Sunday, August 24, 2008

True Worship

A time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.

                        John 4.23

Playing Church

In the highly charged, legalistic environment of my upbringing, we often were warned about “playing church"--living obediently on Sunday, yet pleasing ourselves through the week. This reinforced conformity to dogma and taboos we defined as “holiness.” Now older, I find maintaining authenticity in every aspect of living is sound advice. Yet while preachers of my youth got the message right, they inadvertently twisted its meaning.

We avoid playing church by staying as truthful in worship as we are in everyday life. When we check parts of ourselves at the sanctuary door, we leave integrity and sincerity there too. What makes us do this? We’re afraid of the people inside and lose sight of why we’re there to begin with. Who cares what they think? We didn’t come to play church with them. We came looking for God. Since He knows every detail about us, surely we don’t believe He’s honored by half-hearted, evasive worship.

Shocking News

God seeks honest, open worship. Jesus stated this explicitly in conversation with a Samaritan woman. For GLBT and ostracized believers, His words gain significance in light of the person He said them to. First, she was an outcast. Ethnicity and gender banned her from Hebrew rites and, thus, access to God. Second, her sex life was off the chart. She’d married five times and lived with a sixth man when Jesus met her.

Jesus told her He knew her whole story just to prove none of it mattered. Instead of launching into who is and who isn’t scripturally qualified for worship, He taught her what God desires. God isn’t looking for a homogenous crowd of cloned worshipers. He wants us to be forthright and unreserved about how much we love and need Him. It’s safe to assume she found this shocking because it still shocks people—in and out of the church—today.

Our Time Has Come

Samaritans saw themselves as disenfranchised Jews who held common beliefs in a coming Messiah, yet had been unjustly excluded from temple worship. That would change once He arrived. This is why Jesus said, “A time is coming and now has come.” His arrival put a New Order into effect.

It remains in effect, despite those who oppose it with obsolete laws and fear-based doctrine. There’s no profit in arguing the legitimacy of their beliefs. Frankly, there’s no time. We have it on Christ’s authority that God seeks our true worship. We long for the day when all believers find strength to accept us. But we can’t wait any longer. Our time has come. Our time is now.

Jesus tells the Samaritan woman, "The time has come..."

Personal Postscript: Houses of True Worship

It seems to me that GLBT believers have three options when considering where and how we worship. Ranked from worst to best, they are:

1.   Fly solo. Follow Jesus on our own, staying clear of “organized religion” with its rules and regulations. That’s what drove us away to begin with. Why jump back in that hornet’s nest? OK, but where does this lead? When we fly solo, unaided by caring pastoral guidance and nurturing peer fellowship, we typically land in the soft marshes of “spirituality.” Given all of the negative influences vying for GLBT attention, we need regular opportunities to reconnect with Christ’s message and people.

2.   Fake it. Live openly in the community and dive back into the closet at church. This is very risky. First, we make ourselves—and our needs—invisible, the last thing we want from church. Second, we subject ourselves to needless, unscriptural condemnation and hostility. Third, we betray the trust of our ministers and church families with our dishonesty. Fourth, our tithes, offerings, and attendance support an organization committed to our defeat. Fifth (and this is a big one), even if we can live with all of this, our presence tacitly endorses attitudes and actions that crush the lives and spirit of weaker, more vulnerable GLBT people seeking God. Yeah, the choir’s terrific, we’ve known these people all our lives, it’s the hottest church in town—whatever—there’s just no way to worship God truthfully where we have to lie about who we are to get in.

3.   Find a real home—where the welcome is real, we can be real, our needs are real, the Gospel is real, and compassion for us is real. Wherever we may be, there’s at least one body of believers nearby that’s eager to welcome us as we are. Their faith and commitment compels them to look past the obvious and see the eternal. If that’s not good enough for us, then we deserve how little we ultimately receive by flying solo or faking it.

Since “Straight-Friendly” launched, my daily email almost always brings encouraging messages from pastors of welcoming, affirmative congregations. In the past week, I’ve been blessed to hear from the following churches. If one of them is near you or you’re visiting their area, take a look at their website and find out when you can join them for true worship. They’d love to see you.

Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church, New York, New York

First Presbyterian Church, Elizabethton, Tennessee

Gilead Presbyterian Church, Carmel, New York

Hilton Christian Church, Newport News, Virginia

Judson Memorial Church, New York (Greenwich Village), New York

Metropolitan Community Church of Richmond, Richmond, Virginia

St. John-St. Matthew-Emanuel Lutheran Church, Brooklyn, New York

St. John United Church of Christ, Kankakee, Illinois

St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, Ithaca, New York

United Church of Paducah, Paducah, Kentucky

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