Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20; Psalm 19; Philippians 3:4b-14; Matthew 21:33-46
“Inside, outside, upside down”
What do you think of our worship today?
Somebody moved the furniture!
Somebody wrote all over the bulletin!
Wait until you see what’s coming next …
I am calling today an “inside, outside, upside down” day. The outside part of our worship is that some the furniture has been moved. From the outside, our worship space and some of things that we see have changed. The words, however, in the service leaflet and the ones that we say, are the same. Moving the furniture and the words scribbled throughout the bulletin are about the inside of our worship: what is going on in our worship underneath those things that we see? What is the theology – the study of God – that is taking place by what we do, by what we say, even by how we set up our worship space? We start from the outside and then look within. Inside, outside — why?
So that Jesus can turn our world upside down. So that God can grab hold of our hearts and turn them to God. And it might just take turning us upside down to do that ….
We can look at this progression from the giving of the commandments. We’re in exile, right? We have been brought out of slavery under Egyptian rule and we are not-too-happily journeying through the desert. We remember our former ways, the food that we had, the routine of our day. Good or bad, we knew what life looked like. Now, although not being in slavery is a very good thing, we are uncertain. Sometimes following God feels like wandering through a desert. We are in a new place, we don’t know where we’re going, even when God knows, so we get fatigued and we grumble, stumble, and maybe lose heart for that which we have to do. God tells us how to get along; how to bring the kingdom of God to this world, whatever and wherever it may be. This ordering is a form of God’s grace – do things this way; first, remember who I am.
Those outside rules from the one who created everything – those “outside” rules say: don’t make idols, so that (inside) you look deep within yourselves to see the one and only and real God. Look deep inside. Look to God. What is it every day that we bow down to … that might keep us from seeing God?
Do not take the name of the Lord your God in vain. What we do and say on the outside might damage us from within. Who are we cursing but the one who gave us life? Look carefully at the inside so that what we say on the outside does not damage the One God. Be ready for God to turn our lives upside down, bringing God’s kingdom not to some generic place but to our lives and communities.
Remember the Sabbath day, that’s an “outside” action, and keep it holy – holy comes from God, who transforms us in our very being. That’s upside down! Remember the Sabbath day; we work hard; rest and enjoy the fruits our God’s labor.
And so it goes. Every commandment has an outside: the rule, which is pointing to something inside of us. How many of us have committed murder? The “outside” rule seems fairly easy. It’s a checklist, right? But the outside points to what we hold deep within – murderous anger, smoldering grievances, gossip. Through those things we have killed another’s (or our own) spirit. We have a deep need to be turned upside down in order to concentrate on God.
It is an inside, outside, upside down kind of life.
What about today and this worship service? The furniture has been moved so that we might see the movement from the liturgy of the Word to the liturgy of the Table. The outside action is visible: the furniture moved a little. The inside action, the theology, is to help us move on the inside, in our brains and hearts and in whatever place inside of us it is that connects to God, can more readily shift to have an experience of the One who made us.
There’s writing all over my bulletin … yes, there is. That’s from me. I mostly wrote about what I have learned about the theology of our worship, or the meaning of the words in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. These book was put together by many people who carefully studied and prayed and argued (yes, they’re human!) their way to a way to worship that would connect with our ancient roots and with our more contemporary life.
Our worship has taken on elements of the older worship from the 1928 Prayer Book and the newer one – already over 30 years old! As you experience the outside – the lack of some of the more formal things, think about what is going on within you. Besides feeling comfortable or uncomfortable, liking something or disliking it, what puts us most in a place to be transformed by God, and not by other things, as beloved as those things might be. This is a day and time to be vocal: what resonated, what worked? What felt right or good; what felt strange? Really? Good. Explore all those things in prayer and with one another.
Yes. In prayer and with one another. Here and in the rest of the week and the world. It might go like this. God, I need to tell you that I didn’t like the lack of ornamentation on the altar. Why did this make me uncomfortable? Maybe I know who bought the burse and veil, and seeing them reminds me of my loved one. If, and that’s a big “if” God, if they aren’t there how else might I connect with that person? No, I absolutely have to have those things to inform and bolster my faith. Okay. Or, God if those things aren’t there, why am I uncomfortable? Is this about you? This is your altar, God, and if the altar is bare, then it is your body that I see there … how am I supposed to be with you in this? We share some suffering you and I, and I need to tell you about this pain…. Hmm. Maybe we see the starkness of a bare altar and see in it a clean slate for our lives … with Jesus supporting us and bringing us to Him. Outside. Inside. Upside down toward God.
Here’s a scary thought. What if these conversations took place NOT ONLY in our prayer lives but with some trusted friends? With one another here, for example. Find someone you don’t know and complain about what’s been done. Then go deeper in your thoughts and sharing time. How about this? Talk with a friend who does not know the great place that is St. Peter’s or the love that is from God. Try it out. You won’t believe what happened at church yesterday. Blame it on the priest. Our crazy priest moved the furniture. I wonder if you’d come see it; let me show you how bad it is. Let me show you how awesome it is! I wonder if you’d tell me what you think about it. Our inside thoughts go out to the world, and we invite someone in. So that – you’re ready for it now – so that God might turn our lives upside down …
And into the kingdom that is God’s.
I have no illusions that this one time and one place will forever incline all of our hearts to God. Some of us are not ready to go beyond the surface. Some of us are not bothered by outside things. Yet maybe, just maybe, one life will be changed today, and carried to a new place in Christ Jesus. For all of our experiences, and in all things, thanks be to God!
How are YOU today? It’s an inside, outside, upside down day. Thanks be to God!