Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

The Occurrence at Delaney Street--a story (iii)

Soon our congregation outgrew even our own brand-new facility. True believers came from all corners of the city, hoping that they would be present when another such occurrence took place. Our new oak pews were full of pilgrims.

Imagine, if you will, the complete shock to all in attendance when the fourth occurrence was no more than two sentences from a woman explaining something about the role played by mythical feminine gods in the lives of some sub-Saharan tribe centuries ago. But Smithson never wavered, quickly turning the line into a kind of celebration of the universality of God. He talked about how all human beings are born with an innate God-concept, and how our need for the divine is often temporarily satisfied when we build images of our own imaginations, but is eternally satisfied only when we come to the God of the Bible.

No one in the church that day found Smithson’s ideas startlingly fresh. What made that sermon unforgettable was the effect that once again sudden and unexpected voice from outside the sanctuary had created on the service.

The fifth occurrence took place three months after we moved into our new sanctuary. A piece of African folk music whose lyrics no one understood became the occasion for a Smithson homily on finding our own unique way to speak to God.

And the sixth occurrence, equally memorable, was some male voice who claimed that politicians of old seemed driven by a sense of public good, not political expediency. It went something like this: “The early leaders were men of committed principle. They were philosophers as well as very practical people. That’s why we had that sunburst of leadership some two hundred years ago.” Smithson used it, as you can imagine, to charge us with the necessity of being strong leaders.

Let me quickly point out here that no one at Delaney Street Church is hysterical. More than a year has passed since the new church was built, and already we’ve broken ground for a new addition. Months ago already Herb Rollins determined that the voices that entered our worship so vividly were actually interview material from National Public Radio. (Herb has since left us--one of the very few--for a small Lutheran fellowship in New Hope.) The point is: no one really believes those voices belong, distinctly, to God. We all agree that what we hear is not “the word of the Lord.”

Smithson himself is, as I’ve said, very sincere. He is no charlatan. But he says, and we know, that the occurrences have made him more receptive to the motions of the Spirit. He’s more capable of departing from his text, and he’s happy, he says, with the kind of spontaneity these radio voices give him.

So we’ve made this collective and unspoken decision not to fix the sound system, even though we know, technologically speaking, there’s no mystery to the sudden interruptions of our worship. 

 And we’re growing. That in itself is proof of something, isn’t it? More and more and more people from the burbs are coming in and kneeling before the Lord. When we come into our sanctuary today, there’s real excitement, because no one knows exactly what kind of occurrence awaits us.

And yet something itches in me. Believe me, I don’t want to be a doubting Thomas. After all, why couldn’t it be that God is using our sound system for divine purposes? No one deliberately wired the system to pick up radio broadcasts (and it’s been NPR--not pop!). Besides, even if everyone knows it’s not God’s voice, who’s to say it’s not God who takes control of the radio waves at exactly the moment we worship?

Sometimes I think we’re convinced that today, in the 21st century since Christ, we cannot be oracles. Who knows but that we’re dead wrong? Who knows but that my own doubt isn’t actually planted in me by none other than the Author of Lies?

Believe me, ever since we’ve put up the new sanctuary, we’ve prospered at Delaney Street. It’s been an extraordinary experience.

But I haven’t slept well for a long, long time.

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