We write sermons, prayers, litanies, songs. We lay it all out neatly and consider how to tighten all the language, transitions, and music to complement the scripture for the day. We set up stages, brew coffee, bake fresh cookies, and coordinate greeters. Each week the staff and volunteers at DOWNTOWN CHURCH spends 70 plus hours (collectively) planning and preparing for the one hour service.
But even after 70 hours of preparation, God still surprises us EVERY week.
Some weeks we even rehearse the movements between parts of the service repeatedly to get them just right. We are perfectionists that approach the act of leading public worship with fear and trembling. But after two years of working together we've learned that we cannot rehearse what God plans to conceal from us until the last minute.
Worship this past week typified God's tendency to surprise us.
As Amos walked into 701 Whaley on Sunday, I asked him when the band should come up on stage for the responsive song after the sermon. We try to get in place before the end of the sermon to not interrupt the flow of the service. On most occasions, Amos offers a key word from the final part of his manuscript as our cue to move.
This week, Amos said, “I haven’t written the ending yet.” It was an honest admission and I smiled and nodded because there wasn't much else to do. My smile was also evidence that God was working.
Taking the program in hand, and surveying the lyrics of the song we'd rehearsed to follow the sermon, Amos scribbled a few lines on the final page of his manuscript that complemented the song that was already printed in the program to immediately follow the sermon:
Well, you know what it costs to be an orphan? Nothing. It’s free. Jesus paid it all. Do you know what you receive as an orphan? Freedom.
I Am An Orphan Girl by Gillian Welch
I am an orphan on God's highway but I'll share my troubles if you go my way I have no mother no father no sister no brother I am an orphan girl
I have had friendships pure and golden but the ties of kinship I have not known them I know no mother no father no sister no brother I am an orphan girl
But when He calls me I will be able to meet my family at God's table I'll meet my mother my father my sister my brother No more orphan girl
Blessed Savior make me willing and walk beside me until I'm with them Be my mother my father be my sister my brother No more an orphan girl
We fool ourselves believing that we can know how and when God will work. In this case, faith becomes a stale echo of what we want to happen. That's not to say, we shouldn't prepare. But even in our preparation we should reserve room for mystery - for God to be unpredictable. It's there, in those instances when our work in advance and our faith in the moment are tied together and offered to us as a gift from God.