Worship happens when and where the curtains that are closing us off from the Holy One are torn in two. Celtic Christians had a name for special places of divine encounter. They called them "thin places." They had a saying that heaven and earth are only three feet apart, but in thin places that distance is even smaller.
Now both of these stories say the same thing: first the healing, then the worship. And it makes me wonder whether we in the church don't have everything backwards. We have always tried to get people to come to worship so that they can experience God's healing, when the Bible suggests that it really happens the other way around. People have to encounter God before they can worship God. We have to experience healing on some level in our lives before we can praise God, from whom all blessings flow.
So before we think about what worship could be or should be for us or for anyone else, we'd better think about what worship could be and should be for God. Every preacher, singer, instrument player, or scripture reader has to keep this crucial fact in mind: when we worship, you folks in the pews are the ones who are worshiping, not just those of us who stand on the stage. You are not our audience; God is your audience.
There you have it: the four elements of worship that we have to be careful to include in every worship service. As you can imagine, that leaves a lot of room for trying new things, because there are a thousand ways to include them. For those who are nervous about change, rest assured that we are committed to going back to the heart of worship, back to the foundation stones or our communal life together: the teaching, the fellowship, the breaking of bread and the prayers. And before we pray, we're going to sing the song, Heart of Worship.
Today, we realize that we have a different fight. The world has changed. The rules have changed. We live in a far more secular society than the one our elders grew up in. And we are running a different race. Surviving in Silicon Valley is much harder now. Participating in a faith community is more of a challenge now. Because it is a different fight and a different race, we need a different way of looking at our faith. Gone are the days when you could say that Christianity has all the answers. Today, we live among those who find truth in other religions and in no religion. They find truth in art and literature, science and technology, and we have to learn how to welcome truth and not be threatened by it. We Christians need a humbler faith, a more trusting heart, a more open and curious mind, and a much more active imagination so that we can envision new ways of thinking and being Christ for this world.
What I have learned in all of this is that our experience of suffering is essentially Trinitarian. First, our suffering makes us cry out to God, the One who created us and is still working on us. Secondly, it brings us closer to Christ, the One who suffered for and continues to suffer with us. And thirdly, it breaks us open to receive the Holy Spirit, the One who sustains us and fills us with life and hope. So you see, we don't need a theology degree to understand the Trinity. By the grace of God, we live it every day. And though life doesn't get easier, in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I promise you that it gets better and better. Amen.
Thankfully, I am not a miserable Methodist, but General Conference does challenge my faith in ways that makes me uncomfortable, to say the least. But that is good for me, because no spiritual growth ever comes out of comfort, only out of discomfort. "Through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come. Tis grace that brought me safe thus far and grace will lead me home." It is amazing grace that teaches us that life in the Spirit is not an easy life. In fact, it has its share of what Rohr calls "necessary suffering." Just look at Jesus. Look at the cross. The cross will tell you that any church that is built on love is a church that is built on suffering. Any Christian who is going on to perfection in love (as Wesley used to say)—that is, learning to love even the enemies of love—is going to endure a lot of suffering. We just have to remember that Jesus' suffering ended in resurrection and, by God's grace, ours will, too.
Falling upward is the process we go through to rediscover this fundamental truth: We are one with God. Not even death can separate us from the love of God. [Romans 8:38] So ascension is not just what Jesus did, but what we all can do and we don't have to wait until we die to do it. When we participate in the divine nature, when we are one with God, we are in heaven already. Wesley used to say that believers live in eternity and walk in eternity. What he meant by that is that as soon as Christ is revealed in our hearts, heaven is opened in our souls. Some people worry too much about what they need to do to get into heaven; Christ is simply trying to get heaven into us.
In order for Saul to get to the second half of life, to get from the road to Damascus to the Way of Jesus, he had to do what Rohr calls "discharging the loyal soldier." Just as soldiers today often have difficulty leaving the military, Paul had a hard time taking off the uniform that he had been wearing and the strict rules that he had been following. And we do, too. Those of us who try to discharge our own loyal soldier find that we have to question everything we had always assumed to be true, and that can make us feel as if our whole world is collapsing around us. And we wouldn't be far from the truth. This is our first step on the "further journey," one that Rohr warns us we will experience as a setback. It will feel like a loss: a loss of faith and a loss of self.