Worship: A Theology of Celebration

(I wrote a whole book on this topic a few years ago.  (Unpublished; Don’t look for it.)  So, I have a lot to say on this matter.  I am reluctant to blog on it, because I hope to redraft and develop the book further and offer these thoughts there.  But that seems somewhat unlikely.)

My years in street ministry have taught me there is an ill-defined line between serving God and serving needs.  On the one side we put worship – prayer, song, preaching, (even communion) and perhaps label that part as “saving souls”.  On the other, we put feeding, warming, sheltering, and other services such as job training, addiction treatment and a host of other “practical” measures.  And then there is a driving concern about which comes first!

I sense the prevailing mood among street ministries in the last 20 years moves the practical measures to the first place.  It is common to ask: How do you preach Jesus to someone who is freezing cold and hungry?  Shouldn’t you feed and warm the tramp FIRST and THEN tell him about Jesus?  Won’t he be better able to receive your message with a full tummy and a warm cup of joe?

I encountered a Baptist Evangelist a few years ago who tried to tackle the question by wheeling in a crew of volunteers to grill burgers and dogs about 20 feet away from his Bible Study (BS) huddle.  He passed out pencils and sheets of paper to everyone who attended his BS so they could take notes on his fantastic sermon.  But then after 30 minutes of BS, about the time the food was ready, he invited everyone to line up and get some of the awesome smelling food, but in order to get a plate, you had to hand over your pencil which proved you sat through the BS.

Funny.  His method actually put a bad taste in a lot of mouths.  Personally, at the time I admired his effort.  I thought it had an ingenious edge to seeking first the Kingdom of God and letting him add everything else.

Well, it was his way of addressing the balance of “practical” needs and “spiritual” needs.  It was a bit unique, but addressed an issue that commonly comes up for discussion among street ministry types.  And as I said, I think the prevailing mood is to address the “practical” needs FIRST, though this is obviously not universal.

Fat Beggars School of Prophets (FBSOP) has no budget and no bureaucratic organization (none of the usual structure or cache of resources).  We don’t go out “meeting” a lot of “needs” in any ordinary sense of that phrase.  On the contrary, most of us actually come from the ranks of the street homeless themselves.  While it would be an exaggeration to say we come with nothing to do something, that idea is not far off the mark.  I have camped with beggars, bums, and prophets in parks and back lots where we pooled our pocket change and supplied a feast.  (This came very near looking and feeling like Jesus feeding 5,000!)  I recall a feast of s’mores one night accompanied by Little Caesar’s Hot-n-Ready pizzas that fed us as we sang, prayed, and talked about Jesus deep into the night in a rich blending of meeting both “practical” and “spiritual” needs.

Snapshot 1 Calendar attempt 1

Sadly, no church (or for that matter, no 501c3 ministers) was there to see and experience it.

Now, lest you think the point is to just get all “Christian-Mystic” about this, I must say I have no control over that.  FBSOP is either empowered by God or we are a fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants ministry.  God does not always move in such mystical ways.  Sometimes we just sleep in the stink of a nearby dumpster and the bums are more interested in drinking than in praying (rare, but hard to count those times as “successful”).  God moves this way and that, but he does not check with me first.

Dumpsters n Steeples

On the other hand, I have a lot to say about the blending of “practical” and “spiritual” needs.  In fact, I don’t really treat them as distinctly separate.  FBSOP has made it our usual practice to host a communion service and that then IS the ministry – however I am not talking about a pinch of cracker followed by a thimble of juice with some stodgy prayer.  No.  I am talking about a Luke-14 party with communion at the center of it.  And THAT then sets the stage for a discussion of Worship: A Theology of Celebration.

Jesus tells us (Matt. 25:40), those bums and needy people ARE him!

What do you do with Jesus when you meet him?  Does worship come to mind?

(Can I get an Amen???  …anyone???)

Yeah, it should come to mind and into praxis.  And I think this is a topic that needs to be explored far more carefully than it ever has been, that I have encountered.  I look forward to doing that more in future posts.

