I’m really not sure the best way to go about describing what happened today. So I’ll start with the easy part.
During first and third service, this is what I shared. It was a battle to prepare this one, for several different reasons. Someday it would be good to blog more about preaching as worship and preaching as teaching. This felt more like teaching, setting the background for understanding the Old Testament and specifically preparing for a journey through the book of Micah in a few weeks. I still listened and prayed quite a bit for the voice of the Spirit, for what God might be saying to us. But it was hard to cover as much ground as I tried to. I bit off a bit more than I can chew. (That expression looks funny in writing…)
Robin and I have been having a great conversation via e-mail. I’m so amazed at her sense of the movement of Jesus, drawing Friends together in powerful ways. She asked me to share about our Yearly Meeting’s history, about how God is at work among us…and she’s been sharing how she is seeing God at work in her circles. How great is it to hear what God is doing in different places?
AJ has already written about what happened today from her perspective; I’m going to be lazy and ask you to go there if you weren’t worshipping with us to get an idea of what happened. That way, I can write about some of what I noticed without being up all night long trying to describe everything. But I stand with AJ in awe of God’s work in our service.
I don’t think it’s wrong of me to say that the beginning of open worship was very tense, and going downhill in a hurry. I’ll give you a snapshot of what was going through my mind:
“This can’t go on like this…is it my responsibility to do something?” (See, here’s where the blogosphere has made an impact on my thinking. My interaction with unprogrammed Friends has been very life giving, very much an encouragement to consider carefully what I say and when. It’s taught me to ask God if I’m the one to respond, not to assume that I should because of my role.)
“THIS sure ain’t boring!” (I told you it was a battle to prepare the message. I was really afraid I was going to bore people to death. I’d prayed about it a lot, asking God to give life, asking God to help me not lull everyone into the netherworld of Sunday morning blah boredom. And doesn’t God have a lovely sense of humor in how prayer gets answered sometimes?)
“I wonder how a pacifist breaks up a fist fight in a meeting for worship?” (Ok, I lied. I didn’t think that on the spot.)
I felt clear to move to the front and remind us of our purpose for open worship, which is to bring honor to God. There is a time and place for discussion, there is a time and place even for righteous anger…but in the bible, righteous anger leads us to desire to live like God. I asked if we could check our motives, remember we were gathered in God’s presence for worship, and aim toward bringing honor to God. And, as AJ wrote, we went deeper together, deeper into God’s presence.
I learned later that someone left the meeting and went to a Sunday School class to ask them to pray for difficult things going on in worship. I’m not sure I have ever been in a meeting for worship that had such a dramatic turn, such an obvious sign of the Spirit changing the tone and focus of our gathering so profoundly as what we experienced today.
I wish you could know each person who spoke today; I wish you could have been there to hear what God led them to share. I can write some of it, but it won’t be the same. It won’t move you as it moved me; you won’t necessarily be so dead set convinced, as I am, that God is alive and well in us at Newberg Friends. You probably won’t imitate my village idiot grin that was plastered over my face for the rest of the time, or experience the chills and tingles of Holy Spirit presence that I did. It isn’t likely that reading a blog is going to lead you to pray fervently and confidently for Paul’s letter to become a reality, the letter of Paul where he says “LISTEN UP!” (Yeah, King James says “Behold!”, but I know what Paul REALLY said.) “LISTEN UP! Anyone who is in Christ is a new creation!! The old is gone, the new is come!”
I sat hidden behind the piano grinning like a fool and praying out loud for people, specific people who were standing to share, specific silent ones who came to mind, praying over and over again for the new to come in their lives, for chains to be broken, for the love of God to go deep inside and heal unseen brokenness.
I listened to a woman speak about the truth of the songs we sing finally becoming something real and true to her, as she has worked hard to face into hurt and find God’s healing.
I heard another woman speak of seeing a road, a road that we all are on, a road toward God that is so hard to travel because we all walk with brokenness and woundedness; but we are loved, we are loved by God!
I rejoiced as a man confessed his brokenness, confessed his failings, wept over past wrongs and longed for God to make things right.
I almost yelled out loud when another man, through tears, spoke of walking a similar road of failure, and how he just gave up…gave up fighting, gave up control, gave up because he couldn’t do it himself. And now, through struggles and accountability and friends who have walked with him, he stood today and spoke the word “victory.” God’s victory, not his own.
I heard wisdom from one man who said that disagreement and anger and dissension aren’t all that fun, but they are signs that we are alive, and being alive is so much better than the deadness of a different church he’d been a part of. This wisdom was confirmed when a woman mentioned that someone prayed almost exactly the same thing in that Sunday School class in the basement while we were upstairs wrestling with anger and discomfort, while we were upstairs watching the Holy Spirit of God speak through God’s people to change our meeting into a profound encounter with a God who is alive.
Friends, I can’t describe to you the change that happened in the room. It is not the kind of change that can come because of what someone says. It is the kind of change that comes when God’s people open themselves up to being moved and empowered by the Spirit. We closed our time by saying out loud, together, that “Jesus is Lord!” For us, this was our testimony and our response to the Spirit of God.