There are a few of us left, who still believe in Jesus. I attended a revival last night in a little country church near here. It reminded me of services we had in my home church growing up. There was inspirational singing, reflection on God’s work in our lives, and a powerful message targeting places in our souls where we needed to improve our lives. It was cleansing. There was a thing called an altar call, or an invitation to respond. Most churches don’t do that anymore. A young colleague in the ministry said she had memories of only twice in her life before seminary when she remembered hearing an invitation given at worship in her church.
The life of Jesus is a compelling one. It still speaks to those who listen deeply. I hear that most people are turned off by religion nowadays. That is too bad. Religious awakening is what is most needed. Those who act most threateningly in the name of a faith are stealing the joy from the lives of those who find meaning in religion, and preventing others who seek spiritual renewal from finding it for fear of becoming like the violent and the judgmental of the world.
There is something simple and beautiful about a service of worship in the Christian tradition. When it is offered in the spirit of Christ it is joyful, loving and filled with invitation to grow as a human being in ways that fill your life with meaning. Sharing song, hearing scripture, and listening to a well-thought-out sermon, responding in prayer and greeting one another going and coming from church are precious things. At its best it is an act of love.
Some of my most memorable moments of personal growth have happened in worship: kneeling in prayer during a service focused on healing, going to the communion rail with my grandfather to receive Holy Communion, playing my first piano solo for the church as a child, reciting my first lines in the Christmas pageant, praying after 9/11, preparing for ordination, and listening to testimonies of others who have grown in their faith. My preaching professor, Dr. Grady Hardin, preached the most powerful sermon I have ever heard, delivered in the gothic chapel on the campus of Duke University, just after he had received a diagnosis of bone cancer. His voice thundered through the walls of that place with the refrain “God is dependable.” There isn’t a way to understand that without faith. Reading the Bible by oneself is no substitute for worship in a community of faith, no matter how large or small. We need the witness of one another to understand faith and grow in its many complexities, as we struggle with what it means to believe in an ever-increasingly doubtful world.
As a leader of worship for over 23 years, I have come to live with a text many days before I preach upon it, sharing it with others who are preaching and letting it resonate within my soul as I visit the sick, prepare meals for the hungry, and attend the countless meetings I am expected to attend. Worship is a moment in our lives when we can interact in the dynamic interplay between text and spirit, which informs our faith and strengthens our convictions, reminding us who we are in the sight of a loving God. I am thankful to have been able to worship throughout my life, missing few Sundays in a church throughout my nearly half a century of existence.
Give us more, O God, more of you. May we transcend the noise and interference of life to worship you truly. Help us say, with soul and body, mind and heart: Hallelujah!