At Western Theological Seminary we make a big deal out of our daily worship and we also make a big deal out of how we worship. We have a hunch that over a period of time how we worship forms us in mysterious ways that we can scarcely understand.
I want you to come with me to Nancy’s and my two story colonial home on the corner of 25th and Central Avenue, just a few blocks up from the Seminary and Hope College. We would like you to join us for dinner as we host six of our best friends over the last twenty-five years. We would like you to get to know these good people; look into their faces, listen in on their conversations, and feel the texture of the relationships that have kept us together through thick and thin since before Ronald Reagan was the President.We would like you to stand quietly in the corner of the dining room and take it all in because it strikes me as a kind of living commentary on what worshipping the living God in a reformed sort of way can do for you.
Sitting directly across from me was Jack Smith (that isn’t his real name – maybe I shouldn’t use them here just now). Jack and I graduated from college together and went off to different graduate schools. When I graduated from seminary with the right to be a Minister of Word and Sacrament Jack graduated with an MBA and what seemed to be a license to print money. He has become a fabulously wealthy man, not unlike many who made fortunes in the 80’s and 90’s. But what singles Jack out is that somewhere along the line he stopped asking the question, “How much of my fortune should I give away to good causes?” And started asking, “How much of what God has given to me do I have the right to keep!” If you asked where he learned to do this he’ll tell you pretty quickly that it dawned on him after hearing, Sunday in and Sunday out, “Let us return our tithes and offerings to the Lord!”
Sitting next to Nancy was Lynn (that of course isn’t her name either). What you need to know about her is that while giving birth to her third child, right in the very act of offering life; she was stricken with a debilitating stroke. The baby survived and so did she. But her life would never quite be the same; she would never change that baby’s diapers or dance with her husband again. At one point in the evening, while we were discussing “the good old days at Christ Memorial Church” Lynn said to me, “You know, Tim, my favorite moment in our worship services was always right at the beginning when you would lift your arms in the air and say, ‘Grace to you and peace in the name of the Lord Jesus!’ When you say those words my heart almost stops and I know that while I may never understand why all of this has happened to me I do know that our gracious God does and that’s frankly all I need.”
Interestingly enough sitting opposite one another are the Holt’s and the Newhouse’s. Dr. Holt teaches at the college and had an Obama/Biden bumper sticker on his car a few presidential elections ago. Mr. Newhouse is a successful realtor in Holland and he and Mrs. Newhouse had two, count them, TWO. Bush/Cheney posters in their front yard during the same election. At one point in the evening the conversation turned to politics and heated up a little bit– heated up enough that I thought, “Oh no! My party is going to tank!” But then, mysteriously, the Holt’s and the Newhouse’s shifted effortless from American politics and their striking differences to their heavenly citizenship and the one thing that will join them together forever.
At the end of the night Nancy read several Psalms from Eugene Peterson’s The Message and we all held hands and prayed—prayed for our kids and grandkids, prayed for one another, and prayed for our world. We ended with the Lord’s Prayer and tears!
It might not have been so clear to me that night, but it surely is now, we had all been mysteriously shaped and formed by the way we worship Sunday in and Sunday out and because of that we were being shaped and formed for witness and work in the world. I think that’s why we make a big fuss over the way we worship here!