Easter Sunday is over and the Easter Season has begun. -Not that anyone is really interested in the idea that Easter is a season that lasts 50 days – 10 more than the season Lent. Fifty Days of Easter, that’s 1200 hours to celebrate that “He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!” 1200 hours to affirm that evil has been overturned, that life is restored, that Jesus has broken the chains of sin and death, that God is on the loose!
I assume that I am not the only preacher who feels the pressure to deliver on Easter Sunday. It’s the one Sunday, the only Sunday, people feel obligated to go to church. So there is this conversation we preachers have with ourselves, “I hope it’s worth their while. I hope they don’t go home and complain over their ham and potato casserole about the service. I hope they got something out of it.” We pull out the brass, the flowers, the regalia and put on a production and we hope that maybe, maybe, maybe worship attenders will come back. “Will the sermon be good enough? Will the music be moving enough? Will it be prefect?”
Do you see what is wrong with this thinking?
None of it has to do with God. If we leave a worship service asking the question, “What did I get out of it,” then we might as well go see a movie, or go on a bike ride, or practice an hour of yoga, because if the question is “What did I get out of it”- I am worshipping myself.
If we preachers and liturgists are focused on putting on a good show, we better hang up the robes right now, because we are no longer Teaching Elders or Ministers of the Word, or Preachers of the Word – we are Bible Entertainers and therefore, inauthentic.
Do we come to worship to give something or to get something?
Do we worship God because as the Psalmist writes:
Do we worship God because we believe that life is a gift that comes from the hands of a Creator who knows us and calls us by name?
Do we worship God because He sent his Son to teach, preach, heal, overthrow, die for us, prayer for us, raise for us, and we can only give back to God a portion of gratitude for all that God has done and continues to do?
Or do we worship at all?
We carve out one hour a week. One Hour!, to sit at the feet of God and say, “thank you.”
But there is more to worship than an hour of practicing an Attitude of Gratitude. There is more to it beyond the feel good moments of hand clapping, hand holding, and even at times, hand raising.
There is the John Calvin truth, that humankind by its very nature is a damned mess. We have confused shame with confession. We have made the assumption that if we are confessing and owning up to our greed, lust, indifference, prejudices, that those confessions might lead to shame — and shame is bad.
If confession results in shame, then once again, the confession is about us and it’s lost its meaning.
When I got in trouble as a kid, I would often be sent to my room. I would look out the window and sing a pathetic song, “Nobody likes me,” “Nobody likes me.” It took a long time for me to grow up and learn that if I acted inappropriately, hurt my siblings, lied, or mouthed off, that being sent to my room to think, reflect, and maybe even confess that I screwed up, helped me re-enter my family on right footing. It wasn’t about being disliked, it was about being more aware of how my behavior was impacting my family. I was sent to my room because I needed to think about someone besides myself.
In the same way, worship is a time set apart where we take a look at ourselves and reflect on how our behavior is impacting the world. The objective is not to sit in shame and self loathing. The objective is to confess that we have screwed up, been hurtful, mouthed off, and been dishonest. Worship allows us to re-enter our community on right footing and to think about other people besides ourselves.
We are so isolated these days, I wonder if we even realize how our behavior impacts our community?
If we are angry and dismayed at society for its sin and injustices we must be angry at ourselves, because we are society.
If worship is about ourselves, if confession is watered down to insincerity, if our music has become entertainment and our sermons have become “15 minutes of self-help,” we must confess that we have cheapened grace.
“Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” ~Dietrich Bonheoffer.
We, who call ourselves Children of God, need to be put back into a right relationship with God and thereby with society. Our civility is suffering because God has become our dude, our best bud, our best friend on a gloomy day, instead of our Creator, our Sustainer and our Redeemer.
We have put God in a box. Like a plastic action figure, we have packaged him up with plastic and secured Him tightly to the back of cardboard. We have stapled shut the lid and put Him back the shelf.
All tight and secure and obtainable and marketable.
There. That should make us feel good.