Worship, 1980-something: Secret Santa Worship Day

It was a mid-week church service, sometime in the early 1980’s.

Who was preaching? I don’t remember. Who was leading the singing? I have no memory of that. Who was playing the pipe organ, the piano, the drums and guitars? I can’t recall that either. Who was present? A few relatives, a few friends, myself and many others whose names I didn’t know. I was only a visitor, not knowing what to expect.

What was happening? That I will never forget.

The main floor and the balcony of the sanctuary was filled that evening. The preliminaries had taken place – greetings, announcements, offering, followed by hymns and praise songs accompanied by enthusiastic clapping. The congregation had taken their seats. But then…

A complete hush fell over the congregation. The silence was so deep you could have heard a pin drop. Literally. It was as if a thick cloud had descended, cutting off every nuance of noise. No foot shuffling could be heard, no throat clearing, no nervous coughing, no nothing. The quality of light subtly changed from that provided by the ordinary church chandeliers to a brilliance I’d never seen before. It was hard to keep your head up or your eyes open.

After only a few moments it was also hard to stay in your seat. Many didn’t. People began to slip off the front pews and platform chairs onto the floor, out of the side pews into the aisle. No-one spoke. Nobody even seemed concerned about it. Everyone was too affected by the manifest presence of God in the room to take notice of their companions.

About half-way back on the left side of the building, my own row was too packed with people for me to move but I couldn’t raise my hands from my lap. I just basked in the soft, cherishing, comforting presence of the Lord.

What was it like? The closest I could describe was like being wrapped in a warm blanket, sitting on my mother’s lap and hugged close.

How long did it last? I never looked at my watch so I don’t know. But gradually the cloud began to lift. The people on the floor were helped back to their seats. The pastor got to his knees, then climbed to his feet holding onto the pulpit, but he couldn’t speak. Maybe he wanted to try to explain what had happened but I don’t think anyone was listening anyway.

Because the entire congregation was worshiping, telling Jesus how much they loved him, how much they adored him, how much they appreciated him. Some stood to their feet with arms raised and tears flowing down their face. Nobody wanted to leave that night and many of us lingered for a time, too awestruck to drive home yet.

As we milled around, we discovered that several miracle healings had occurred throughout the sanctuary. Nobody had laid hands on the sick or offered to pray, but as the presence and power of the Lord engulfed them the sick and hurt were made whole. Pneumonia in an elderly violin-maker – lungs completely cleared. A cracked elbow in my school teacher sister-in-law – bone completely healed.

That was my first experience of worshiping God in spirit and in truth in a church service. I’ve had similar worship experiences since then, in church buildings, convention centers, and the privacy of my own home. God instigated, they are not for his benefit, but for ours.

So, how would I define worship? Falling in love with the most precious, most beautiful, most wonderful, most worthy person that ever existed or ever will exist, knowing that he loves you back, and telling him how you feel.

That institution we cannot change

Last night someone said they had never seen a picture of Jesus laughing. And I know what they meant. This is the stylised image we have of Jesus:

mon lisa

(Sorry – wrong pose – here He is)

jesus

Our Church. The Sanctuary. The inner sanctum. Where God and Jesus live.

Holy. Polished. Revered. Where we scrub up clean. Where we are washed clean again. Quietly. Reverently. Righteously. That’s the stylised image of church.

And it got me pondering. Why do we prefer our Jesus image to be holy, calm, quiet, thoughtful, tender, silent, constant, eternal, unchanging (and please accept I am guessing on your behalf)?

Because the verses this morning are:

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Luke 15:1-10

These people are noisy. These people are raucous. These people are not generally attracted to confessional silent reverence. That is the stylised image of sinners: bad people … Lost World peopledrunkardslicentious … unchurchedparty peoplenoisy peopleirreverent people … “not our kind of people at all” people.  And yet … tax collectors and sinners gathered … to hear Jesus.

(and yet WE name ourselves “sinners” week after week … really????)

I remember reading a book by Anthony Robbins – a NeuroLinguistic Programming, NLP, guru – years ago.  He described how he led group sessions for depression. He wrote how he would see all these depressed folks arriving in their cars, chatting to each other, doing all the usual “interaction” stuff we do before the lights go down. And then the lights went down, and out he stepped to call them to order: We are here talk about depression …

And every head went down a little, shoulders slumped a little more, and the “I am depressed” pose swept through the room.

Sort of like I see Sundays: Let’s all prepare for worship …. And the “I am a Christian” slump sweeps through the Sanctuary.

And yet … tax collectors and sinners gathered … to hear Jesus.

Last night someone said they had never seen a picture of Jesus laughing. And I know what they meant. So this morning I went off and found one.

jesus laughing

As with all images used in blogs, copyright is an issue. The Mona Lisa? Tricky!!  Whose copyright of which version of which reproduced image? Stylised Jesus? Tricky!! Same difficulty, same reasons.

But laughing Jesus? When it comes to a “laughing Jesus” I found this:

Who created the iconic image of Laughing Jesus?

It got me thinking: how come I can track back copyright of a “laughing Jesus” so quickly? And that left me pondering:

a) We seem to have established a hierarchy of sinning: the Okay kind – us … and the Not Okay kind – them.  I wonder why that is.  Which then caused me to ponder …

b) Just what is corporate worship doing to Jesus?  And why do we so often distance ourselves from “corporate worship” and “the church” – that institution we cannot change – that gets in the way of God?  Because that led me right back to …

c) We ARE corporate worship … we ARE the church … and until WE change … nothing changes.

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Susan Sayers was the person who asked the question last night.  She brought me closer to My God.  In church.  In a Sanctuary.  In corporate worship.

Here is a little about Susan Sayers

Thank you Susan, I think you prompted a lot of conversations with our Lord last night.

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