Church nerds go to worship when on vacation. I could try to spin this as dedicated piety, but it is more ecclesiastical curiosity. I want to see the sanctuary, analyze the liturgy, note the signage, register what it feels like to be a visitor. Such motivations to get up and out whilst on vacation are far from noble, but they shield me from being disappointed when I hope for more. But the truth is, I really do hope for more. In my heart of hearts, I go to worship while I am away (and when I am at home) because I am seeking more than information about service opportunities. I want more than food for thought. I want more than a pithy slogan or sound advice or even community. As much as I say I search the web for worship times and directions to do some professional reconnaissance, I am really trying to find a place that will share the Good News of the gospel with me.
While the gospel is not new news to me, the Word of God is always needed news to me. I need to hear over and over again the truth that God so loved the world that Jesus became incarnate and would die rather than let the world go to hell in a handbasket. No matter where I am or what is going on in my life, I need to hear that hope is not in vain, that justice is coming, that the meek will get their due and that God is right now working on the end of death and crying and mourning. Yes, I am curious about which hymnal gets used or if a hymnal gets used. I am intrigued by the local images in the stained glass windows. I wonder about the placement of the prayers and the absence of the creed. But what I really want to know is why it matters that we’ve gathered together on a Sunday morning when most of the world doesn’t give a rat’s whisker about joining us. I want to be equipped to go tell others that what we are doing is a matter of life and death.
But too often on these searches I get a cute story, or a thoughtless rambling, or spiritual platitudes or an ad libbed prayer of “God we just …” Most of the time I must be content with flipping through the papers in the pew racks, counting the number of people, noting the absence of whole generations and trying to find a word of the Lord through the stalwart faithful who made the effort to show up too.
This was the case on my recent vacation. I tracked down a church a few blocks from our hotel, noted the service time and roused my spouse at the appointed hour. We walked up steep, concrete steps and were greeted by a man resting his hand on his walker. About 40 others occupied the pews in the cavernous sanctuary. The musician played the organ with gusto, the small summer choir sang with energy. Then the preacher came from behind the pulpit and wandered around the front of the sanctuary. The text was “consider the lilies of the field” and the sermon consisted of an admonition not to focus on the ugly happenings in the world, but rather see God in the beauty of nature. The bulk of the mercifully short sermon was dedicated to a story about a recent golf outing and a crow who stole a bag of potato chips. See how God provides? Consider the cheeky crow on the golf course.
As we left I noticed the man who had greeted us, standing at the bus stop, leaning on his walker. My going to worship that day took little effort, his getting there to serve in the narthex was herculean by comparison. Perhaps he found the story of the golf course and the crow and the chips deeply meaningful. But I wondered if he didn’t go to worship hoping for more. Hoping for nothing less than the gospel, nothing less than the Word of the Lord, nothing less than Jesus. I feel certain he will be back this Sunday bringing that same longing. I know I will.
Grace and peace,