Is emotion a part of our faith experience? Should feelings be a part of our worship experience? The Presbyterians are not used to feeling much in worship. We have a reputation for being pretty cerebral in our approach.
There is a story about a woman who was visiting during a Presbyterian service. She was moved by something in the sermon and she shouted, “AMEN!” An usher came down the aisle and told her to be quiet. She explained that she felt the Spirit move. He said, “This is no place for that. This is church.”
Other denominations are not as restricted in their outward expressions of emotion. I have worshipped in churches where it was very emotional, but contained little substance to carry away from the worship experience. We used to talk about ardor and order. I wonder if it is possible to truly mix the two.
The earliest Christian writings contain a lot of emotion. Acts 20 is only one example of tears within the community of faith. And in Philippians 4:4,Paul gives us this amazing command: “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say rejoice.”
Wait. What? Church people are supposed to be happy? Even the frozen chosen? Paul tells us to be happy, not just when they sing my favorite hymn or when the sermon is short or when the budget balances. He says, “always!”
That’s a pretty tough concept. We all have highs and lows emotionally. I remember reading this when I was I was mired in a depression. I could not rejoice. Feeling joy was the asking the impossible. And lots of church folks find it impossible to feel joy in church, ever. A man was walking the streets on a Sunday morning looking for beer bottles he could redeem for the deposit. He came upon a very stern looking woman sweeping her front stoop. He said, “Hey lady, got any empty beer bottles?” She gave him a sereve look and said, “Do I look like the kind of woman who would have empty beer bottles?” And the man said, “OK, do you have any empty vinegar bottles?
I’m afraid that is the impression some churches leave with the world outside. One cynical friend said to me, “Church people are joyless.” I don’t think he is right. But I understand where one could get that impression.
Church people are like any other people. Sometimes we are feeling great and joy is visible. Other times the roof leaks and the rent is due and we are sad or worried or angry. Church should be a place where we learn to trust one another to the point where we can share any emotion. It is closer to the amazingly versatile Hebrew word, SHALOM. It means hello and goodbye and peace. But the essence of the word is wholeness; all is well. That is the kind of joy that Paul wishes for all believers because that is what Christ gives us. It is that which transcends the ups and downs of life. It sustains us, always.