Limiting Worship vs. Unlimited Worship

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By Brian Merritt

From a young age it was hard to determine whether the community or I felt the “call.” The call was meant as something that separated someone from the community to dedicate their life to winning souls for Jesus Christ. This could be by becoming either a pastor, missionary or an evangelist.

I wasn’t a normal child, it had to do with how I spent my time. I could be found with the family’s Halley’s Bible Handbook in the evening copying word for word the sections each of the kings from the Hebrew texts. I assiduously outlined sermons on the back of the bulletin (sometimes asking the pastor if I got it right) and I would day dream about what I would say if I was preaching. I never missed a missionary talk, I sometimes rode my bike to church just to ride through the parking lot. The church was a place I felt at home. More than that, my faith in Christ’s message was what gave me hope.

Over time I had both a love and hate relationship with the church of my youth. I loved the spirituality of devotion and the understanding of God permeating all aspects of a person’s life. Faith meant something that could change everything. We didn’t just go to church to worship on Sunday, but our whole lives must be regulated by the change that Christ had made within us. What I hated was the oppression, psychological manipulation, the destructive egoism, the end time fantasy playing on people’s most vulnerable fears, the use of scripture as a weapon, the thinly veiled use of power to increase political footholds in communities and the wholehearted embrace of violence.

Yet, today I find myself identifying with the Jesus in the temple more and more these days. He is one who argues with the religious leaders to change, to see that they are heading in a direction that is not God’s. Eventually, Jesus will overturn tables and use whips, but now he is using reason. It is the earliest thing that we see from Jesus’ ministry. Often we associate the earliest part of Jesus’ ministry with the miracle at Cana, but here is his earliest ministry. Spending days in the temple attempting to convince the ones who influence thoughts on God that they need to go about his father’s business.

We have a church that is scared. It is a church that is scared about dying so much that it will not evaluate with integrity the reason that it participates in worship. It is a church that floats from gimmick to gimmick to validate having people fall through its doors to listen to its spiritually irrelevant messages, but socially affirming pep talks. Messages of individualism, commercialism, capitalism, success, materialism, self-help, theological lectures, a bizarre idea of fellowship, creativity release, children’s appeasement, music mastery and on and on and on. This is not a coherent idea of worship, but a recipe for cultural relevancy.

Worship is simply a response to our relationship as creation’s to the divine. We do not worship either to feel good or to feel bad, but may feel either of those emotions in our experience with the divine. Worship is practice, work, action, reflection, song, protest, disgust, duty, spontaneity and boredom. It is all of these things because it is living.

Too often we want to limit worship for success. Yet, the divine is limitless. To limit worship to this context of gathering on Sunday is to limit the possibilities that we have in communing with our creator. Limiting the creator is blasphemy of the vilest kind. It is to believe that we have to limit the contact with the divine to specific incantations and potions, it turns worship into something akin to magic. If what we do here today does not spill out into the streets of the Westside, Southside, East Ridge, Northshore, Hixson, Red Bank, Rossville or St. Elmo can we truly claim to be led by the Spirit?

Worship refuses to be limited, as Christ shows us as a child. He refuses to be limited by the wise counsel of the autocrats that run the official ideas of what is acceptable and what is not in the temple. This is clearly not representative of a God that can repent and one that is God amongst us. We must understand that worship is much greater than any committee or time we allocate during the week. It is much more than the limited definition of gathering, but it is something that permeates our existences as living creatures on this planet. We are called to respond to the divine through love, peace, mercy, justice, grace, joy, anger, hope… To limit that to tricks, gimmicks and truncated gatherings is to limit the divine in our midst.

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