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Saturday, March 2, 2024

A local word on the Word

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Rev. Patrick Thomas Rabun, Little Chapel on the Boardwalk

God of Surprises!

The preacher ranted, slapping the pulpit with his fist as he shouted to the congregation:

“How come people will drive two hours to watch a football game that lasts three hours, but they can’t drive 10 minutes to come to worship that lasts an hour?”

From the back somebody shouted, “SIN!”

“Amen,” the preacher belted. “We’re living in a sinful world where people don’t care about the Word of God anymore. When those sports fans get to the Day of Judgment, we’ll see how loud they cheer about ignoring Jesus!” There was a volley of “amen” that roared through the congregation.

That was my first and only experience at a revival service and I really hope that the pastor was wrong about the Day of Judgment, because when I lived in Alabama and my daughter was attending Auburn University, I would drive two and a half hours to see Auburn play football.

But I do have to admit that I wonder to myself why is going to a football or basketball game, or any sporting event for that matter, more fun than going to church? You may have your own answer, but I think it has a lot to do with “unpredictability.” What makes a ball game exciting is that you can’t know exactly what’s going to happen next. You can hope your team will score a touchdown, or recover a fumble or intercept a pass, you can hope for a homerun or a double play, you can pray for a three point shot, but you can’t know until the play happens. There is always that thrilling — if sometimes nerve-wracking- sense that things are unfolding beyond any one person’s control.

Going to church, on the other hand, for the most part is a terribly predictable experience. Most of the time our worship services are in total control of the preacher who has already, in his or her mind, mapped out a course of how the service will flow, and for the most part that includes no surprises. It can be like watching a rerun for the thirtieth time.

Now don’t get me wrong, I do think we need order, God desires for us to have order, just as certain predictabilities (order) are necessary to a football game (four quarters, set rules, consistent/predicable officiating). The predictability of God’s goodness and victory over sin and death are necessary to our faith and worship.

But within order there must be room for surprise — necessary in sports for the sake of excitement; necessary in worship because, frankly, God’s activities are mysterious and beyond human control.

Within the order of that revival service I attended, there was tremendous space for the Spirit of God to move. And because those individuals worshipping that night had their hearts open to the Spirit, there was clapping, singing, even some dancing in the aisles. I have to say, I was not prepared … but found myself getting caught up in the excitement, in the unpredictability of it all.

I realize that type of worship might not be for all, and that is OK, but wherever you worship, if you attend a service with the expectation of surprise, then chances are the God of surprises will not let you down. You see, God is a playwright of exciting surprises. If we are open to God’s direction, things will not be boring.

Attend the church of your choice this Sunday and let God surprise you!

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