The final message in the BrainWashing series wasn’t so much a sermon as a guided series of movements.
Working off the premise that To Clear Your Head, Lift Your Heart, I wanted people actually to experience that ways in which various acts of worship led to more level-headed thinking.
So I didn’t deal with one text in depth. I didn’t follow the ME WE GOD YOU WE format that I usually do. I gave away the bottom line much earlier than usual.
And then, of course, on Wednesday the church massacre in Charleston happened. Thankfully, Chris Macedo had a brilliant idea to change the concluding movement from what we originally planned (an open mike time) to something much more appropriate (writing prayer notes to the Emmanuel Methodist family that we will mail in bulk later this week).
Here it is: Clear Your Head.
So we’re winding up a series on BrainWashing. But in light of that, do you know what some of the most difficult thinking you’ll ever do is? When you’re coming out of a fog. Like no one ever makes a life altering decision in the middle of waking up from anesthesia. You just don’t. No one wakes up from a coma and jumps right into calculus. No one gets up out of a deep REM sleep ready to drive a race car. It takes a while to go from cloudy to clear, from foggy to focused. It’s why the least rational people in the world are those who are newly in love — hormones and emotions waft up and enshroud brain waves in romantic confusion.
And one thing I hope you’ve all seen from the series is the ways in which all of us have thinking that has been muddied, been made cloudy, by the culture & the world. Both the content of what pours into us through the media – be it left wing, right wing, or the whole bird. Conventional wisdom. The right side of history. And by the process of passively absorbing all this information and input while we sit, slack-jawed, in front of our screen. Watching whatever it is so intently we don’t even noticed the drool coming from our lips. Content and process. The reason we need brainwashING is because we’ve already been brainwashED – we just don’t realize it. And that brain wash impacts our relationships, our money, even our understanding of who God is and what God is about. Without intervention, it puts us in a permanent fog.
And so today will be totally different from a “usual” Sunday at GS. Because the ultimate antidote for foggy thinking ON FATHERS DAY has to do not with re-programming your mind but with redirecting your heart. It has to do with this thing called worship. What a gathered community does together under the authority of God, most often on a Sunday morning but other times as well. Now I know: some of you – and, yes, men in particular – will say things like “Oh, I can worship God just as well on golf course on Sunday morning.” Well you can say that all you want but the truth is that what’s really going on is that you worship Golf on God’s course because you switched the object of your worship.
And the bible is so consistent at connecting corporate worship with clear thinking. Heart direction with mental health. The best known “connecting place” is here in Romans 12:1-2:
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Regular worship. Renewed minds. It’s as if one flows directly into the other. And so you know what that means for you and for me on this Father’s Day? On this day in which I’m telling you what I’m going to tell you MUCH EARLIER than usual so that we can get some practice DOING what I’m talking about? It’s this: To clear your head, lift your heart. Get out of the fog by getting in community. Because worship – this thing we are doing together right now – has this clarifying ability to show you what you are not.
Like when you and I properly understand and experience worship, it shows you that YOU ARE NOT ALL THAT. Maybe you’ve heard of that SS teacher who was trying to teach hygiene to her class of 7 year olds. “Cleanliness is next to godliness,” she continually told them. Over and over. Finally, at the end of the class she wanted to quiz them and said, “Now remember, cleaniness is next to what?” After some silence, a little girl said, “Impossible.”
And it is, spiritually speaking! Look at Psalm 51:10-12:
Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me
Create a CLEAN heart, David says. Why? Because he writes and sings this Psalm just after he had committed adultery with Bathsheba and arranged to have her husband killed in battle. Listen: all of us have places where we’re not clean. They may not be as dramatic as David’s – or they might – but we’ve got them. So part of what happens in honest worship is recognizing that: confessing sin, admitting weakness, acknowledging how completely dependent you are upon God. I love that church that has a sign in front that says: YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE A SINNER TO ATTEND OUR CHURCH. BUT IT HELPS.
One of GS’s weaknesses is that we don’t often do prayers of confession together. And one reason we don’t is that a lot of us grew up in church traditions that HAD those kind of prayers and one of two things happened: 1) they immersed us into a kind of guilt from which we could not leap out and 2) more frequently, we were in those churches where we just raced through those prayers, not considering how powerful and poignant they really are. But not here and not today. We’re gonna recite this one S L O W L Y because it’s true and it’s painful:
we confess that we have not loved you with our whole heart.
We have failed to be an obedient church.
We have not done your will,
we have broken your law,
we have rebelled against your love,
we have not loved our neighbors,
and we have not heard the cry of the needy.
Forgive us, we pray.
Free us for joyful obedience,
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
(Dissolve AV, one line at a time, lingering).
To clear your head, lift your heart.
And YOU’RE NOT THE FIRST. Man, this entire series has (I hope) served to remind you that newer isn’t better, urgent isn’t important, and modern isn’t brilliant. We are not smarter than the people who wrote the bible! Nor are we smarter than a whole host of ancient saints who followed them and gave shape and direction to our faith. And that’s why we can sing, pray, and declare words that we inherit rather than words we invent. Did you realize that? As part of this ancient faith, we worship God, we bring clarity to our thinking when we used inherited rather than invented words. You’re not the first to try to figure this faith out, some really smart, really faithful people have plowed the ground before you, and we walk and speak in a path they prepared. That’s worship. Head clearing worship. So we’re going to worship now by declaring together words we inherit: APOSTLE’S CREED
To clear your head, lift your heart.
This kind of gathering also reminds you that YOU’RE NOT ALONE. I remember years ago, a brand-new Xn, playing in a tennis tournament and on the court next to me a friend was playing. He’d actually been instrumental in leading me to faith and so as we walk by each other that day, he just said to me, “Keep the faith.” (If you know about the antics of spoiled tennis players, you know how much that was needed!) But what a moment of solidarity. There we were, in competition, in battle, and yet bound together by this shared faith in a suffering Savior. There was strength in solidarity.
And you come into this place, often emerging out of all kinds of battles in the world, and we want you to know the peace and strength of solidarity. Ephesians 5:19 says it this way:
19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord,
Ah, yes. There is something in the intersection of lyric, melody, and harmony that goes deeper than mere speech. Deep down you believe stuff about God and even the manliest, most reserved of you, even the ones who can’t sing a lick, deep down yearn to sing it out. You believe things about God that are so personal, so profound, it bubbles up and bursts out. You’ve been loved. You’ve been bought. You who deserve hell, who have put others through hell, have been promised heaven. You’re singing already, so let’s do it now to each other
And then Chris Macedo led one side of the room in singing “How Great Is Our God” to the other side & vice versa. Then we all sang together.
This Sunday, we also want to let another community know they are not alone. That why Methodists in Charlotte are going to spend the next few moments writing prayer notes to Methodists in Charleston. When you’re done, bring yours up to the steps where we will gather them and mail them later this week . . .