Summary: Worship is done in many ways. But it must always have freshness and not mere form; it must be in community and not merely individual; it must have joy and not mere instruction at the bottom line; and it must spill into the streets, not confined to the sa
In your mind’s eye, take a tour with me. In your imagination, let’s go into some very special rooms.
First, we go to a spacious room, dark, slightly musty, with nooks and crannies in which you could hide if you wanted to. And, indeed, in this room, there are a number of people who appear to be lost in thought, even asleep, sitting with their eyes closed and their bodies relaxed. Others are on their knees, their lips mumbling something. At the front someone is speaking, but his speech is quiet and almost inaudible, and his focus does not appear to be on the people scattered in the room, but on the items on a large table just in front of where he is standing. Off to the side, in the shadows, we see flickering candles in front of a statue of a woman holding an infant in her arms. What is this place and what is this activity? This is Christian worship, Roman Catholic style.
Journey with me now to another room, one quite different from the room we have just left. This is not a spacious room; this is a small space, harshly lit by a couple of dangling light bulbs. The folding chairs on which some of the people are sitting are battered and bent, as if they had been given away several times before they got to this place. This room has not always been a gathering space; on the walls there are fragments of old posters advertising soft drinks and cigarettes. This has been a storefront, but now, cramped and crowded with only thirty people in it, something very passionate is happening. Over in the corner is an elderly woman who raises her voice in an awkward half-melody, and everyone else chimes in. Over in the other corner a young man on an electronic keyboard finds her key and hammers away, and soon the sound overwhelms you. Bodies sway and head fly back, hands clap and feet stomp. What is this? This is Christian worship, Pentecostal style.
Again, come with me to yet another room. This room is unlike either of the others we have visited. This room is large without being immense; it is light without being garish; it is comfortable but unadorned, without very much special to look at, other than a cross at the front and a Bible on a table. Here the people sit as if at attention. They say nothing, they do not walk around, they are hushed. And at the front there is someone who reads from that Bible, who talks about various activities, who greets people in a jovial way, and who, finally, launches into a speech of some sort. An awful lot of talk from that one person, and not a whole lot of response from those who have gathered. What is this activity, what is this all about? This too is Christian worship, Takoma Park Baptist style.
If I were to continue our little mind’s eye tour, I could regale you all morning with the ways in which Christians worship. The variety is infinite and bewildering. Almost anything you can imagine, someone has used to offer to God in worship. From monks chanting behind an icon screen in a richly adorned Orthodox church, to the honky-tonk sound of a tinkly piano in a white frame country chapel; from the stirring sound of a great pipe organ echoing through the vast chambers of a cathedral to the sheer silence of a Friends meeting, broken only when someone feels the movement of the Spirit; from a half-dozen bleary-eyed teenagers clustered around a campfire softly singing, “Kum ba yah” to the rousing rhetoric of an impassioned preacher who has learned the magic of the spoken word .. in all these things the people of called Christian have expressed worship. In all these things and a whole lot more, the church of the Lord Jesus Christ offers its worship.
Can all of this really be Christian worship? Can all of this truly voice what needs to be expressed before God? By what standards can I judge anything that somebody calls worship?
In the 149th Psalm I find four affirmations. Four distinctives that need to be honored if the “how” of worship is to be genuine.
First, worship must be fresh, not just form. Second, worship must be in community, not simply individual. Next, third, worship must have joy at its bottom line, not mere instruction. And finally, worship must spill out into the streets and not be confined to the sanctuary. Let’s explore each of these with the help of the Psalmist.
First, would you agree that worship be must be fresh, and not just a form? Worship must have in it a spontaneity, an immediacy, something now, human, fresh.