Critic or Participant?

14And blind and lame people came to him in the temple and he healed them. 15But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things he did, and the children shouting in the temple, “Hosanna to the son of David,” they got angry. 16They said to him, “Do you here what these kids are saying?” But Jesus said to them, “Yes. Have you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants you have ordained praise?’” 17So he left them and went out of the city into Bethany where he spent the night. — Matthew 21:14-17

One way to learn from Bible stories is to try to put yourself into the story. Where do you feel most comfortable. I see several groups here, once the money-changers have been driven out. Jesus is here. There are blind and lame people coming to be healed. There are children rejoicing, and making a lot of noise doing it. We assume the disciples are watching and learning, though it may take them awhile to get it. Then there are the temple leaders, the folks who are in charge, and who are responsible to make sure things go according to appropriate denominational standards.

Well, denominational standards is a bit anachronistic. There was only the temple and its priesthood. But the principle works out quite well.

So we could transfer this situation to a church congregation when something wonderful has happened. Let’s suppose there’s a report of answered prayer. Someone in the congregation for whom everyone has been praying is home from the hospital and on the mend. People start talking about what’s happening to them. The service is disrupted! People yell “Hallelujah!” They get out of their pews and talk to each other in the center aisle. The order of service is abandoned. They start praying together in groups around the sanctuary.

Suddenly one of the church elders speaks up. “Pastor,” he says, “Shouldn’t we get things under control? Who knows what people are doing and saying in these small groups? What will happen if a visitor walks in while all of this is happening? It’s too noisy. You see those people still in the pews? They came to worship, and they can’t do it because of all the noise and confusion.”

OK, let’s hold it right there. Now where are you? Where would you fit in most comfortably? Were you the one who reported an answer to prayer? Did you shout hallelujah? Are you in an excited group enjoying what’s going on, and perhaps praying for one another?

Or maybe you’re sitting in your seat grumbling to yourself and God that you can’t worship properly because things have gone right off the rails and there’s all this unseemly misbehavior. Perhaps you’re one of the church elders and you’re going to ask the pastor to get this cleaned up as soon as possible so no visitors see the mess.

Now I don’t like to divide things too simply. There are lots of considerations in setting up worship services, and lots of different ways people can worship. But here’s what I’ve observed: No matter what the form of worship, in every worship setting, there are some people who are worshiping and some others who are criticizing.

I’ve seen it with a formal worship service as well. There are worshipers involved in coming before God, feeling his presence, and then there are folks who are off criticizing them for being dead. But more commonly I see it with people who start worshiping at an unexpected time or place, or in an unexpected way. Then the critics come out.

So here’s the question: When the opportunity to worship arises, are you a participant or a critic?

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