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August 19, 2018

“A Rejoicing Spirit”

By Rev. Katrina Pekich-Bundy

Psalm 29

Ephesians 5.15-20

August 19, 2018

Kecelyn Santiago works as the coordinator for a children’s ministry in Michigan. Since she works at one church and her husband pastors another, they do not worship together very often. One Sunday the worship schedules meshed and she rushed her two children to the church her husband served. The back of the church has a prayground, which is a place where pews have been taken out to accommodate a rug so that kids can color and worship through play.

After some time, an usher asked Santiago’s children to be quiet, so she decided to go with them into the foyer where she could see worship, but perhaps they would not be as distracting. Shortly after that, though, the usher returned and said, “Please keep your children quiet because they could destroy the service.”[1] She was in shock, but left the service.

What would destroy our worship? What has that kind of power? I love that Santiago goes on to say: “If my children could ‘destroy’ a service, then that service was not an act of worship. It was an act of entertainment. No one has the power to destroy worship, because the gathering of people is a call from God.”[2]

The Ephesians passage is not completely about worship but does include the substance of our praising God. This is a bit of a continuation from last week, which was a general message about how to live our lives. Last week’s message reminded us to be careful in what we say, how we say it, and to be aware of our emotions. Our feelings are not bad, but sometimes we allow to them to guide our actions rather than sorting through our anger or sadness. The emotion isn’t wrong, but sometimes how we show those emotions can be harmful to others.

Some might view this part of the Ephesians passage to be a warning, since it begins: “Be careful!” Maybe it would be more truthfully translated as “be intentional.” When we are careful or cautious, we are intentional about our words and actions, which is the purpose of this passage. We are reminded to be wise and pay attention to the world around us.

When I read this to the session on Tuesday night, I asked what they heard as they listened for the Spirit. One person, rightly, I think, translated this passage by saying, “These are evil times…so don’t be stupid.” I think we could all relate to the evil times part. Open the newspaper, turn on the television, you’ll see things that are evil. Sometimes people even wonder where common sense has gone – where is the wisdom in the world? The author of this passage assumed that the world was coming to an end soon – that the end times were near. Hence, the language about evil times.

I wonder if it is easier to live in “evil times” when we can assume the end is near. It is easier to speculate and assume, thinking, “Well, the end is near – so I don’t have to worry about all the evil or ridiculous things happening.” I recently saw a political cartoon by Dana Fradon in which a character is holding a protesting sign that said: “The world is not coming to an end therefore you must suffer along and learn to cope.” That task is much harder than ignoring the world. Engaging the world is much more difficult.

Engaging means paying attention and being intentional about our actions and interactions. We could all pay a little bit more attention to how we live our lives – to the words we say, how we spend our time, how we volunteer, how we spend our energy. There are books and studies all the rage right now about mindfulness, which is just another way of being intentional about how we spend our time. When we are mindful we are engaged. When we are engaged we are being intentional, and when we are intentional we are living a life full of Christ’s love.

The passage takes an interesting turn and informs readers not to be drunk. The issue perhaps wasn’t drunkenness, but the assumption that people were drunk in worship. This happens a couple times in the Bible. Think back to the Pentecost story. People had gathered for a feast day – everyone in one place. A large wind rushes through the crowd and everyone is speaking a different language, but understanding. Some of them sneered and said, “They must be drunk!”[3] Yet, we know they were not drunk – they were filled with the Spirit, which apparently looks the same as intoxication.

There is another story in Samuel about a woman named Hannah. She was unable to have a child and was being teased and taunted by her husband’s mistress, who was pregnant with his child. She rushed to the synagogue to pray, and does so by moving her lips and whispering. The priest scolds her and assumes she is drunk, too.

I don’t know of too many Presbyterians who have been accused of being drunk in worship, because we really like to stay still and not make a fuss. We don’t want to seem overly enthusiastic in worship, and we don’t want to look silly. This is how most Presbyterians worship.

Though, I have experienced this enthusiasm in worship. You’ll remember that last year we began talking about how to make our church more inclusive. One of the topics raised was how to welcome people with disabilities. I spoke with other ministers and heard about a group called Rejoicing Spirits. This is a service for kids with special needs. So, I traveled to Pennsylvania and experienced this amazing worship service. This was a truly multi-generational worship service in which kids were excited to be in worship. They danced, sang, shouted, played, and had more energy than I have ever seen in a worship service, and I used to be Pentecostal. Usually, as Presbyterians, we don’t want to move too much and look silly – but in this service, if you weren’t moving, you looked silly. This was a place especially designed for kids and welcomed kids.

