Faithful Friday – June 9th

Dear Disciple of Christ,

How do you feel about “dramas” in church? I know, as a worship leader, that they can, at times, be an effective way for people to “experience” some of the emotion of a particular point being made and message being proclaimed. So, for example, our church choir will, at times, do a cantata even with actors in front of church “acting out” the words being sung from the balcony.  In fact, we will get the chance to hear it twice this next week (Wednesday the 14th at 7:30pm and Sunday the 18th at the 10:30am service time.  What we always have to be careful about is what needs to be the focus on our worship; the Word. If something (or some one) displaces the Word with their own antics or entertainment and we focus on them, rather than the Word, we have failed to lead worship well. We have “mis”-led the worshipers (taking them away from God, His Word and His will).  I find this Cantata (like our others) enhances the message with uplifting music. I hope you can come to hear the good news.

To be honest, that is why I don’t applaud in church.  If a group of worship leaders (musicians or otherwise) have done their work well, we have been brought into awareness of the presence of God. Sometimes, with Vicars and laity I’ve referred to this as “entering the throne room” where God sits in power and authority. I don’t expect there are signs on the walls in heaven preventing it but I also expect there are few times applause would be appropriate there as a time to applaud the angels. Shouts of “Hallelujah (Praise ye the Lord),” yes but applauding the singing of the angels would not be continual praise of God. 

If you’ve worshiped where I serve you would recognize I don’t do much in the way of dramas. It may be because I quickly recognized the difficulty in staying focused on the Word with my very first dramatic embellishment of the Word. It was my first Good Friday (back in 1976). My sermon direction was going to lead a reflection on sin and how it spreads and can be identified in the hearers. I was going to list sins and ask people to consider if they “owned” that particular sin and how, as sin increased, the light of Christ decreased. Midway through the sermon I would be talking about how sin brings us to total darkness with the absence of the light of Christ. Then, I would start talking about how the grace of God, God’s forgiveness and mercy that comes in Jesus, brings more and more light into our lives. I would end the sermon with the Light of Christ filling our lives and flowing from our lives into the world. 

Where was the drama? Well, at our church we had a large rheostat (like a rotary dimmer that lets the chandelier in your dining room get brighter or dimmer depending on the mood you wanted at dinner). Ours was bigger (much bigger) and controlled every light in the sanctuary. I gave directions to the ushers on the symbol of light and darkness and how I wanted them to turn the lights down little by little with each pause in my sermon so that at the midpoint of my sermon, the sanctuary would be totally dark. Then as I talked about grace, step by step the light (of Christ!) would shine and restore the room to light.  

Get it? I wish they had. Somehow they misunderstood and when my sermon first began to talk about sin, they turned the lights completely off. I thought about trying to give them directions from the pulpit but felt if they didn’t get the point when I was talking directly to them in person, they wouldn’t get it from the pulpit. So, I just preached on and with the recounting of every sin the lights got brighter and brighter. At the point I was talking about the greatest degradation of sin in the world and our lives, it was so bright you needed sunglasses! It was the exact opposite of my plan and, sure enough, as I talked more and more about the grace of God, the room got darker and darker. Aaagggghhhh!

So much for drama. But, one of the benefits I find of preaching from an outline is to be able to “go with the flow” and adjust. One other “dramatic” lighting effect we always had was a small light in the upper center of the triptych (a three panel door above our altar you can see it every Sunday and it especially stood out in evening services). As the sermon reached its end, the lights were completely off, except for one. That single light above the altar was still lit, and preaching the Word as I did, I suggested it represented the Light of Christ shining through all darkness and the darkness could not overcome it. I adjusted some of the proclamation to fit the drama going on (courtesy of the ushers) but it was the Word that was still the focus.

You can imagine, I’ve never had so many people mention how moving the sermon was as they did that Good Friday forty seven years ago. I always wanted to make sure, from then on, that the drama was never distracting from the Word and its power. The power of that Word shined despite my attempts to enhance it. God saved the day just as surely as He saves us, not with drama but with the Word made flesh, His Son. The greatest compliment I’ve received from nearly 50 years of sermons, was the worshiper who comes up after service, looked me in the eye and said softly, “Thanks, Pastor.” I always felt they had joined me in the throne room. It’s been the goal of my preaching and an awesome place to hear the Lord speak to us.

So, if there is a moral to the story, it is this; keep your eyes on Christ. Come into the throne room where God the Father is holding “audience” and wants to speak with you and me. I pray we go there each weekend and that He shines the light of His love upon us, from that room with His Son.

Peace In Him,

Pastor Johnson

Scripture Readings for June 9th

Psalm 50:7-15; Lamentations 3:40-58; Acts 28:1-10