Worship, broken open

Easter 6A 

In the name Christ, our companion.  Amen.

Where, in your own life, have you most clearly felt the presence of God?

In my life, I’ve felt God in a variety of ways and circumstances, but it hasn’t always been in the church.  In fact, it’s more often been in places outside the church when I’ve felt God most clearly.  For me, those clearest moments of encountering God come in moments of epiphany – those moments when some new truth or wisdom is revealed that previously went unnoticed.  Perhaps it happens in the hearing of a song – for me it’s often in various revelations of art: some beautiful photograph, or a piece of theatre.  Or sometimes it’s in a moment of clarity that comes when I’m writing.  Or in something I’ve read.  And yes, sometimes those moments of most clearly feeling the presence of God come in church, too.  But that’s not the only times they come.

I couldn’t get that out of my mind this week when I read this account of the Apostle Paul’s preaching that we read about in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles.  Paul tells these people, “The God who made heaven and earth and everything in it… does not live in shrines made by human hands…”  If I could be so bold as to edit the Apostle, I’d say, The God who made heaven and earth and everything in it does not live JUST in shrines made by human hands.  And I think that’s the point he’s getting at.  So often, people work to put God into little boxes – little manageable containers.  The idea of a God “who made heaven and earth and everything in it” is too much for us to grasp.  So we try to understand God in little manageable bits.  And too often, in the process, that devolves into trying to manage God.

As anyone who has ever supervised people will tell you – managing people is hard enough.  Imagine trying to manage God!  Yet, very often, we all do it in one way or another.  And one of the ways that we in the church sometimes try to manage God is by limiting our understanding of God to a single location – the church.  Sometimes we tie God just to the altar – or sometimes even just to a single act, our weekly worship around the altar.

But God, who made the heavens and the earth, and all that is in them, cannot be contained in the little boxes we’ve devised.  The shrines we’ve made are meant to help us understand, and approach God – never to keep God filed away for when we’re ready.  The altar is not like a crate you’d keep a puppy in to train him until he’s mature enough to move about on his own.

If this time of pandemic and quarantine has taught us anything, I hope it’s helped to teach us that God isn’t contained in the church.  Of course, that’s something we’ve often said, but in our daily lives, we haven’t often acted that way.  Many of us encounter God in worship as if that’s the only way we can.

But in these days when our understanding of worship has been broken open, we’ve seen that even our humble acts of worship can’t be contained as tightly as we used to think.  Worship doesn’t just happen here, in this building and around this altar.  Worship is happening right now, all over the place.  Our worship together as a community is happening in living rooms, and studies, and bedrooms, and basements, and who knows where else.  And it’s not just happening now.  One of the gifts some people have told me that they’ve found in these days of remote worship is that they’re embracing the freedom of worshipping at different times.  On a sort of selfish level, I appreciate everyone who watches these services live, and the ones who wish peace to one another in the comments when we get to that point in the service and who share their joys and concerns with everyone when we do that – but that appreciation is about me.  That interaction we share feeds something in me.  But the worship isn’t limited by even that.  There are others who are worshipping with us at other times.  And just as we are no less “together” while we’re separated by space, we’re also no less together when we’re separated by time.

Quarantine has shown us the truth that God can find us and work with us and unite us in ways that we never before dared to imagine.  God is not limited by the shrines made by human hands that we’ve built – be they shrines of brick and mortar or wood, or shrines of time and place or habit.  God works with us and through us and for us even outside the boxes we’d constructed.

Through whatever the future holds, I hope you’ll hold on to this truth – that this experience has shown you holy places and times you didn’t know about or consider before.  And remember that there are more, still.  God is still ready to be revealed in ways you hadn’t planned for and couldn’t expect.  God is still waiting for us in sites and scenes we have yet to discover.

Though we may feel alone, remember that Christ has promised not to leave us orphaned.  Christ has promised that we’ll never be alone.  And God has revealed to us that we’re not alone.  God has revealed to us that this community, though scattered, is still together.  We’re still worshiping together.  We’re still praying together.  Even singing together and working together.  Now in a new way.  Because God keeps showing us new ways, even long after we think we’ve got it all figured out, boxed up, and managed.

Through Christ, all things are made new.  Even us.  Even our worship.  Amen.