Imperfect Worship, Perfect Grace
"Imperfect Worship" is the title of this sermon.
I begin by asking, how is your imperfect worship going this morning? And how are you, imperfect worshipper?
Have you ever considered this fact: on this side of Christ, no one has ever engaged in perfect worship? No one. Not one.
Why? Because we are all imperfect, and so our worship will always be imperfect too. “All have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory.”
Imagine if you had to go through a Perfection Scan to get into this sanctuary for worship this morning, sort of like you got through to get on an airplane?
You wouldn’t have a preacher, that’s for sure. I’m overweight. I’m an imperfect speaker, prone to flub words. I’m not the most eloquent of pray-ers. I’m what they call, neurodivergent. I’m forgetful and often disorganized. When I was a chaplain years ago, I once forgot a graveside service I was supposed to officiate. Almost had a nervous breakdown. I found out that funeral directors, thankfully, are prepared for things like that. Still, I was horrified. Still am.
But I’d dare say, you all are beautiful people, but you wouldn’t get through that Perfection Scan either! Not even the choir would. There’d be an empty sanctuary every Sunday.
This sanctuary is a powerful place, but we don’t suddenly all become perfect once we enter it. Worship is a powerful practice, but we don’t suddenly all become perfect once engage in it.
We should remind ourselves what worship is. At basis, worship is the practice of being present for and with God, and looking to God and God’s grace with gratitude in our hearts. When I enter worship, I leave behind any focus on myself alone. Narcissists have a hard time worshiping God because of this! I leave behind any focus on another human. Lovebirds or haters have a hard time worshipping God, too, focused too much on the one they love or hate. Instead of focusing on myself alone or another alone, the focus becomes on God and our relationship to God and on God’s relationship to us. I leave the world of me and mine behind and turn my eyes toward Jesus and on our connection to Jesus, the Perfect One.
Together, we, the imperfect, worship God, look toward God’s Perfect Grace which excepts us just the way we are. That is what Sunday mornings are all about! That is why we are here!
But a question arises – what do we do with our imperfections amid worship? What do we do with the fact that I flub words when I preach? What do we do when I unknowingly say the wrong thing? What do we do when the hymn singing is not going perfectly well? What do we do when there is peripheral noise around us and we have trouble hearing the sermon? What do we do with our internal distractions that get in the way of us focusing solely on God? What do we do when Sunday service just feels off?
Well, the answer is pretty straightforward. We remember why we are here! In fact, we might see those distractions as a reminder to remember why we are. We, imperfect as we are, are here to humbly worship. We’ll always worship imperfectly, and that is okay.
The point is not us. The aim is God.
We turn toward God, mind, body, and spirit. We turn toward God, wading in the wonders of God’s perfect grace and in the wondrous light of God’s perfect compassion.
Leonard Cohen once wrote, “there’s cracks in everything; that’s how the light gets in.”
I’d paraphrase it this way - There’s cracks in everything; that’s how the grace gets in.
The reality of imperfection, the reality of cracks in everything, opens us up to the absolute need for God’s grace to flood into us.
Almost weekly, my two younger brothers would beat each other up in the back seat. Remember that silly game, Punch-Buggy? It involved those VW Beatles, dubbed Bugs. The game basically amounted to, see a VW Bug, punch your brother. This game was usually reserved for long trips. That’s probably when my brothers learned it. But they took away any limits to it, playing it on short rides too. Fights would ensue even on the way to church.
Here's the thing. When you’re looking for those ugly, imperfect Bugs, you’ll begin seeing them everywhere. Seek a bug, and you shall find a bug. VW Beatles weren’t any rarer than, say, Dodge Darts. But my brothers saw them a lot more. Why? Because they were always in wait for one, so they could punch their brother.
You see the connection, I think. The more you look and search and give in to the imperfect bug’s hold, the more prominent those imperfections will become. It’s the proverbial snowball effect. Imperfections accumulate and gather steam as they roll through your mind.
I come to a close with a couple related questions – How to stop this vicious cycle? How to halt the pain and power of the imperfect bug?
Try this – Obverse the graceful landscape instead. Notice the sun-drenched blue heavens. Look to the beautiful hills from whence comes our help. Look to the swaying of trees and the gentle wind. Look to God and God’s gifts instead of looking for the imperfect bug.
And when you find yourself moved and inspired by the worshipful moment, internally say to your brother, I love you.
When your mind’s eye begins noticing and latching on to those imperfect bugs that certainly will arise, do the same. Internally say to your sibling, brother or sister, I love you.
I end with this undeniable truth – I will flub words. I won’t think something through adequately. My prayers will include “ums” and pauses.
The musicians will miss notes, sing out of tune, enter at the wrong time.
You in the pews will lose attention. Your mind will wander away from here to work tomorrow or lunch later. You will get distracted by activity around us or imperfections you notice. You might even take a nap.
There’s cracks in everything.
But God’s grace is a tender light meant to seep through those cracks in us and enlighten our spirits. That’s why those cracks are there. To help us move past ourselves. To help us let go of our attachment to what’s wrong around us. To let the light come in.