Sunday, April 3, 2011

How Hard It Is...

Of all the things we do in worship, the hardest is that which is not printed out in a hymnal or a rubric directed by red print or a sermon preached at or to us... no, the hardest thing we do in worship is that which underlies all else, namely, focus our attention off ourselves if for one brief hour.

We have been taught by culture and advertising to be fully aware of everything about us. We are consumed with how we feel (walk down any aisle in a drug store and see the myriad of concoctions sold to help us feel better).  We cannot go ten feet without a water bottle or soda in our hand -- Lord knows, we may get thirsty.  We tweet, text, email, and call people out of an incessant need to communicate how we feel at any given moment (or where we are or what we are doing or what we just saw, etc.).  We are enormously self-important in the sense that we know and think about our feelings, our health, our desires, and our needs nearly every moment of every day.  Add to that, we think about others in relationship to ourselves.  We cannot forget the guy who cut us off in traffic or the woman who slipped in front of us in line at Kroger or shopper who grabbed the very thing we were going to buy.  Of course, we are most consumed by what others have said or done to us.  Facebook pulses with what others said about us and how we think about it all.  We are tired, we are busy, we are hurting, we are bored -- oh, are we bored!

You may think that hymn was difficult to sing or that lesson difficult to follow or that sermon difficult to stay awaken through it all, but underneath it the most difficult thing we face on Sunday morning is keeping the focus, the attention, and the mind/heart off ourselves.  We fidget and yawn and gaze off into space and close our eyes and have imaginary conversations or write imaginary to do lists in our minds because it is nearly impossible for us not to think of ourselves -- if only for the worship hour.

I often remind certain acolytes that I do not care how tired or bored or whatever they are, the people in the conversation are watching them and they need to pay attention to what is going on and at least look interested.  They look back at me with questioning eyes and stutter "bbbbbbbut" to justify or excuse why they should be afforded a little leeway that Sunday.  Sometimes I wish I had the nerve to say this to the people in the pews.  There are some of us on Sunday morning who cannot resist the impulse to comment on everything that is going on around us -- and most are not as subtle as they think.  There are some of us who squirm in the pews as if we were being tortured instead of fed and nourished by the hand of God.  There are some of us who look around us as if the rest of the folks in the room were the object of Sunday morning.  And then we wonder why we did not get anything out of it. 

No, clearly the most difficult task for the Holy Spirit is to turn our attention away from ourselves for just a while each Sunday morning so that we may focus our hearts and minds upon the Word and Table of the Lord.  When the Spirit accomplishes this feat, He deserves His Sunday afternoon nap.  I rather think He is like the proverbial plate spinner who puts a porcelain piece of dinnerware on a stick and gets it spinning only to do it over and over again, running back and forth to restart a tottering plate waiting to crash.  Yet that is His work every Sunday morning, wherever God's people gather in His name.   Another Sunday morning will soon begin and we bring to the worship service our wounds, our worries, our whining... etc.  But somewhere in the midst of all the things we think and say, the Spirit will also be there pushing our eyes to see Jesus, opening our hearts to His grace, and focusing our minds upon Word and the Sacrament -- not for God's benefit, though that would surely be enough cause for His mighty labor, but for ours.


Cheryl said...

I love the way, during the procession, my pastor's eyes are always glued to the processional cross as he models for us where our own eyes should be glued (not looking all around the church to see who's there).

Anonymous said...

Our self-centered ME-GENERATION will
always have difficulty staying with
one parish for a long time. They
need to be entertained and their
ears tickle for a message with self-
help hints for a more comfortable
life. This accounts for some of the
mobility of members who transfer
from parish to parish in the same

Marke said...

Is it self-centered if I see myself, here? Thanks for the reminder, Pastor. (BTW...I've used that plate spinning reference a few times and everyone under 40 just stares blankly at me. Just sayin'...)

Pastor Peters said...

Marke, why I am shocked! Are you suggesting that I might be, well, old??? I am shocked.

Carl Vehse said...

"We cannot go ten feet without a water bottle or soda in our hand -- Lord knows, we may get thirsty."

Having been an usher for decades, I see people, increasingly over the past few years, bring into the nave not only bottles of water, but caffinated soft drinks and coffee (especially in stainless steel insulated mugs or Starbucks cups). And there's usually a parade of people going out right after (or during) the sermon to hit the restrooms.

Laura said...

Sigh. In my church now the folks in the back row are scrolling through the screens on their ipods during the sermon now. Can't disconnect even for worship.

Anonymous said...

Yesterday, in the worship service
the lady in front of me took out
a Hall's cough drop after the sermon
started, began coughing, and then
left the sanctuary. She returned
when the sermon was over.

Anonymous said...

As a fellow pastor, it is easy to become indignant that your parishioners cannot maintain their attention during Divine Service while you as the pastor have the added benefit of being naturally hyped-up on adrenalin in leading the service(which is why Pastors often can't help but take a nap Sunday afternoon, due to the post-adrenalin "crash".) For sure, when some blame the pastor if he preaches "too long" (which, for many who fix their eyes on their watch more than their ears on the preacher, amounts to any sermon longer than 10 minutes, at least in my parish), nevertheless, we pastors can forget how difficult the "passive action" of listening really is, especially in a current technological MTV/Computer culture which contributes to a collective "ADD" even on physiological grounds of brain development, where the simple mental capacity to listen/think rather than see/hear is so weakened. The way that I myself regain such an awareness of this difficulty is very simple: When I myself go on vacation and attend some other congregation's Divine Service. As I myself find the difficulty of maintaining listening to another preacher's sermon, then you begin to understand how it must be for many of the laypeople, especially for the Boomer generation or younger! While I'm not an advocate of shortening a sermon to "Portals of Prayer" length, let alone to always preaching such simple content that makes even VBS seem meatier by comparison, nevertheless, it is something the pastor needs to be patient with just as much as the parishioner does too, rather than simply the pastor blaming the parishioners for not caring about the service nor the parishioners blaming the preacher for what ultimately amounts to their own weakened capacity for listening, not to mention critical-thinking skills in general. Killing your TV, or at least sufficiently limiting your exposure to it might be a good start for a solution, but confessedly, giving up the computer is much more difficult. :)

Pastor Peters said...

I have grave reservations about the nearly epidemic of ADD/ADHD diagnoses. The six states with the highest diagnoses are all in the South (Alabama, Louisiana, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Arkansas) and most European physicians do not even believe it is a serious problem. My uninformed medical opinion is that few have a biologically caused ADD/ADHD but the drug companies and our desire for docile children have distorted our thinking. For what its worth...