If you visit this site very often, you are aware that I don't spend much time talking about church issues. But, today I cannot resist.
On Sunday I sat in church taking in all the images, sounds, words and expressions designed to remind me, to call me into the season of Advent.
"Waiting"--for something, for someone extraordinary, for a force, a life that would fundamentally change the way things work in the world--occupied our thoughts and feelings throughout the time we shared together.
Words are important, aren't they?
The first hymn blew me away with its straightforward simplicity--"Hail to the Lord's Anointed"--a vintage 1821 lyric set to music out of the 18th century and adapted just after the Civil War (1868).
In part we sang,
"He comes to break oppression, to set the captive free; to take away transgression and rule in equity.
"He comes with succor speedy to those who suffer wrong; to help the poor and needy, and bid the weak be strong; to give them songs for sighing, their darkness turn to light, whose souls, condemned and dying, are precious in his sight."
It struck me as the hymn concluded, rich with images first inspired by the prophet Isaiah, that I may have been born in the wrong century!
Later, a responsive reading included these familiar words drawn from the Gospel of Luke,
"You scatter the proud in the imagination of their hearts and have mercy on those who fear you from generation to generation. You put down the mighty from their thrones and exalt those of low degree. You fill the hungry with good things, and the rich you send empty away."
There was a time when these values and this message shaped the work and mission of our churches. Every great and significant social revolution in our nation's history emanated from the lives of people of faith who believed and lived words like these. Such visions formed the stuff of faith and life lived faithfully.
The songs and the readings caused me to reflect on other church experiences I have had over the past few years.
Maybe it is just me, but much of what I have heard and experienced--even those rousing services that seemed so focused on "praising God"--seemed designed to give me and my fellow worshippers some sort of emotional high, rather than delivering guidance, providing challenge or creating space for contrition in face of a very pain-filled world, dominated by injustice and oppression.
There was a time when the church in America understood the purpose of its life in the world.
Dare we hope for a time of recovery?
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