I have never taken piano lessons (or any music lessons for that matter) but my children did. We bought an inexpensive Kurzweil digital piano (back in the ’90s) when a local university was clearing its stock. I also bought a metronome. Tick-tock, back and forth, consistently keeping time and rhythm, the instrument works to keep the musician tacked to the flow of a song.
Admittedly, I have trouble with rhythm. When we sing, as we do each Sunday, “We Are Marching In The Light of God,” and all of us clap, I have to be sure to stay focused on the worship leader in order to keep clapping in rhythm. Otherwise, I get lost. It strikes me that worship is a kind of metronome. And when you worship consistently, you are tacked to the flow of time–that seventh day of rest providing a timing and rhythm to everything else that occurs in your week. Do that over the course of months and even years and you will find that for the most part, you don’t get lost even in seasons of loss; you discover a symmetry to life and your inner, spiritual life that otherwise evades people who are scurrying aboard the slippery deck of the Titanic.
Summer has ended. A new season has begun. Make worship your metronome and enter into the delight of the symmetry of a well-lived spiritual life. ~See you Sunday.
There may be some similarities between a bowling league and a church. I’m not sure about that. I like to bowl but am not very good at it and have not been to an alley in a long time. Probably the last time I was at an alley it smelled of cigarettes and beer. So there you go. I’m no expert obviously. But people bond over sports–I believe it fair to call bowling a sport but I can be corrected–and people have cathartic experiences is my guess. I’ve seen people jump up and shout when they knock down all the pins or most of them.
Throwing a gutter ball is not positive for one’s self-image. I guess that is why most of us do not bowl often. It can be really depressing if all you can muster is a gutter ball. But what are the similarities between a church and a bowling league? It’s a group effort; it usually creates or deepens friendships; and it requires some kind of consistent effort.
I’m not convinced by folks who think that going bowling or [fill in the blank} is as good or better than worshipping together. And one of the reasons is that the differences are too great. For one thing, the Church (note I'm spelling it with a capital C) is founded on a belief that God has revealed truth about God and the world. That revelatory aspect is missing from bowling and most other sports. Second, the Church is not solely interested in your having a cathartic experience, but insists that you inventory your life and ask yourself whether or not you're living justly, rightly, with others. That ethical component is not quite as strong in bowling though admittedly, players expect you to play by the rules and keep the score correctly.
Of all the things you give your life over to in a week, there is no place quite like a Holy place and hour in which the goal is to come nakedly (as it were) before the One, the Creator and Sustainer and Redeemer of the world. Think of it: the Source of all love and all that is good and beautiful and right is available to you. The Epistle of James states it this way: "Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights..." [James 1:17]. The language of “above” and “down” suggest a First Century cosmology but it’s poetic language that attempts to remind us that God is Good, perfect, and loves us. That is way past the experience of a strike. I hope you’ll come to worship with us this Sunday. Or, as Walter says in The Big Lebowski, “your roll.”
~See You Sunday.
The mystical painter and poet, William Blake, wrote these words in his poem entitled, “Jerusalem.”
I GIVE you
the end of a golden string;
Only wind it into a ball,
It will lead you in at Heaven’s gate,
Built in Jerusalem’s wall.…
A brief verse, but filled with clues about a life of spirit.! The life of spirit is inaugurated often by someone giving us something. In this case, Blake is offering a golden string. Perhaps someone—a professor, a teacher, a pastor, an artist or parent—gave you a question to answer or an answer to question that led you to search. In my life, my sacred journey began when, as a child just about five years old, my mother told me there is a God. I remember that. It planted a seed in my mind and my heart. And I have been winding her golden string handed to me ever since…
The string is golden. Can you detect the irony in this? String is so ordinary, such a mundane and coarse thing. It is, in a word, cheap. But Blake is offering a golden string. Gold is valuable, of course. What is ordinary or common has, in his poem, taken on enormous value and importance. This has the aroma of Jesus’ parables. A man finds a treasure in a field and sells all he owns in order to buy the field. Leaven is small but it leavens an entire loaf. A mustard seed of faith can move a mountain. But too often we judge our spiritual lives by our society’s standards. Big is better, more is best, the right brand name is preferable and so forth. This is one reason, I suggest, that people flock to preachers and churches that push those buttons of prosperity and wealth. But Blake understands in a profound way what the bible knows: a life of spirit begins when the common or ordinary takes on the gold of a spiritual journey. The woman at the well offered a cup of water to a man she didn’t know. He offered her the water of life that would quench her soul.
In Baptist life and thought, faith comes by hearing the Word of God. In other words we are given the Word, twined together like string and dipped into gold. Wind them into a ball and they “will lead you in at Heaven’s gate.”
Worship is a gate. It is an opening, a threshold, a passage-way. From what to what? From the world of the mundane to the kingdom of the holy. From the huts of our wilderness wandering into the Temple of Being. Wind the ball, begin your sacred journey.
The bible is constantly warning us against idolatry. It’s an old word and one that has little resonance in our culture. Why? Because our culture is strewn with the litter of little idols, their plastic impoverished thingness of little use to anyone, clogging rivers and sloshing at ocean’s depth, piled in landfills: the things we gave our hearts to but in turn could provide us nothing but some immediate titillation of the new. Idolatry is simply worshipping that which is not worthy of your or my devotion. If “worship” is a problematic word in that sentence then simply substitute “following after.”
On Sunday we enter a sacred space to bring ourselves before the One, the Holy and Just, the Compassionate and Loving God who is worthy of our worship and whose Being fills us with being. This act of worship is a tossing overboard of idols; a clearing of the decks of those things that compete for our heart’s devotion but instead burden us; a cleansing of the debris and dust of a world-in-love-with-death that pelts us with its hatreds and assorted curses. No wonder then upon leaving the church’s sanctuary, we feel lightened, relieved and renewed. We have exchanged the cheap copper coins of our culture for life. We have untied the loads of assumptions and presumptions and left them behind. We have picked up the gentle yoke of Christ instead.
Find a sacred space and confide and reside in the One who alone gives you peace, transforms hate into love and cures us of our warmongering. I like this poem from the Sufi poet, Rumi, that speaks to this idolatrous tendency of our culture and time entitled, “You Embrace Some Form,” translated by Daniel Liebert in the book, The Rumi Collection, edited by Kabir Helminski.
you embrace some form saying, I am this
By God, you are not this
Or that or the other
you are Unique One
you are throne and palace and king
you are bird and snare and fowler
like water in jar and river
are in essence the same
you and spirit are the same
your every idol
your every thought-form
in your formlessness
I snapped this photo one recent Sunday morning about eight o’clock. The sun was rising and piercing through the blue Alpha-Omega window, its light burst over pews, dusting them with red, blue, green, amber clots of color. It’s a lovely and contemplative moment in the sanctuary. I like getting there before anyone else, the entire silent sanctuary of peace all mine. I’ll tell you what else I like in this picture even though at first, it seems to be that the pew edge is marred that runs along the right border of the photo. Look closely and I think those are finger and hand prints. The faithful have been here. They have sung, prayed, cried, laughed and worshipped here. So even though I had the sanctuary to myself that morning, I was not alone. There was a Church Rise, a community of faith-hope-love that extends for more than a century in this community of faith but part of the church that extends into the far past, even into that upper room where Jesus told his disciples one last time to love one another.
My question to you is, in this first week of a new year, Why would you not enter such a place of peace and leave your prints, abide in the presence of both God and others who are dedicated to loving others as Christ loved us? It’s time. Come on. This Sunday will be another Church Rise. I hope to see you. ~Pastor Bledsoe