One of the unintended consequences of “church on the floor” is the reality that I am now sitting four feet from the first person in the pews. In our usual arrangement, I’m up half a flight of steps, through the choir, and a good forty or more feet from the pews. As a result of this new experience, I find myself paying attention to the way in which our people are engaged in worship. For example, during Deacon Kellie’s sermon yesterday, as her mic cut in and out, people were genuinely engaged in her preaching. They were paying attention, actively listening, in order to hear the good word that she was offering, the Gospel she was proclaiming.
As much as we’d like to believe that our people are consistently engaged in worship on Sunday morning, the reality is, like it is everywhere else, there are moments in the liturgy when the congregation is somewhere else. I’m not sure where they are: pondering brunch plans, stressed about money, planning the week ahead, or deep in prayer are all possibilities. However, I am keenly aware of where our folks are during the reading of the lessons – they are in their bulletin, following along with the text that is set before them, and I’m not 100% convinced that is a good thing.
Our collect for Proper 28 is specifically focused on the role of Scripture in our lives. (I’ve written a chapter on this collect in “Acts to Action,” which I hope you will read (you can buy at forwardmovement.com (and, full disclosure, for which, I do not receive any compensation))). It highlights that Scriptures’ primary role in our lives is as a teaching tool, and that the primary way with which we are to engage the Bible is not through our eyes, but through our ears.
There is something unique that happens when we just listen. Our brains receive the information in a different way than if we are following along, anticipating the next word that is printed before us. When we listen to the text, we join with the majority of our illiterate siblings in Judeo-Christian history in receiving God’s great love story as it was originally told, out loud, as a tale passed down from one generation to another. In listening, our imaginations go to work. We can find ourselves inside the story. We can hear it in our own unique way. We may not hear what our neighbors’ hear, but we can hear what God has to say to us in that exact moment.
This Sunday, as we pray the collect for Proper 28, I hope that you’ll join me in putting down your bulletin and just listen. Listen for the word that God has for you.