We began our discussion of worship last week with conversation. When I thought about the responses afterward, what was interesting to me is that we didn’t really talk about worship in and of itself. When we discussed the question, “Why do you worship?” we ended up talking much more about what worship does rather than what worship is or what constitutes good worship. I’m sure if I had framed it as what makes good worship it would have been a different conversation.
But we discussed “Why do you worship?” People talked about worship as an anchor for their faith, a time for growing in faith. A couple of people voiced the idea that as the week progresses it can be difficult to feel grounded in that faith. Weeks can be stressful. They can be filled with both very good and very bad news. It can be easy to forget that God is with us in the midst of all of it. But as we gather as a community, with people who share some common beliefs, who find strength in faith, as we pay attention to God with us, we are anchored to the faith for that time.
Now as someone pointed out, there are other ways we might anchor ourselves during the week. We might spend time in prayer or with scripture. We might listen to music that reminds us of faith. We might give thanks at meals or find other ways to express gratitude. These are all anchors of one sort or another and I strongly encourage you to find them and use them. Keep reminding yourself of God’s loving presence outside of Sunday. Yet it is also important to say that for the past couple thousand years, the community gathering has been a primary anchor for Christians.
So I want to talk about something that worship does, another function. I see worship as a conversion experience, if we are doing it right. As I said last week, the critique that worship receives from both the prophets and Jesus is worship that fails to send us out to live the faith. If we just come and feel really good for an hour, we are missing the point. If you like music, go and listen to a nice concert. If you like art, walk around a gallery. If you like food, go have a nice meal at a restaurant. If you like nature, go take a walk in the woods or on the beach. Those are all things that can make you feel good for about an hour. And often when we walk away from the hour, we will continue to feel good for a few minutes; think about how it was enjoyable experience and then move on to the next business. It becomes a pleasant memory.
There is nothing wrong with doing something that feels good for a little while, that is just done for the pure enjoyment of it or as a break from regular life. Worship can easily fit into that category and I think both traditional liturgy and contemporary worship have been used in that way but it should be something more. We have music, but we are not concert or a performance. We have food, but we are not restaurant. We have images, but we are not art gallery. We have teaching, but we are not a school. We have members, but we are not a club or a social hall. So what are we and what is this?
I think we are a place to be converted. Worship at its best can be a road to Damascus experience where the scales fall out of our eyes and we are not the same person when we leave. And it is not because we listened to nice music or had good food or learned a good lesson, it is because we have been opened to presence of God in a unique way perhaps through the combination of all of these things. Whenever I talk this way there is often someone who will say, but isn’t God present everywhere? And that is something I believe to be true. It is certainly a big part of the contemplative tradition which seeks to find God in all things. But there is something unique about this time we spend gathered together, being opened, opening ourselves, to God together that creates the possibility of conversion.
We don’t talk about conversion very often, perhaps because we have lived in a culture where most people around us grew up with a Christian background. They may not have been practicing, but there was a connection there. We might think of missionaries who went out to convert people in far away places, but locally, what would you convert to? Most often I have heard conversion talked about in born-again communities, where a lot of the focus in on creating a moment of conversion (or decision). They often see conversion as a one-time experience. Faith is like an on/off switch. I once was off, but now I’m on.
In our tradition, baptism is a beginning of faith but not an end to itself. We are frequently in need of conversion. Faith is more like a dimmer switch. Sometimes it is obvious that it is on and sometimes we are not so sure. We need to be converted again and again, and that is more than choosing Jesus for your personal savior. We need our eyes reopened to the vision for the world which Jesus has shown us.
There is a common theme that we find in the gospels of giving sight to the blind. We heard it again in Paul’s story from Acts. He is struck blind on the road, but as Paul is ushered into the Christian community by Ananias, his sight is restored. The theme of restored sight points to the idea that Christianity is more than being nice to one another. What Jesus has given us is not only abundant life, but a new way of looking at the world that is shaped by that life. It is a way of being in the world that is shaped by love, by truth, by justice and by peace. When we are looking at the world with this vision, we are already living eternal life. It is not something that you are going hear from your favorite party’s candidate. It is not something that you are going to read in a self-help book. It is a vision that we glimpse as we gather together in this place, as we set aside our imperfections and our differences and praise God together, and listen together, and dine together.
But we need to be reconverted because you all are going to leave this place and go back into a world where people are going to try to sell you things you don’t need but you will start to believe that those things will make life better. You are going to out into a world where people will tell you that you are better than somebody else because of your race or your upbringing or your education or your stuff and it feels good to feel better than somebody else. You are going to go out into a world where people will tell you to figure out what side you are on; what team you are on; who are the winners and who are the losers and it feels good to be a winner. You are going to go out into a world where people will tell you that violence in some form or another is necessary and good. You are going to go out into a world that will tell you to be afraid of what is unknown and what is different
So I say that we need to be reconverted every day and every week. We need a place where we can go and let the scales fall from our eyes so we can see with Christ’s vision. We need a place where we can open our eyes to the deep reality that fear can turn into peace; sorrow can turn into joy; death can turn into life. This is the resurrection promise; this is the Easter good news.
Let this time be a moment for reconversion so that you can walk out those doors with Christ’s vision fresh in your mind. So that you can be part of God’s love, peace and life to those around you. But I promise you, you will be blinded again. And that’s okay because we all are at times. The relationship that is faith is there. God will always hold up that end, that is the nature of the baptized life. The promise is constant. God is always near and always with us. The power is on but the dimmer switch is low. Our minds and hearts are blinded; we lose sight of it or even try to walk away from it.
So we gather in this place, at this time, for this worship and pay attention to God, turning toward God in praise and receiving from God new sight and a glimpse of God’s kingdom. We are converted and reconverted, renewed in Christ’s promise and empowered to share life, love and the joy of Jesus with the world around us.