Now, as Presbyterians we like to have things decently and in order – as a Presbyterian minister, you know I agree. Yet, I also think sometimes we take decently and in order too far and can overthink issues. One person said of worship: “True worship does not come from an artificially induced frenzy but from a community being infused with the Holy Spirit.”[4] The Rejoicing Spirits worship services are filled with the Spirit. They are decently and in order and organized and planned out, but there is a bit of controlled – and maybe even uncontrolled – chaos that ensues. The Ephesians passage tells us: “sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts.” Our worship – in the church and outside the church, must make music to God within our hearts.

Since this church has committed to being more inclusive, we must be intentional about how we do that. The session has supported the beginning of a new ministry. Once a month we will join together with Resurrection Lutheran to hold a Rejoicing Spirits worship service in the afternoon. Starting October 7th at 3.30pm we will have a half hour worship service for kids at All Kids Can, a therapy group in Madison that has graciously agreed to house the service.

What does this mean to have a service for children with special needs? First, this will be a “no shush zone.” Rejoicing Spirits is a nationally recognized organization and their goal is to create a space for kids to be themselves without fear of being shushed or told to do something that they simply might not be able to do. Secondly, it is a place where kids can be kids. They will be able to sit in a chair and worship, or worship through coloring or play-dough, or a variety of other activities. Many kids with special needs can listen better when they are actively engaged in a task, rather than sitting silently. Third, this will be a service tailored to them. If a child has sensory disorder, it means we will be sensitive to loud noises. For some children, especially those who cannot read, visuals are helpful and we will offer pictures to aid in worship. The music will be upbeat and easy to pick up.

Finally, this means that the service will allow rather than limit. Kids hear the word “no” often. This will be a space in which we set it up for kids to be safe and comfortable, and be who they are without having to be told “don’t do that” over and over. It is not a blank check for bad behavior, but a place where the boundaries are set up and known, and kids have more possibilities than limitations. This scripture passage is a great example of that. The beginning tells the Ephesians a few things they should not do, but it offers more affirming behaviors than anything: “sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts.”

Some of you might be wondering why we would create a separate service, especially if we are trying to include people in Sunday morning worship. This is a great question – one that was discerned by the group who has been organizing this worship service. First, this once a month afternoon worship service is not to negate Sunday morning worship. It allows for people to come here, or to their own church on Sunday morning, but also engage in an afternoon service. Secondly, we can begin incorporating some of these Rejoicing Spirits practices in our Sunday morning worship service.

Since learning about this service, and talking about it with people in the community, I have heard many parents of kids with special needs who are looking for a church. Some kids have been refused church because of stories like Santiago’s – their kids were too noisy or “disruptive” and people asked them to leave. Some parents are worried to bring their kids to church because they don’t want people staring at them or be shushed. This service will allow kids a place to worship and parents a place to relax.

Now, we need your help. This service cannot happen on its own. We are asking for volunteers from Resurrection Lutheran and Hanover Presbyterian to join together. Being a volunteer doesn’t mean you are present every month, or that you have to speak in front of people – there are a variety of tasks. If you are interested, let me know as soon as possible.

Ephesians tells us to worship God with our entire being, and the Psalm reminds us to give thanks to God, for God gives us strength. When we are able to do the unimaginable and feel like we have nothing left within, we look to God. When we feel like we have no more energy, we look to God.

Rejoicing Spirits is a way to enhance our worship of God. If we say we want kids in worship, it means that we must gather our strength from God, because, I know from experience, they have more energy than we do. It means worship will be messy, because kids are messy, because life is messy. It means worship will be powerful and amazing and complicated all at once. It means fulfilling our baptismal promises as a community, offering to care for those who have been baptized. Amen.

 

 

[1] Kecelyn Santiago, “Let children ‘destroy’ worship” in Presbyterians Today, August/September 2018, Vol. 108, Issue 4, p. 6.

[2] Ibid., p. 6.

[3] J. D. G. Dunn, “Ephesians” in The Oxford Bible Commentary, eds. John Barton and John Muddiman (Oxford: University Press, 2001), 1176.

[4] G. Porter Taylor, “Ephesians 5.15-20” in Feasting on the Word: Year B, Vol. 1 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 352.