Is “what happens at church” on most Sunday mornings – the opening up, the elements of the worship service, the connecting with other worshippers, the coffee & conversation for a bit afterwards, the locking up – more about “continuity” or more about “denial” of what’s going on outside of church? I don’t honestly know the answer to that question.
I incline towards the “continuity” pole, no doubt at least in part because I appreciate being able to go on a Sunday morning to be with other people and devote some time to the specific activity of worshipping God with other people. Which is something people have been doing week in and week out, or actually day in and day out in some communities, through better and through worse, through richer and through poorer, in sickness and in health, and in every season and natural condition and in every political moment, however it made them feel, for a long, long time.
Because worshipping God transcends all that temporal context. Really. We believe that, I think. I believe that.
And, worshipping God forms us into the kind of people who can live through better and through worse, etc., better – more responsively and more responsibly and more purposefully and more joyfully. We believe that, too, I think. I believe that.
On the other hand, I also think that human life, and history, matter to God. And they certainly matter to us. So worship really ought to be able to gather all of what’s happening in the moment – the better and worse and rich and poor and sickness and health and seasonality and politics and personal circumstances – and bring it into focus for us in the light of the presence and the activity of God. We are meant to be bringing our actual lives, our whole actual lives, in their realness, before God. I’m not sure we always live up to that demand, which is the genuine spirit of the “collect,” as well as we are called to live up to it. And that awareness pulls me towards the “denial” pole of the answer.
Karl Barth may have told us to preach with the newspaper in one hand and the Bible in the other, but there are still topics most people seem to want to avoid bringing up in worship.
Knowing that people disagree on temporal matters, and disagree so passionately, entails knowing that mentioning those matters in the context of a worship service is probably going to at least annoy, maybe enrage, at least some people. Maybe everyone, in equal measure. Provoke the usual vacuous statements like “politics doesn’t belong in church,” which is just an ignorant thing to say, because “politics” is as intrinsically human as breathing, but by which people mean “I don’t want to have to think about that in church” and “I sure don’t want the preacher to tell me what I ought to think about that, because no one tells me what to think.”
Even though the preacher should be telling people what to think about … well, some stuff, right? Stuff that’s in the Bible, for instance. And which of the things that we think are in the Bible aren’t, too. Ethics. Which is nothing if not political. How to live in community as Christians. Ditto. What we owe one another as neighbors. Double ditto. What God wants from us as faithful people living in an actual world with other people here and now, as best we can tell from … [Starting to sound like a broken record.]
Love is political. It is.
Especially in public.
And even in the eternal scheme of things, it’s still the case that what we do right now in our little lives matters. I think we believe that. I believe that.
But in that eternal scheme of things, any one of these individual episodes of better or worse, richer or poorer, sickness, health, season, national issue or crisis or struggle or challenge, is bound to appear differently to us when we see it in its fuller context …
Maybe the point is that in worship we focus on things we have – and maybe this seems ironic – more certainty about. God. The great, great love of Jesus. Rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit.
All of which does matter for the passionate intensities and the lack of all conviction and the things falling apart of the world that is floundering in whatever anarchic blood-dimmed tide has currently been loosed upon it. Not exactly, even, “not specifically.” Just, differently.
There’s a continuity – or, there’s supposed to be – that matters.
Tell the truth. In love. Do justice, love kindness. Work out what that means for our lives together with fear and trembling. The neighbors matter as much as we do.
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.John 13:34-35