Truly Good Worship

Today I had the gift of worshipping at Javen’s church, Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in St. Paul. I’m grateful for eyes to see there the upside-down realm of God, among us right now. In truth, it’s American society that feels like The Upside-Down, given #ICEraids, entrenched politicians, social alienation, climate disasters and God knows what else. Yet today brought a glimpse of what God intends human community to look like, oriented to praise God and serve neighbor rather than to worship power or glorify wealth.

We gathered amid ancient rituals of word and song, some bearing metaphors that land on my ear as outdated, yet which were still handled with care and filled with new life by the worshipping community. This congregation of mostly white, generally middle-class, quite privileged Americans confessed our sins, including those committed against neighbors, strangers, and the earth itself. Pastor Lois Pallmeyer led a skillfully-taught, sweet and profound lesson when the invitation went out in Jesus’s words: “let the children come”. Later I watched a mother teach her young child to follow along with the words and music, when the girl wasn’t looking through a children’s book in Spanish from the pew “busy bag”. I noticed people with different abilities in the congregation—one crying out occasionally from his chair, others wheeling through the aisles for communion, all tenderly included.

Javen’s illuminating sermon reflected on the Good Samaritan parable of Jesus, then guided us into conversation with our pew neighbors. I got to meet Nadean Bishop and hear just a bit about the life of this remarkable woman. Nadean was the first “out” LGBT person to be ordained in the American Baptist Church, when she was called to pastor University Baptist Church in Minneapolis in 1992. Without the sermon’s prompt to risk vulnerable conversation with a new person, I’m quite sure Nadean and I would have only exchanged pleasantries.

After the sermon, we prayed for every person trapped by their role in the evil snares of current immigration practices, and named God’s will for the care of creation. The mother next to me guided her child to pass the offering plate, and the girl eagerly reached for her own envelope to put in the collection. We took a special offering for ISAIAH, supporting its multifaith work for racial and economic justice in Minnesota. Communion gave food for all, with no thought to cost. Sometimes (though not today) the meal is served beneath the Guatemalan image above, a banner of Christ serving his disciples at the Last Supper. In song, we praised the generosity of “the poor ones” and declared that “goodness is stronger than evil, love is stronger than hate”.

There are a great many examples of how pastors and the Church (including myself and my congregation) fall sinfully short of the ways God calls us to live. I’m sure that Gloria Dei members could also point to its flaws. Yet at the end of this rich worship, abundant in images that upend the conventional norms of what’s important, these broken-and-beautiful people were signed with the cross and sent out to live again the countercultural, cruciform life of Jesus.

The rest of the world may be overturning with chaos and calamity, but I give thanks for this glimpse of God’s ways “on earth as in heaven”, according to the Jesus prayer. I enter the coming week with renewed courage and faith, joining God and good people everywhere in helping to set things right again.

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