Last weekend, friends and family of the Rev. Jack Reeve gathered in Indianapolis to celebrate his life. When I was a seminary student, Jack was one of the many retired ministers who helped supplement my education. One of the most memorable lessons was from a congregational dinner at Crestwood Christian Church.
After the meal, each person was asked to move to a corner of the room based on their answer to various questions. People left their desserts and moved to the appropriate corner as they expressed their opinions on a variety of issues the congregation was exploring. The moment came when the leader asked, “Do you like old songs, new music or a mix of the two in worship.” She pointed to a different corner for each answer and people started shifting. Jack walked to the middle of the fellowship hall, folded his arms and stood like a statue.
Someone finally said, “Jack, you have to pick a side.” Jack slowly formed the sly grin that always preceded deep wisdom or quick wit and went on to share a little of both. Jack said, “I will answer when someone can tell me what we mean by new music. I remember when people complained about singing Amazing Grace because they only liked the old favorites. So, I ask, what do we mean by new music?”
Jack reminded us all that change is a constant in the church and that all of us live such a small sample of that change that our perspective is limited. We gravitate to what we know and what we are used to. In times of tragedy, people find themselves repeating the prayers and songs of their childhood. This is natural and can be a powerful expression of faith. The trouble comes when we impose our comfort zone onto other believers. When we take this fatal step, worship stops being about God and becomes all about us.
Some don’t like drums and guitars and others won’t listen to an organ.
Some want wooden pews in strait lines and others want soft chairs in a circle.
We judge those who want something different and try to make worship in our own image.
Jack reminds us that worship is a verb, an action word.
Worship is something we do rather than an event we attend.
Another lesson I took from Jack was how to prepare for worship. I’m not talking about looking up the hymns in advance or book marking the scripture. I’m not talking about tucking in my shirt and my tie strait. Real preparation for worship comes through service and study. Jack was always in Sunday School, most often as a student (although he could have taught it with his eyes closed). Jack was also committed to serving others. I still remember him riding his bike to Central Christian Church to volunteer at Adult Day Care. On one bike ride, Jack was hit by a car. He finished his ride, finished his shift as a volunteer, and then let someone drive him to the ER where they diagnosed a broken hip. Jack was 80 at the time. Not everyone can have perfect attendance in Sunday School and we don’t all have to serve with such stubbornness, but we can all learn and serve. By spending time in study and service we have experiences with God and God’s people that fill us up. By spending time in study and service, we are filled with discovery and gratitude that lead us to truly worship God.
One day a church will be discussing why we have to sing the old Chris Tomlin and Casting Crowns songs every week. Visiting such a place might make us feel like a 10th century monastic visiting Saddleback Church. But we will still worship. We will still worship because we will bring hearts filled with joy for all that God has taught us. We will worship by singing strange new songs about the wonders God’s people have done. We will still worship because we will give thanks for the opportunity granted by change and such worship will always be an old familiar song among God’s people. And in that time of worship I’ll give thanks for Jack.