“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” That’s our guiding phrase from our gospel text for this week. “Anything good?” Surely you can hear how that sounds. Surely in our contentious environment, you hear the presupposition behind the sarcasm. You can hear the prejudice tucked away in such an innocuous joke. We are potentially dealing with some difficult topics this week. They are not difficult because they are complicated but because they are threatening. And personal. And most folk have some pretty entrenched positions on race and ethnicity.
While we might consider worship as a place to confront, or even argue people’s concept of their sinfulness, particularly in the area of race, having discussions in worship is difficult. Discussions can be held in forums after worship, or in Sunday School classes or small group settings in a variety of ways. A discussion is where there is space for a variety of views and opinions, with the gospel truth entered into the conversation. This might even include those who hold views that are antithetical to the gospel. We are hearing that people aren’t feeling heard. So, those discussions, that might become arguments and confrontations need to be held in the church in ways that teach the truth of the gospel.
Worship, however, is a place for self-examination of the state of our souls as we bring our all before the Lord. Worship can be a time where we hold up the ideal of the human community and pledge to live into it as we seek union with the God we follow. Sometimes, worship confronts us with our sinfulness; and other times, worship offers us grace and healing and a way forward. Certainly at the heart of this sinfulness is the stain of racism that is both individual and corporate. We need to include the voices of people of color even in our white majority churches to enrich our worship and counter the blinders that race puts on all of us.
We suggest that the worship team concentrate on the healing and the grace, on creating an atmosphere of community and inclusion, so that the call to higher living can be heard and claimed, even when dealing with difficult subjects. Find ways to tell stories of transformation. Let those who are being made disciples of Jesus Christ bear witness to what God is doing in their lives to help them overcome their lack of vision and prejudices. Let the prayers of confession be said by all but include words of grace that pour over us like healing oil, that we might be commissioned for the task of living a life worthy of the gospel.
It might be a time to include an anointing component to the service. If we are being challenged to change our hearts and minds, then let us be equipped by the visible, tactile signs of grace as we are anointed and prayed over by the pastor or leaders of the church.
In the end, the question “can anything good” come from those unlike us, gets turned around to be asked of us, “can anything good” come from within us? Is there anything good in us that is worth God’s grace and Christ’s compassion? Maybe the worship team could set up mirrors around the sanctuary so that people can look at themselves and ask, “Can anything good come from the face that I see in front of me?”
And the answer in this service should be a resounding yes! Yes, there is good even in us, as flawed as we are. There is the good of the image of God in which we were created, and God’s grace is available to restore us into examples of the saints of God as we worship together. Let our prayer be that our eyes be opened to see the good in those around us and the face that stares back at us in the mirror.
Rev. Dr. Derek Weber, Director of Preaching Ministries, served churches in Indiana and Arkansas and the British Methodist Church. His PhD is from University of Edinburgh in preaching and media. He has taught preaching in seminary and conference settings for more than 20 years.