a foreign experience…

For Sarah’s class recently, she was listening to a sermon by Dr. Lenny Luchetti. I caught a brief part of it, and I heard him express some of what I’ve felt lately. I believe it’s definitely worth mentioning as a caution for many of us, especially those in the US who are excited to return to worship services “in person” in the weeks to come. (We are online again here in Hungary, and Sarah is preaching this Sunday!)

During our adapted “COVID” worship experiences, many of our environments have changed significantly. Some of us have gathered in our living rooms, or around dining room tables, and even still trying to sing along at times. We quickly realize no matter how much we turn up the laptop, or redirect the screen – it’s not the same as gathering in person. It’s a foreign experience. It’s not what most of us would select if given a wide variety of options for how to arrange our Sunday times of gathered worship and feasting at the Table of God’s Word together.

An important Truth for us to confess today is: God has met with us faithfully every time we’ve gathered to worship, receive from His Word, and be sent back out into our world. He has gathered with us in living rooms, in dorm rooms, in apartment dining areas, and every adapted venue we’ve offered Him – even when the internet connection lagged, and the sound failed. He has heard every prayer offered awkwardly from the couch, and offered His sacred grace to every space consecrated to Him – no matter how “regular” we felt. Honestly – God has probably even been divinely giddy to have been called on in so many new places and moments in our homes and lives.

Many of us have asked ourselves – can we still “experience worship”, or spend time “in the presence of God”, if the conditions are not what we would prefer? For most of us – this is the first time we’ve ever had to ask this question. Many of us come from middle-class lives in cities where there is a large selection of worship atmospheres and music genres. Or we find ourselves in the decision-making crowd at our own church – able to influence the service order, décor, staging/lights, song choices, musical styles, and even the tempo on a given Sunday.

But for many people globally, deciding to worship gladly – no matter the environment, Bible translation, music selection, language, or other situational details is not an option. It’s a regular occurrence. It’s not something that happens by accident. It’s a necessary strength developed in the intense training routines of a life filled with gratitude. For some of us – these are the first moments we’ve had to wrestle with some of these things, and strengthen these muscles. It would be a mournful mistake for us to rush right back into crafting worship services meant to satisfy our every appetite for “how we’d want it”, or what makes us “feel it the most”.

John 4:23, “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.

Sometimes we offer a moment of worship in Hungarian in our service, and it connects in a special way for those who grew up speaking the language. It gives us insight into how strong the heart of worship must be in many of our communities for those speaking English as a second language. Here’s an exercise: Can you attend a worship service nearby sometime that occurs in a language other than your native tongue? If that sounds too extreme or uncomfortable, how about trying to experience a moment of worship by listening to a praise song in a language you don’t understand. What does it mean to worship Jesus in those moments?

How might we purposefully find ways to exercise this same strength on a regular basis in our local churches – even as we begin meeting for Sunday worship services again? How can we deny ourselves in ways that invite God beyond our momentary and measurable experience? Even better – how can we purposefully serve the overlooked and voiceless communities we live among, by incorporating and experimenting with new elements and stumbling through awkward unpolished moments such endeavors inevitably lead us into?

May we continue to be formed as the beautifully diverse intergenerational and multicultural global people of God – responding to the invitation of Jesus to “follow me”, and revealing the Father’s heart as we gather and are sent empowered by His Holy Spirit for the sake of the world each week…

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