Worship as a Political Act
By Mike Ivaska
While thumbing through a book about worship, I came across these opening words,
"An elderly woman, having lost her hearing and most of her sight, continued to request a ride to church every Sunday. A friend asked her why she bothered, since she could not hear the sermon, the prayers, or the music. She replied, 'I go to show whose side I'm on.'" (Peter C. Bower, ed., The Companion to the Book of Common Worship, Geneva Press 2003, p.2)
In addition to bringing to mind certain elderly lovers of Christ I know and have known in my life, what struck me about this statement was its political nature. Of course, in our day and age of the "culture war," someone less initiated in the faith could see this as saying, "I'm showing that I am on the side of the Christians against the pagans/sinners/liberals/conservatives/etc." But I think anyone who understands the Christian faith, and who is thoughtful enough to dwell on this elderly woman's answer for a moment, will realize exactly what she meant. In a world of conflicted loyalties, whether that loyalty is to oneself or something (or someone) else, just getting up on a Sunday morning to go to church is a political act. It is one way of answering the question, "Who is on the Lord's side?"
At first this might seem strange, or even wrong, to the modern Christian. God is everywhere, after all. Going to church is saying I am on the preacher's side, and I might not be. Going to church is saying I am on the worship band's side, and I might not like the songs they choose. Going to church is saying I hold the same social and political views of the people I would be worshipping alongside, and I don't. But to view going to church as saying I am on the Lord's side? That is ridiculous. Christianity is about having a "personal relationship with Jesus," right? I can do that at home. Worshipping at one church or another, or any church at all, is really about preference. What, if anything, do I get out of this church? That is the question that determines my participation, or lack of it.
But what if gathering with the people of God in Sunday worship ultimately is a question of loyalty? What if the person we are supposed to dethrone is not Caesar, Trump, or the Democrats? What if the person who needs to be dethroned is me? What if the one thing that we Americans hold in higher value than our money - our time - is exactly the thing we need to be laying down before our Lord? What if gathering with those whom God has chosen, rather than those whom I would choose, is the beginning of real obedience? What if "community" is more objective than subjective - more a fact (I am a member of Christ's people) than a feeling (boy, I love the vibe here!)? What if gathering on a Sunday to worship the risen Christ together with his flawed and imperfect people is the beginning of a revolution the world has never seen? What if worship is a political act?