On my fourth Sunday of Sabbatical I visited friends. Paul is pastor of an old Presbyterian Church in Burbank, CA. I was his youth leader when he was in high school in Eagle Rock (Los Angeles), officiated at his wedding to Carol, and preached at his ordination. They are important to me. I worshiped with them on April 27. Before I tell you about that experience I want to tell you a story told by Carol.
One morning after church someone in the church pointed out to Carol, a good pastor's wife, that there were two people standing in front of the church crying. She went to investigate and found a mother and son standing, hugging each other, weeping together. She asked if anything was wrong and the Mom looked up and smiled, "O no, these are tears of joy. We are so happy. This is our first Sunday worshiping here and we have finally found a worship service with the joy we have been looking for." On my Sunday there I sat across the aisle from this beautiful family.
These people found joy in the worship service. I think this may be among the very best things to be said about a time spent in worship. JOY! Joy is central to Jesus' message, "I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete." (John 15:11) I find that I, and other church leaders, tend to relegate joy to the role of by-product of good Reformed worship. We rest on the idea that if we put all the right elements in a worship service, as we have been taught, then people will be joyful as a result of having worshiped. It will be an interesting web study over the next few weeks to discover the purposes that lay behind the historic elements of worship, but for now I am challenged to discover how a worship service can bring joy to we who worship.
This fourth of the worship experiences of my Sabbatical, in an old Presbyterian Church on a corner in Burbank, was absolutely the wildest, most raucous, least traditional, most fun worship experience of my life, much less of this current time off. The praise band included 3 guitars and bass guitar, drums, and two vocalists. The graphics for song words and for transitions were fabulous, including several Scripture slides. The service was seamless, going from one element to another with ease. All of the major elements were present in the order, including sharing and prayer, confession and assurance of pardon. I sat next to an elderly couple who sang their hearts out, in back of a woman about my age, and across from a family with teenagers. When the children left for Sunday School part way through there were at least 50 of them up through teen years.
Do you remember the old Monkees song, "I'm A Believer?" Did you know that if you change one word so that the chorus reads, "Then I saw God's face, now I'm a believer." that the song becomes a great Christian message and celebration? We started the service with this song, well played and led. We went on to sing, to pray, to hear the Word in an excellent sermon, and have fun! When Paul began there as pastor 12 years ago 80 worshipers attended one service. Now 250 crowd into 2 services in a long, narrow inconvenient room that seats about 150. Somehow, with this spirit of fun, they also produced joy in the hearts of those who were present. By the way, Paul had on the new uniform for preachers. He was wearing blue jeans, a Hawaiian shirt, and old tennis shoes.
There are some demographics that make this craziness work for this church. They are located near the Disney studios and other studios. Most of the people in the church work in the entertainment industry. They are artists and people who sew and take care of costumes and set up sets and engineer sound and lights. They are creative, slightly crazy, and are able to produce amazing work. For instance, every year on Academy Awards Sunday they have a special service in which each of the nominated best movies are skewered with cleverness and grace. It is all in who they are.
Every congregation has a unique clientele. I am not suggesting adding "Now I'm a Believer" to the musical repertoire of Lemoore Presbyterian Church. (I will let someone else do that.) I am suggesting that we find ways to have more fun and produce more JOY in our worship experiences. I know, we do have fun. We have lots of fun at times, but perhaps we can think of new ways to let more joy be expressed.
Before I leave this subject I want to admit something. The other worship that I enjoyed every bit as much as this raucous, joyfilled time in Burbank was the worship at the "Everthing Must Change Tour" in Seattle. The music of that worship was quiet, prayerful, thoughful, and spiritually challenging. The focus of much of the worship was on committment to working for Jesus in the world. We sang about hunger and poverty and about responding to such problems in Christ's name. We were introduced to new music written by Tracy Howe. You can find lyrics at the website: www.songsforarevolutionofhope.org I bought two CDs of this music and have been listening to them ever since. I love it. There is joy expressed in that music, also, as well as hope and love. And the greatest of these is love. To quote one of Tracy's lyrics, "Hey hey, ho ho, we have nothing if we don't have love."
I have also worshiped now at two cathedrals built to our National Pastime, in Seattle and in L.A. I was able to take photos of the cathedral in San Diego, but there was no service going on at the time. Ten runs scored by the Dodgers in the first inning is an ispiration matched by few other experiences. The last four runs were the result of a grand slam home run hit by Matt Kemp. It filled me with joy.
God bless you all.