Though we may not know it, you and I are sitting on a priceless treasure. That treasure is worship as you and I have come to know it, and the way it shapes us in the grace and the love of God in Jesus Christ.
Of course, to us it is fairly familiar. We come to pray this liturgy and celebrate this Eucharistic feast week by week.
So, because of its familiarity to us, we have the tendency to take it for granted. Kind of like the familiar old shoes we love to wear to which we have become accustomed. They fit well, and you forget that you have shoes on your feet—at least until you have to get new shoes. And then, as we all know there is that painful period of breaking in the new shoes and getting them to be comfortable. And, as those of us who have had foot problems know, new shoes day is not a positive thing.
But that liturgy with which we have become so comfortable and that book of common prayer, almost accepted now, but forged in controversy three decades ago, are actually priceless treasures.
And the reason they are priceless treasures has to do with the direction of contemporary Christianity. The direction towards which contemporary Christianity has tended in our lifetimes has been in the direction of that type of worship popularized by the growth of mega Churches. While there were only 50 such Churches in the United States during the 1970’s, today there are approximately 1300 such congregations.
The impact of those congregations and their apparent success has affected the face of Christianity as the world sees and understands it. One of the great principles of that popular type of worship has been that worship is essentially entertainment. Big rock bands, blaring music, pyro-technic shows, screens projecting the lyrics of hymns where the singer can follow the bouncing ball in the manner of Mitch Miller, all of this has trickled down to impinge upon the worship style of many congregations.
And, by contrast, we gather at this altar, as centuries of saints have done before us to say our prayers, to meet our Lord and Savior Jesus, to pray for His grace in our lives, and to receive his sacramental presence to strengthen us for the journey. We have no bouncing balls, we have no pyrotechnics, (except the occasional uses of incense); we didn’t even follow the latest trend in liturgical revision by pulling the altar away from the east facing wall. But the priceless treasure that we have is precisely this: the faith once delivered to the saints.
But there has been a shift. The new trend in Christianity has been a discovery. What people are noticing is that much of what passes as the contemporary face of Christianity these days has not filled people, but has left them instead with a deep spiritual hunger for something that is meaningful. There is a sense that they have been fed on the bread of emptiness long enough, and what they are seeking—in the imagery of the Epistle is the pure spiritual milk, the high test stuff. The stuff that may not always provide entertainment, but helps you grow into the fullness of salvation.
That is the treasure that we hold. Our manner of worship, our book of common prayer is designed to help people grow substantively in the life of grace, through prayer and worship. And it may be high time that we quit acting apologetic about it. It might be high time that we quit acting as though we know little about the Bible just because we can’t cough out chapter and verse numbers—when our prayer book offers us the synthesis of the Bible applied to life. It is high time that we quit being apologetic for having a sense of liturgical worship because all that is associated with liturgical worship speaks of the wonder and the mystery of God.
People may or may not come to the Lord by a variety of means. But what we have been given as a priceless treasure as Episcopalians is the means of sustaining people in the Lord for the long haul, for a lifetime. Because after the glitz fades, after the pyrotechnics cease, after the last speaker has been blown on the last bass cab, we have the thing for which people hunger. And that thing is substance.