My Dear Shepherds,
Sunday mornings ought to come with a healthy dose of wonder. Maybe not jaw-dropping, eye-blinding, knee-buckling wonder, but surely fresh marveling that God—our Father, our Savior, the Holy Spirit—is right here among us and that these things we see and say and sing are wonderfully true. And what’s more, they’re ours in Christ.
I first read Annie Dillard’s words 40 years ago and they’ve hung on the wall of my mind ever since.
The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake some day and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return. (Teaching a Stone to Talk, p. 58)
Mercifully, God doesn’t have to terrify us for us to know the wonder of his presence and gifts. But neither is Sunday morning wonder (or any other time) as easy as falling off a log. On Sundays we have so much we want to say to God and his people that sometimes God himself can’t get a word in edgewise.
I confess I don’t understand just how the worship experience described in 1 Corinthians 14 should be brought over to our services today but almost every Sunday I think about this description:
But if an unbeliever or an inquirer comes in while everyone is prophesying, they are convicted of sin and are brought under judgment by all, as the secrets of their hearts are laid bare. So they will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!” (vv. 24-25)
Regardless of how we shape our worship services, that is the secret of sacred wonder: “God is really among you!” Which can only happen if God is heard. God is heard when we preach, of course, but if we’re not careful we can preach while God stays silent. God is heard when we pray for him to speak, say only what he has sanctioned, and then make sure we’re not talking over him.
In an address to theological students in 1911, B. B. Warfield said,
The words which tell you of God’s terrible majesty or his glorious goodness may come to be mere words to you—Hebrew and Greek words, with etymologies, inflections and connections in sentences. … It is your great danger. But it is your great danger only because it is your great privilege. (Quoted in Paul David Trip, Dangerous Calling, pp. 113-114)
I’ve never forgotten something Ben Patterson wrote in a Leadership Journal article titled “Heart and Soul”: “Sometimes I think our hands are cauterized by the handling of holy things. We’ve been there and done that so many times that our hearts get calluses.”
We cannot generate feelings of wonder, especially amidst all the pastoral hubbub of Sunday mornings, but we can think about where it is we are standing, what extraordinary, holy things we say and see and touch. We must never quote our lines like character actors. We are God-ordained ministers who bring out of God’s deep vaults treasures old and new.
There’s one more modest wonder on Sundays in those familiar, ordinary, blood-blessed people entrusted to our care. They are the beloved of God so marvel in watching them visit and laugh together, in seeing them bow to pray and hearing them tell of their walks with Jesus. Those sheep of ours are a royal priesthood and a holy nation, a people belonging to God!
All those wonders, every Sunday!
Be ye glad!