Thursday, July 30, 2009

Work, Worship, Play

"Most middle class Americans tend to worship their work, to work at their play, and to play at their worship. As a result, their meanings and values are distorted. Their relationships disintegrate faster than they can keep them in repair and their lifestyles resemble a cast of characters in search of a plot." (Gordon Dahl. Work, Play, and Play in a Leisure-Oriented Society. Minneapolis: Augsburg-Fortress, 1972.)

Oft quoted, sometimes disputed, always worth thinking and discussing, these words are 27 years old but not so old that they are not relevant to the present day. The task is not to keep all of these things neatly separate and distinct in our lives. How can that be? Should we not work at our play -- hobbies -- so that we improve at them? Think of the golfer who works at his craft, or painter who paints, or pianist who practices -- working to become better. Do we not play at work? We read, we think, we daydream, we blog -- such creative play is productive, too.

There are problems with this. When we define ourselves as people, more often we define ourselves in terms of our work -- what do you DO? Maybe we ought to define ourselves more in terms of who are are as Children of God by baptism and faith. Work and play do become competitors for God in our lives and sometimes idols in and of themselves. When getting ahead and making the buck and living to spend it on ourselves become the driving forces in our lives, then something IS wrong.

What is most damaging to us, however, is when we play at worship; when we treat God as a hobby or distraction from the routines of work and play. It is obvious that worship has become for many entertainment and worship has become theater. Too many Christians sit in their theater style seating around a stage to watch a show, to witness great performers, to hear dramatic music, and to have fun. Too few of us expect to give ourselves into what we do on Sunday morning. Too many of us expect to come waiting to get and generally settling for what makes us feel good or makes us happy.

Someone said to me once, "You must be exhausted when you get home from Church. I know I am and I only go to one service. All that singing, all those stanzas, all that standing, kneeling, sitting, all that listening... it makes me tired." Of course it does. We ought to be tired after Church on Sunday morning -- not the weariness of a labor that bears no fruit but the good tired of having lost ourselves in the wonder of God's grace, grace freely given to us through His Son in the means of grace that communicate Jesus to us (Word and Sacraments). The good tired of a people who have not simply had a great time, but who have given their all in response to Him who gave His all for us (on the cross).

I think of the person who said to me, "I need to take a vacation after coming home from vacation because I played too hard..." Would he do it again? Sure. He was tired but the good tired of one who was thoroughly immersed in that play. Should it not be so for worship as well. Yes we are tired -- but the good tired of one thoroughly aware of Christ's presence in His Word and at His Table, thoroughly overcome by the gifts of grace that flow to us through these means, thoroughly overwhelmed by the richness of God's mercy, and thoroughly emptied by the praise and thanksgiving returned to Him who has loved us so. Think about it...

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