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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Worship and Belonging

Millenium Mosaic in Covington, Kentucky. Photo by elycefeliz licensed under Creative Commons.

When I was six, worship was something I did in the crook of my mother's arm.

Our sanctuary had its own scent, a mixture of old wood, humidity and dusty institutional tile. My father preached an informal Sunday evening service, and I loved the part when he let the congregation suggest hymns. I would rest my head on the soft skin of my mother's arm and strain my hand up high so that maybe my dad would call on me and I could suggest "Power in the Blood."

When I think of what church should be, that memory rises in my mind. I knew I was safe and loved. I was in a room full of people who wanted to praise Jesus. God felt next to us, holy and loving, and I thought that if we just found the right songs or I sat perfectly without squirming or my mom held me long enough, that feeling would snap into place and become permanent. All the worry and uncertainty of life would slide away, and I would be safe and happy with God forever.

I am in a group that is starting a new church. We begin worship services soon. We have discussed and planned what those services will be like. It can be tricky planning worship with fifteen other people, because each of them carries in their heart a memory or a longing for their own version of resting in mother's arms while singing a favorite hymn.

We all want to belong.

And when we come to a loving, welcoming God in worship, we do belong. No matter who we are. Coming to God is always a kind of coming home.

But worship is also unsettling. God is perfect; I am not. God is holy; I do wrong. Facing God throws my own flaws into sharp relief, and that is not comfortable. Even being folded into the welcome of God makes me realize the effort it costs me to welcome others. Sometimes welcoming others means setting aside my own nostalgic affections to make certain someone else feels like they belong.

The Bible tells us that Jesus left the presence of God - a place where he perfectly belonged - to be born as a baby and grow up in the pains and heartaches of life on earth. He was rejected and killed and then came back to life again. He did all this to give us all a way to belong in the presence of God.

When a church worships Jesus, it praises the God who welcomes us. Our model of worship is Jesus himself, who endured terrible things so that others could belong with God. So in planning a worship service, we look for ways to celebrate coming home, but also ways to show other people they belong, even if it means giving up something dear to us.

Come and join us for worship. Jesus will be here, and we'd love to make you feel like you belong.

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