Making a mess of worship


“When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.”– Luke 7:37-38

Her passion was her identity, wasn’t it?

She’d lived a “sinful life”. The wild in those words is the passion of sadness, hunger and false, brief intimacies. Her identity was formed by one impulsive, desperate act after another, done in the shadows while upright society kept its gaze averted.

This same passion brought her to Jesus. This same impulsive desperate-ness caused this messy skank to burst through the liturgy of a carefully-organized, scripted meal designed to examine, rather than embrace, Jesus. Simon, the host of the meal had done what he needed to do by opening his home, inviting his posse, acting as a host. Emphasis on “acting” applies here. The host had neglected to honor the Guest by refusing to extend his culture’s graces, developed out of their call to model worship: no washing, no welcome, no blessing.

Listen to what Jesus says to Simon about her passionate and wildly-inappropriate act: Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.”

Now listen to what Jesus says to her: “Your sins are forgiven.”

Not one person in the room understood the interruption or rejoiced at his out-of-order pronouncement. You can almost taste the self-righteousness as you eavesdrop on their whispered gossip: “Who is this who even forgives sins?”

Finally, listen to what Jesus says to this woman whose passion drove her from God, then back again: “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

I attend a liturgical church. And my current job requires me to organize and oversee scripted-to-the-minute chapel services at at a Christian college/seminary. Of course, churches of every stripe and size have their own “scripts” for shaping corporate worship. We run the risk, perhaps, of allowing our scripts to tell ourselves that this is how passion most wisely expressed nowadays. In the name of avoiding the idolatry of pursuing goosebumps instead of God, I’ve heard passion dissed in some pretty reactive ways over the last few years.

Hear me loud and clear. I’m not talking about hyping or manipulating emotions. Eeew. That never leads to a good place. Passion is a by-product, not a goal, of worship.

However, a greater concern for me is that there is such a distaste for expressions of passion that we run a toxic risk of getting so dedicated to “managing” corporate worship (in whatever church context we find ourselves). We then become religious practicioners like Simon, rather than echoing the heaving sobs of this unnamed woman. Something tells me that even if Simon had welcomed Jesus appropriately that day, his faux hospitality would have come from a script, rather than the passion of a soul starved for grace.

I wonder if some of the unplanned, the “interruptions”…or the emotions spilling out of a desperate person reaching out to Jesus…are the gift of this unnamed woman to all who engage in corporate worship.

Will we welcome her?

Can we join her at Jesus’ feet?

* * * * * * * * * *

On a separate note: Bill and I leave for our first trip to Israel tomorrow. Bill will be there for part of the time in his role with the Caspari Center (www.caspari.com). We’d value your prayers for meaningful connections and safety as we travel.

And perhaps, that we’d make a mess wherever we go.

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