Wineskins Archive

February 5, 2014

Homeland Security? (Sep-Dec 2004)

Filed under: — @ 1:29 pm and

by Sara Barton
September – December, 2004

President George W. Bush and Senator John Kerry both spoke much about homeland security during the campaign. The national conversation about security centers on concerns such as fighting terrorism, border control, better intelligence, and airline safety procedures. We don’t like the feelings of insecurity and discomfort and fear that we now know can unexpectedly envelop us when skies are clear and the day is beautiful around us.

Karl Barth said that security is a modern idol. And, Donald McCullough in his book, Trivialization of God, listed comfort as a Western deity. Do we idolize security? Do we deify comfort?

And, how does this affect how we worship and think about God? I think that our sense of entitlement regarding security and comfort affects how we do almost everything, and this idea certainly enters and sits on the pews with us at church. How many of us have felt insecure or uncomfortable when something new was added to our worship experience? Our hearts pound, palms sweat, and we look around to see if others are uncomfortable. We question if we are right to feel the way we do.

God challenged me to consider how comfort and security affect my worship when I served as a missionary in Uganda. My husband, John, and I had been there for more than a year at that point, and a few new churches had been started. We participated in some kind of worship every Sunday, but worship didn’t give me the secure feeling that I was used to in my homeland churches.

We met outside under trees. I sat on the ground with village women and inwardly complained the entire time, because I was so uncomfortable. Goats and chickens wandered into the service at times. I was discouraged. I was in a selfish stage. I didn’t like the songs or the order of worship or the length of the service. I wasn’t worshipping—at all—in my heart. Here I was, a “noble” missionary to Africa, and my heart was as hard as a rock. I hadn’t really and truly worshiped in months.

But, on one particular day, for some reason, God reached down and taught me how to worship with Ugandans. I looked around the small circle of twenty or so new Christians, and I saw the worship expressed on the face of one man in particular. I knew about this man’s life—that he had no money, that he was wearing the one pair of shoes that he owned, that his mud hut was falling down, that every business deal he had made in the past few months had failed miserably. And, yet, there he was, worshiping, giving his life to God and singing in his language, “Katonda mulungi” God is so good. I learned to worship in another language that day. The language of worship despite my preferences, discomfort and insecurity with the worship around me.

I have heard many Christians discuss their preferences, likes, and dislikes in worship by saying, “I am not comfortable with . . .” and, each of us can fill in the blank with worship styles or activities or events that we don’t prefer or like or want. When discussing worship, the ideas of comfort and security and fear are central topics.

But, unfortunately, if “what I am comfortable with” is our starting point in worship, we are going to end in war. I hate the phrase “worship wars.” The phrase should be an oxymoron, but unfortunately, it describes our worship all too often. When we start in the wrong place—focusing on our own comfort—it’s difficult to end at the right place, in God’s presence.

Could it be that true worship starts not with comfort but with discomfort? Does worship start with radical discomfort—a kind of desperation—when we, in our sinfulness, open ourselves to the presence of our holy and righteous God?

Dave Bland, in his sermon, “Worshipping God,” said, “I think we need to have, not flight attendants, but worship attendants who welcome us to worship and as we enter, issue life preservers and signal flares and announce, ‘Be sure that you are securely fastened into your body harness before take off. If we reach too high an altitude during this worship, oxygen masks will automatically drop from the ceiling. We are in the presence of the Holy God, creator of the universe!’”

I believe that if we begin worship in that place, God’s presence and God’s power and God’s Holy Spirit will guide us through our worship in a way that teaches us how to be with Him, with just the right mix of security and insecurity, fear and confidence, comfort and discomfort. It’s there, in the presence of God, that we discard worldly security and worldly fears and we begin to understand spiritual security and spiritual comfort.

As we Christians gather, I pray that our focus will not be on styles of worship or who the leader is or our preferences. Those things are ever-changing. But, the reason for our worship doesn’t change. God doesn’t change. Across generations. Across continents and languages. Across denominational lines. Beyond stylistic preferences. Beyond what makes you or me feel comfortable or uncomfortable. Beyond us. That’s God. He is beyond us. And, that’s why we worship him. And, in his presence, we find our real home and the true security that this world cannot provide.New Wineskins

Sara BartonSara Barton is a campus minister at Rochester College in Rochester Hills, Michigan. [E-mail Sara Barton]

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