Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Good Church

From Søren Kierkegaard’s Journals and Papers, Volume IV
God is a spirit; consequently worship of God should be in spirit and in truth. The customary Sunday service these days, however, is rather strongly designed for a sensate effect. Even more so, on the great festival days of the Church, on precisely these days the worship service moves even farther from the spiritual. Trumpets and every possible appeal to the senses are used – this is because it is one of the great festival days of the Church. What nonsense, what an anticlimax! 
And from our lessons for this Sunday, the Feast of Pentecost:
And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Acts 2:6 RSV 
Between these two readings could be an important lesson for us these days. Especially as we muster our best for the Ponders, hear the new non-pipe organ voices and celebrate with Dick Cottrill and Diane Sebba, all in the space of just slightly less than 48 hours.

My own inclination will be to work hard so that when the dust has settled I can utter my happy phrase, “that was good church!”

Maybe another way to get at that moment between the readings is to use the famous line about making God laugh, “Just show God your plans.”

Pentecost is just one of those “great festival days of the Church” that seemingly begs us to strive for a “sensate effect.” The multiple languages referred to in the reading often find their sensate effect by members of the congregation reading portions of that and the surrounding verses in as many foreign languages as can be found from within the parish population.

Specific to our current setting is our using this multi-lingual Sunday to introduce the work done by Dan Jubelt and others to add by way of the built-in electronic components twenty new voices to what has been for us up to now “just” a pipe organ. Like a C.F. Martin is just a guitar or a Stradivarius just a violin.

But before I create an anticlimax we do not desire or deserve let me ask this: what else are we to do? If God is a spirit to be worshipped in spirit and in truth, then what are we to do in these few moments we set aside on Sunday mornings but to add as many voices as we can? Heck, we have our second ad hoc choir singing, too! 

Part of our answer should come from understanding Soren’s setting. Copenhagen’s churches were state churches. Bishops were paid through offerings AND taxes. Sundays were days for politics, socializing, “being seen,” fueling the rumor mills, and patting one’s self on the back.

The sensate effect Kierkegaard derides was like a junkie’s heroin, a fix of “good church” so that one could follow one's urges and one's less-than-holy inclinations during the week.

We need not be bewildered. Maybe the “what else we are to do” is to strive for a balance of God’s spirit and truth Monday to Saturday. When the music dies down and the many voices are not singing, when the families are home and the flowers are alone something remains.

Not by addition but by subtraction, not by exuberance but by vulnerability we can put our hearts and minds into a space between the trumpets and foreign tongues, between our orchestrated worship and evocative flowers.

God’s laughter is not AT us as much as it is FOR us. God loves us so that our Mondays through Saturdays can be with God as much as our Sundays should. God is already and always with us in spirit and truth no matter how we enfold and elaborate our worship and call it “good church.”

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