Summary: Calverton Baptist Church, Silver Spring, MD: Worship involves four dimensions: UP toward God, our help; DOWN from our pride; IN toward a caring unity; and OUT toward a world in need.
When I was in college, I had a math professor who would write a problem on the board, and then with a few deft strokes of his chalk, write the answer: X equals 12. Somehow, no matter what the problem, it seemed as though X always equaled twelve. But how did he get that? From long and complex expressions down to the simple X equals 12! It left me scratching my head and asking, “What just happened here?”
It’s only one of the times I have found myself at some occasion I don’t understand, and have to ask, “What just happened here?” Have you ever been to something like that, where you didn’t understand what was going on? People were doing their thing, and you watched, but you just couldn’t figure out what it was all about? You asked, “What just happened here?”
Take ballet, for instance. I can hear the music, I can appreciate the beauty of the costumes, I can admire the skill of the dancers. But I still do not get it, what the pirouettes and the pas de deux mean. I can watch it, but I still want to ask, “What just happened here?”
My wife is British, and so I have over the years become an observer of all things Brittanic. I have watched royal rituals, I have listened to the House of Commons in session, and when we have gone to Britain, I have learned how to drive on the left side of the road through roundabouts – which helped me a lot getting to your church today! I have even learned how to order a meal at a pub. A Baptist minister bellying up to the bar and asking for fish and chips – can you imagine that? I have come to understand many things British, but one thing I have never understood: the game of cricket. For the life of me I cannot get it. Somebody is throwing a ball and somebody is trying to hit it, just as in American baseball, but there the resemblance ends. Amid all the language about pitches, wickets, stumps, and bails, when I see a cricket match, I ask, “What just happened here?”
Now translate all of that to church, and imagine yourself as a person who is unfamiliar with what churches do. Why do these people come together on a Sunday morning in a special room, and sing songs that are not the ones on MTV, and listen to someone speak? Can’t you imagine that for much of the world, for those who have no Christian background, they would ask, “What just happened here?” It must seem very mysterious indeed.
And that’s just your normal Sunday service. What if someone came and observed a baptism? I understand that you recently baptized twelve people, and I congratulate you on that. But just imagine that outsider coming to see what worship is all about, and it’s a bunch of people getting wet! What ever does that mean? And then at the end of the hour they serve refreshments; well, now, that we can understand – except that it’s just a tiny little scrap of bread and the smallest cup of juice imaginable. What was that all about? What just happened here? The poet Bliss Carman smiled as he wrote about it, "That’s folk a-praising God …They do it every Sunday, They’ll be all right on Monday; It’s just a little habit they’ve acquired."
Why indeed are we here? What is happening here? What is this little habit we’ve acquired? And when Sunday is all over, and we have to go and face Monday, will it matter that we were here?
The apostle Paul, addressing the church at Ephesus, teaches us what this is all about. Paul, in strong language, pictures for us what is happening when we do church. It is, after all, more than a little habit we’ve acquired; it is God’s plan for the redemption of His world. And so we’d better grasp the full dimensions of what it is to do church.
The dimensions of church. I call them up and down and in and out. Easy enough to remember; difficult sometimes actually to live out. Up and down and in and out.
First, UP. What is happening here? We are looking upward. We come here to turn to the one who, as Paul says, is “one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.” We are here to turn our sights toward that One from whom all life flows, that One who is the author of every good and perfect gift. Being church, doing church, starts with an upward look.
I know that I am not telling you anything you do not already know to say that we live in turbulent times. We live in times that are very challenging. Some of you came out of difficult times at home to this country because you sought education and there would be opportunity here. You came to this land and this city believing that you could do something good for yourself and for your family. But now, what is happening? The economy is uncertain, jobs are hard to find, and there is talk of tightening restrictions on non-citizens. So where do you turn for help? What do you do when times are tough?