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6 comments

  1. T. F. Thompson · January 26

    Cracking the egg in the Middle
    I remember some legend where two countries fought over how to crack open an egg. One country insisted you had to crack it on the large side of the egg near the end, and the other—that the egg must be cracked near the small portion of the shell near the end. Finally, after years of war, the matter was settled by the suggestion of cracking the egg in the middle.
    In examining Jesus and his mode: we see Him preach for hours and THEN feed the masses. This scene forces to my mind hunting with Bird Dogs. Who in their right mind would first feed the dog and then expect the animal to hunt? Not in your life.
    Yet, I believe we are back facing the dilemma of What Came Frist the Chicken or the Egg? Come on, now. It doesn’t matter.
    In downtown Jacksonville, a Homeless Shelter always forces the crowd to endure the sermon prior to feeding. The idea, of course, is to induce people to listen. Yet, our own belief as Christians insist that we don’t really convert the lost: It is the conviction powers of the Holy Spirit. Naturally, we are always trying to out think God and intervene for we want success by our own efforts. However, this should not be the case. Our job as Christians is simply to preach the Gospel and let God take care of the organization of His Kingdom.
    Nonetheless, none of this is worth arguing over, much less a spiritual fight. I suggest we simply obey God’s word and do what he asks us to do and that is to serve. If we desire replication of Christ’s modality, then we should attempt the spittle routine and heal a blind man’s eyes. Most of us, however, aren’t confident enough to attempt that miracle nor the other act of walking on water.
    In the meanwhile we have service to others and His Word by declaration and not necessarily in that order. Why waste time with silly riddles that are tantamount to the Chicken or the Egg question? Simply crack the egg in the middle and give both the rooster and the hen credit for producing the egg.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Agent X · January 26

      Thanx for the response, T!

      Maybe I need to clarify my statement here. I am talking about worship AS celebration. I see that as a key difference and not as a matter of balance or of wondering which comes first. Seek first the Kingdom of God… (I think I read that somewhere) seems to address the matter, but is there hunger in God’s rule? Or, more importantly, WAS there hunger in God’s rule… say at the beginning? Will there be hunger in THE AGE TO COME? And aren’t those fine examples of God’s rule?

      We somehow have pit feeding against preaching. Not sure that is actually the point. Plus, with a Go-To-Heaven-When-You-Die mentality, which is classic to American Christian faith, the preaching part seems to imply “SAVING SOULS”. But what if the bums you meet in an alley are already people of faith? Is the preaching there intended to save their souls?

      I think all of this is barking up the wrong tree. Perhaps I am mistaken, but I really don’t think so. In fact, the scenario you describe (and the one I described in the post about the Baptist Evangelist) are not really about worship, they are about manipulation. Ministries that manipulate people with a goal of “changing them” – ostensibly into saved souls, but practically into middle-class Americans.

      On the other hand, if that is Jesus (Matt. 25:40), then he needs to be celebrated! You just met Jesus! Perhaps you could share a meal with him!!!??? (Think Abe and the 3 Strangers at the Oaks of Mamre (Gen 18).) In fact, I like to see the bums as the FACE of JESUS and the ministers as the HANDS and FEET of JESUS and where 2 or three are gathered in his name, THERE HE IS – a whole body of which we are the members…) Again, I think I might have read this stuff somewhere…

      Does it fix the bums or their problems?

      (Good question… I have one to ask in return)

      Did Lazarus or Jairus’s daughter, or for that matter the son of the widow at Nain ever die again? I mean are they still living down at Galilee, Bethel or Nain today? I mean Jesus raised them from the dead, but that did not seem to be the permanent fix. So. if I am not fixing these people but merely celebrating the Jesus I see in them, and together we celebrate the Jesus I introduce to them, and if Jesus becomes present where the group is gathered, then haven’t I done ministry and not manipulation? And when I bring a meal (as opposed to food distribution) – a meal I share, a meal with communion sacraments at the center of it all, isn’t that worship that serves BOTH practical and spiritual needs??? And did I not do that while bypassing cracking eggs?

      And in fact, If you search my blog, you will find a post where some ministers and I took a communion service to an empty lot known for drugs, prostitution, and GUN SHOT victims in the middle of the night once. Our humble celebration of Eucharist there STOPPED A MURDER! and I dare say, SOME of us saw that as miraculous.

      see the links here:

      https://fatbeggars.wordpress.com/2016/02/20/the-vandelia-i-love-vignette-4/

      &

      https://gatheringdevotional.me/2017/01/10/communion-midnight-children-shootings-jesus-hookers-drug-dealers-ministry/

      That is my reply to your response at this time. Sorry, juggling babies and other responsibilities at the moment. Hope to discuss it further as needed…

      Thanx so much for reading hear and responding!!!

      X

      Like

  2. Larry Who · January 26

    “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (Romans 12:1)

    Old Testament types of worship includes singing, raising your hands, bowing down, and so forth – all physical ways of showing our worship through surrendering to the Lord. I believe New Testament worship is living a sacrificed life before the Lord, which means we could be feeding the poor or even washing dishes. It’s a heart issue to the Lord, observable by Him and maybe Him only. (Now, this does not mean we can’t worship Him in song and other ways, too.)

    Liked by 2 people

    • Agent X · January 26

      Yay! Good points Larry. And I intend to explore worship more in future posts. I really don’t think I can exhaust the topic. Even hate to call it a topic… seems reductionist. But I have written whole book on this stuff. I have a lot more to share. Too much, way too much, for a single blog post…

      Thanx so much for your response.

      Like

  3. Ryan · January 26

    Great post Agent X

    Liked by 1 person

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