~ Effatha! Open up! ~
The apostle Paul wrote something quite alarming to the church at the city of Corinth: "Your worship services do you more harm than good." (1 Corinthians 11:17a) Paul is saying it is better if some churches would stop worship until they get it right. Jesus talked about this when He quoted Isaiah to the Pharisees: "All of you praise me with your words, but you never really think about me. It is useless for you to worship me, when you teach rules made up by humans." (Matthew 15:8-9)
The first and second times I visited the Grand Canyon and peered down over the top ridge, I was awestruck. My only appropriate response to that natural presence was a silence of wonder. That response of awe was repeated when I scanned my first glacier in Glacier National Park. It was again repeated when I saw my son emerge from his mother. That consuming feeling was repeated in many wondrous cathedrals, in the depths of caves, when I opened the Bible I still use, thirty-three years ago, my first black leather bond reference edition. So many places, things and events are enveloped in such sacredness and mystery that I could only settle into a reverent silence. As the Scriptures declare, "Be still, and know that I am God."
Upon seeing Christ in his vision, the apostle John wrote, "When I saw him, I fell at his feet like a dead person." (Revelations 1:17a) Upon seeing Jesus in a transfigured form, Peter, James and John started talking nonsense and then fell on their faces. (Matthew 17, Luke 9) The presence of sacredness is trivialized by words, except those of praise and adoration. It summons holy fear and wonder and tears that indicate we have been touched at the deepest recesses of our souls.
There is a sad wonder involved here, however. I've often heard, "It was a beautiful church service" as though the person was reporting on a theater play he attended. I recently attended a service where someone was singing solo without accompaniment. His voice was thundering and magnificent, often receiving applause during his performance that supposedly glorified God. Later, the congregation fell all over him in praise, asking him to sing one more time. Few must have noticed that he was singing in his own name, that the people were not being moved by the Holy Spirit, but rather by a human performance. They were adoring him and not God, in God's own place of worship. Someone of lesser ability singing to God's glory may not have received mid performance applause and probably would not have been asked to sing again.
A church with an astounding choir and a stirring, eloquent pastor with a full calendar of social events may well leave you entertained and impressed. However, if it doesn't leave you in awe, holy wonder, praise, personal contriteness and adoration, the Holy Spirit was not moving through that worship service, or, if He was, you were then deaf to His presence. There were many moments in worship and prayer, in churches or in creation, when I just needed to stay in silence; when I needed to be alone, to walk or sit in awe, wonder and adoration; when I fell flat on my face, sometimes physically, sometimes emotionally, always spiritually.
Sometimes in the intention of reaching out, especially to our youth, churches engage secular marketing techniques and adopt the secular culture, wanting God and worship to look "cool." But how many of our youth and their caretakers ever experienced the holy wonder and the stop-you-in-your-tracks mystery of an encounter with the Holy Spirit, so often described in the Scriptures? How many of our churches, in the name of "order and structure," would not be able to accommodate an "unplanned" encounter with God or would have to turn away an unexpected visit from Christ because it would be disruptive to the printed program? In Isaiah 66:2b, the Lord says, "The people I treasure most are the humble--they depend only on me and tremble when I speak." God speaks through His Scriptures, teachers, preachers, prophets, creation, your own heart and in other ways. When was the last time you trembled?
The first time I stood gazing into the Grand Canyon, a small group of people walked up. They were chattering non-stop while taking pictures and left after only a few minutes. "How nice" was their highest praise for that magnificent reflection of God's grace and creative power. I'm certain they spent hours looking at and showing others their pictures after spending only a few minutes at the real thing because it was hot outside.
Enticements and marketing strategies borrowed from the secular world are best abandoned to rearrange our worship around the presence of the Holy Spirit. We need to pray Jesus' injunction: "Effatha!" "Some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk... Jesus looked up toward heaven, and with a groan he said, 'Effatha!' which means 'Open up!' At once, the man could hear and he had no more trouble talking clearly." (Mark 7:32, 34-35)
The Scriptures frequently speak of the effatha experience in the spiritual realm. A notable example is in the second and third chapters of Revelation. St. John is told to write Christ's messages to the seven churches. Every single letter ends with, "If you have ears, listen to what the Spirit says to the churches." Every one of our churches today, yours and mine, correspond to one of the seven churches in Revelation. Christ covered us all! But without ears that work, we are deaf to the Holy Spirit. So let us pray, "Open us up, Lord!" We need to take into our hearts Isaiah 58 where God tells us, "I'll tell you what it really means to worship the Lord." Jesus declares, "God is Spirit, and those who worship God must be led by the Spirit to worship Him according to the truth." (John 4:24) You cannot be led by the Spirit, with deaf ears. Effatha! Then tremble, fall on your face, feel the holy and sacred, be awed, wonder and adore!
John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
Spiritual Resource Services
Weekly Reflections © March 31, 2001
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