Sunday, October 16, 2005

Laity Sunday

Today was Laity Sunday at our church. For those of you who don’t know, Laity Sunday is a Sunday during which the non-clergy people of the church conduct the entire worship service, from leading the music to preaching the sermon. The pastors, musicians, and regular church staff sit in the congregation and worship as the lay people usually do without having responsibility for leading the service. So today our lay people did all the music, read the scripture, led all the prayers, played the instruments, made the announcements, and collected the tithes and offerings. Our congregation-elected Lay Leader preached the sermon.

Having been a pastor’s wife for 42 years (and before that a pastor’s daughter for 21 years), I have been present for at least 40-50 Laity Day services. Quite often (dare I say usually?) they are slow-paced with long “dead” spots while people try to figure out who is up next. They are often more a “show” than a worship service, with people watching to see how so-and-so performs in an unfamiliar role. The prayers are almost invariably halting and self-conscious, and the sermon is typically weak in content AND organization.

Today’s worship service was decidedly NOT a typical Laity Day service. The flow of the service was just as smooth as on a typical Sunday. The music was upbeat and inspiring. An amazing 12-year-old read the scripture with confidence, enthusiasm, and expression, not to mention poise. The prayers were offered seemingly spontaneously and with fervor and clarity.

Michael, the Lay Leader, preached on one of my favorite scriptures and showed me a take on it I have not really thought of before. His topic was basically “Does God Listen to Our Prayers?” The verse he used is: II Chronicles 7:14.

“If my people, who are called by my name, shall humble themselves and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”

He took this verse phrase by phrase as a prescription of the conditions that must exist in order for God to listen to and answer our prayers. He included numerous other references in support of each point of his message. Here is a brief outline summary of my understanding of Michael’s sermon based on this scripture.

“If my people, who are called by my name” -- In order to have God listen to our prayers we must be His person, known by those around us to be one of His. (The following is my addition – not Michael’s point.) Non-believers often complain, “God never answers my prayers.” It is hard to explain to them that the only prayer a non-believer can expect to have answered is for forgiveness and salvation.

“Will humble themselves” – Being humble means not making yourself out to be more important than you are (even in your own estimation.)

“And pray” – communicate directly with God

“And seek my face” – really seek to know God. As Michael spoke, I thought of what it means to really seek someone’s identity. When we really know someone, we recognize his/her face immediately upon seeing it. We become that familiar with a person by spending lots of time together – we have already “sought” his/her face.

“And turn from their wicked ways” – As long as we hold on to our unwholesome thoughts and actions, God will not hear our prayers.

The rest of the verse tells what God will do when we meet the preceding requirements for getting his attention.

“Then will I hear from Heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”

The old cliché tells us that there is nothing new under the sun. While I know that these ideas are not new, I saw them in a different way today. I guess that is, at least in part, what a good sermon does. It causes a listener to think about God’s Word in relation to his/her own life and to see/hear familiar words with new understanding.

Thank you to the wonderful lay people at Douglasville First United Methodist Church for an effective and inspirational worship experience today.

1 comment:

Carol said...

I enjoyed reading this, Joan. Since I skipped church, this was a substitute sermon for me (smile).