I watched with deep sadness as people with differing views clashed in Charlottesville recently, protests spilling over into deadly violence. I, like many of you, am shocked by the hatred and anger that was so visible in our news media. The destructive mix of bigotry, intimidation, anger and fear numb us and our churches into silence as we feel powerless against the seemingly overwhelming tide of wickedness. My question is what can we do? My aim here is to help us reflect on this issue in the light of Pentecost, as it impacts upon our worship. Although I am not an expert in racial justice, I do have hope in what I know the church does best.
Many of our churches remember the story of Pentecost, but we often fail to understand the implications of it. While the story of the tower of Babel shows us why we have separate languages and how differences cause us to go in many directions, at Pentecost, this significant barrier was brought down as “a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken.” (Acts 2:6) So something is recovered at Pentecost as people of diverse cultures and ethnicities declare the wonders of God together. This is not a mistake nor a cause for mockery but, as Peter explains, it is a fulfillment of prophesy that is blessed by the Holy Spirit and ordained by God who created this difference on purpose. Indeed it mirrors the triune God who is unity in diversity.
The Church, therefore, in the context of worship, should embrace diversity with confidence because this allows Christ’s love to overflow to many and means we welcome what God welcomes. We can rise from corporate prayer, as they did at Pentecost, worshipping in ways that make room for a diversity of songs, hymns, rhythms and melodies. This may seem like a small baby step towards embracing diversity, however it is vitally important as it broadens our horizons and real change begins with us individually. For this reason, it is important to do even in a mono-cultural community.
Let the transformation begin in the church and it will overflow into our missional activities. That is what we want to encourage in the ‘Worship for the World’ symposium. The invitation is to be part of the discussion and practical workshops, listening to different views and embracing our differences through our various expressions of worship. As the hymn says “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me” (Jill Jackson-Miller, Sy Miller).
Come and join the Worship for the World Symposium on October 5 2017 to pray, worship and have round table discussions that will help us learn together and resource each other. May we all then return to the world living and working to God’s praise and glory.