From the Rector
God Is The Audience
For 2,000 years people just like us have been gathering together in the name of Jesus Christ to pray, eat a simple meal, and share stories about God. These countless acts of worship have strengthened and sustained the Church in good times and hard times to keep following Christ as Lord. But who is worship really for? Are we doing this for ourselves? Is the point to give us interesting and useful information, to entertain or enliven us for an hour or so, and go on our way, hopefully as mildly better people?
I have long been struck by the metaphor used by the great 19th century Danish philosopher and theologian Soren Kierkegaard to describe the nature of worship. He wrote that all worship is meant to be a drama. The clergy and ministers are the conductors, the congregants are the actors, and God…God is the audience. God is meant to be the recipient of our worship. Worship is not actually about us. It is all meant to be for and about God.
I’ve loved this metaphor ever since I first heard it, but I also recognize that it challenges the way most American Christians approach worship. Nearly everything around us is tailored to us as consumers, and so we when we come to church, it is natural to expect to be the recipients of whatever the church has to offer. Going to church is merely one more thing on a long list of things we do for ourselves from which we receive some benefit. And eventually, like consumers with fixed and finite resources, we stack these various things next to each other to evaluate which one is bringing us the most pleasure and enjoyment.
For example, if the act of going to church and the act of sitting in my bathrobe reading the Sunday Times with my coffee both bring me peace of mind, I might have a hard time choosing which one to perform on any given Sunday. They are both providing me with the same good (peace of mind), so when we look at the bottom line, and they don’t seem all that different, it may lead me to make a compromise, and alternate weekends between church and quiet mornings at home. You can substitute any “good/benefit” you might receive by going to church, and the rule would apply. If the “good” is the formation of my child’s character, then going to church competes against soccer or scouts. If the “benefit” of going to church is the ability to spend time with good friends, going to church competes against the country club. If the “good” of church is the ability to pray or hear good music, you might realize you can experience those goods at the Arboretum or the Meyerson. If worship is about me and some good that I receive there, then there will always be an inherent competition with other activities.
But that’s not really what Christians believe. We believe worship is not something we stack against other activities that provide similar goods or benefits, because worship is fundamentally not about us. Worship is a drama we create as a whole community, and God is the audience. What we do together is not really for us. It’s for God.
I include myself in the ranks of those who forget this all too often. When I arrive on Sunday morning, and I’m just not feeling very “worshipful,” I can easily forget that it isn’t about me-it’s about God. When I sing the hymn, and it’s unfamiliar or I don’t really care for it, I have to remember: it’s not about me-it’s about God. When I look out from behind the altar and the congregation seems a little flat or low energy, rather than feeling personally discouraged, as though it’s about me, I have to remember: it’s not about me-it’s about God. Everything we are doing is about glorifying the one who made us, who loves us, who redeemed us. We are there, not for ourselves, not to make ourselves better people (although that will inevitably be a by-product), not to catch up with friends (although friendship absolutely reveals God), not even to learn about God. We are there to worship: to honor, thank, and glorify God.
In these last two weeks of Lent, and especially as we get closer to Holy Week, we have an opportunity to think more clearly about what it is that we’re doing when we worship. Are you seeking some personal good or benefit, or are you seeking to encounter Christ? Ask God to help you move beyond yourself when you come to church. Try setting down your needs and wants for a little while, even if they are real and pressing. God knows who you are and what you need. So first come and focus your whole self on entering into the presence of God. Come and worship. As Kierkegaard said, we may just be the actors on the stage, but God, our adoring parent out in the audience, is certainly watching.
Peace be with you all,