“Grace Alone, Faith Alone, Christ Alone.”
September 1, 2019, 10 AM
There seemed to be a buzz in the air when I entered this church on Labor Day Sunday. Then it occurred to me that the regulars in this beach town are probably excited that most visitors will be leaving the area soon. Their lives will return to normal after this weekend and they’re likely just a little bit happy about that. I can’t say I blame them.
The pastor greeted the congregation and went over the announcements at the beginning of the service, which is where it should be, in my humble opinion. That took close to eleven minutes and I began to think I was in for another extra long service as it was also a communion Sunday. But I was pleasantly surprised to see that the service unfolded in a logical and spiritual pattern after that. The gathering time began with a hymn, a greeting/response, the Kyrie, the Gloria, and a prayer. Then the Word time included four scripture readings from Proverbs, Psalms, Hebrews and Luke. We stood for the Gospel reading, which always seems a bit formal, but I kind of liked it.
The sermon followed and it had to be the best sermon I’ve heard in a long time. It was probably less than ten minutes long, but he packed a punch. Using the Gospel lesson, he spoke about how we should never assume the highest place of honor, but choose the lowest. That way, the Host may elevate and honor us. But if we choose the highest place, the Host may replace us with someone more worthy, and we will be shamed or embarrassed at the very least. Jesus was speaking to a dinner crowd that had been jockeying for the best seats at the table. But this pastor took the meaning one step further. He said that the lowest place of all is death. And everyone of us, without exception, will one day sit at the lowest seat of death. The pastor said this scripture reminds us that in that day, when we sit in the seat of death, our Host will say to us: “Friend, what are you doing down there? Come on up here and sit next to me.” I can tell you that his interpretation had a deeply moving effect on the congregation. Myself included.
Another hymn, the Nicene Creed, prayers of the church, passing of the peace, and the offering all followed. Nicely done. The pastor sung parts of the Great Thanksgiving and the congregation responded. We even sang The Lord’s Prayer. There is something deeply spiritual about singing the liturgy which is sometimes lost when it is only spoken. I heartily participated in this sung version even though my singing lacks refinement. We took communion at the altar rail by rows, all very orderly and meaningful.
I loved this worship time. It had all the elements of liturgy, form, word and table. I probably could join this church. But alas, I was greeted by only the kind gentleman in front of me and then the pastor on my way out. This means that although they worship exceptionally well, they might need to work on welcoming the stranger. Sadly, this church FAILED the WELCOME TEST.