 20 Watch over this Temple day and night. You have promised that this is where you will be worshiped, so hear me when I face this Temple and pray. 21 Hear my prayers and the prayers of your people Israel when they face this place and pray. In your home in heaven hear us and forgive us. 2 Chronicles 6:18-21 (TEV)
32 “When foreigners who live in a distant land hear how great and powerful you are and how you are always ready to act, and then they come to pray at this Temple, 33 listen to their prayers. In heaven, where you live, hear them and do what they ask you to do, so that all the peoples of the world may know you and obey you, as your people Israel do. Then they will know that this Temple I have built is where you are to be worshiped. 2 Chronicles 6:32-33 (TEV)
658 We should make no mistake… God is no shadowy or distant being who created us then abandoned us; nor is he a master who goes away and does not return. Though we do not perceive him with our senses, his existence is far more true than any of the realities which we touch and see. God is here with us, really present, living. He sees and hears us, He guides us, and knows our smallest deeds, our most hidden intentions. We believe this—but we live as if God did not exist. For we do not have a thought or a word for him; for we do not obey him, nor try to control our passions; for we do not show that we love him, and we do not atone… Are we going to continue living with a dead faith”? (1)
“After all, the chief purpose of all ceremonies is to teach the people what they need to know about Christ.” (2)
Tomorrow we start a new year in the church. I would ask that for a moment, like “secular” new years, we think about our lives as those who facilitate the worship of the people of God. (Both those who know they are, and those who will come to know they are in this year)
Tomorrow is also the first Sunday of Advent or the Parousia, that season we spend trying to understand the desire of the peope of God for the Messiah to come, for the promises to be fulfilled, for God to dwell among us. We do this, so that we too can desire God’s presence and His return. That is why the ancient church cried out “Maranatha!” the cry of Come Lord Jesus!
There are days, especially in this last year, where I admit I was crying this out for the wrong reason, And perhaps, leading my people to cry this out for the wrong reason as well.
You see, I cried it out because things were rough, because I was in mourning, or in despair. Where I wanted the suffering of people around me to end, Not that we would die, but that we would be rescued from this place, and brought into the presence of God in Heaven, where there is no more sorrow, no more tears, no more cancer, no more death. I wanted us all to be rescued from this life, and brought into the joy, the glory, the peace of God that we shall know for eternity. We have endured a lot these last few years…have had to minister to each other, with seemingly no break. We need rest and healing and a time to breath in deeply, and know the message of Christmas, that God is with us.
Something we already know… sort of.
And that is where the challenge for this New Church Year is going to be found.
Making the experience people have when they come to our churches have be one where they are sure Christ is with them.
Where it’s not about us, where we don’t go through the motions, where we don’t block people’s reception of God’s presence because of our poor-formance (misspelling intentional)
Look at the readings from the Dedication of Solomon’s temple above, there is an assurance in Solomon’s words that they are in the very presence of God. All of Israel, gathered there, assured of His love and that nothing can spearate them from His love. That strangers, people who don’t even know who God is except for his title, would be able to come and know that this place, this altar, where we stand, is where God has gathered them as well.
For the sake of our people – this article isn’t about worship styles, traditional Liturgy, or contemporary. It’s about us, you and I, and how we approach this blessed time we share with the people of God. The time were our voices, our body language, our intimate reverence and joy betray to our people that we KNOW we are in the presence of God the Creator, That He is here. I would desires that our readings are filled with awe, realizing that this is what God has thought through and inspired so His love is revealed to His people. That the readings are also clear, and done in a language and manner that doesn’t require a dictionary to understand. That our prayers, whether pre-written or from the heart, assist them in laying every burden down at His feet, entrusting them to Him, as He desires. That every spoken word be such that thy know this is something we do, but something that is our life. That our music and the way it is played isn’t about leaving them in awe of our talents and voices, but lead them voicing their awe at the God who loves them so much, that for the joy of revealing this to them, endured the cross and all its sufferings. The God that welcomes them and draws them to Him, broken, sinful, needy, that He might heal and comfort, cleanse and encourage.
That every person, whether life-long church goer, or first time guest of God, encounter Christ.
That’s what our ceremonies are designed to teach, whether liturgical or common, whether accompanied by majestic pipe organs, or simple strings, or even acapella.
That’s what makes the difference in our lives, in the expression of our trust in God.
KNowing He is here.
Desiring Christ’s last return, not just to escape the pains of this world.. but because we will see Him, the God who loves us, face to face. That the glory we now see hints of, as we see one baptized, or receive Christ’s Body and Blood, as we see the prodigal welcomed home, and the joy of all in celebrating it, that we would see that joy, that glory in its fullness.
In His presence.
So here is the challenge, as you enter the church tomorrow. Breathe deeply, let your nerves calm down, your burdens be dropped, His joy lift you high. For we dwell, as Solomon did that day, in the very presence of God.
The God who has had mercy on us, who has come to us, and in whose presence we live.
Then, as our people see this, may they know and be assured that and rejoice they dwell in Christ as well!
(1) Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 2759-2766). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.(1)
(2) Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. The Augsburg Confession. Article XXIV (p. 56) . Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.
- An Impressive Resume (justifiedandsinner.com)
- Is it insane to keep doing/teaching/preaching the same thing over and over, and expecting… (justifiedandsinner.com)
- “We’ll get together then, God. You know we’ll have a good time then! (justifiedandsinner.com)
- A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World (joshuareich.org)