A few years ago, I watched a full season of American Idol for the first, and so far only, time. I enjoyed it. The guy I was rooting for didn’t win, which didn’t surprise me. What DID surprise me was that I found I liked Simon. For those who don’t know, Simon Cowell was one of three judges on the show, the one known for being rude, sarcastic, and downright mean. His polar opposite on the show was Paula Abdul, who was kind and encouraging to all the contestants. So, for instance, you’d have a kid from Minnesota who was convinced he was the next big thing in American music; that someday you and I would say, “Well, there was Elvis, and then Michael Jackson, and now there’s...Chad from St. Paul.” (Let’s face it, all the contestants on American Idol feel that way.) So Minnesota Chad would sing, and all of America would see that, while he was a better singer than you and I, he and his parents and his music teachers had all vastly overestimated his talent. Nevertheless, Paula would tell him something like, “I love the way you just WENT for it. So follow your heart, and you’ll go far!” But Simon would do the kid a service. Although he would be gratuitously mean about it, he would essentially convey to Chad that it was a good idea to stay in school and get a real job, that it might be okay to sing in a Neil Diamond cover band on the weekends if it made him happy, but that musical greatness was not in his destiny. In one humiliating moment, Simon was rescuing Chad—and his future spouse—from years of heartbreak.
It’s ironic that I liked Simon so much, first of all because I greatly prefer the company of people like Paula in real life. I want kind, affirming, encouraging people around me, and so do you. The other reason it’s ironic is that I know that every Sunday after church, many of you will sit at lunch and offer your evaluation of the worship service, and I certainly hope you’re more Paula than Simon when you do that! The truth is, the way you judge our worship service is going to vary greatly based on what expectations you bring here on a Sunday morning. By my estimation, we have at least five different sets of expectations in our church: Old time Gospel (traditional Baptist worship), contemporary praise, high church traditional, black Gospel, and those who say, "Who cares about the music? I'm here for the sermon." Crafting and executing a worship service that is compelling and worshipful to each of those five groups is a challenge, to say the least. But let's get something straight: None of those five groups are the "audience" of our worship. God is our audience. Ultimately, His opinion is the one that counts. So what kind of worship does HE prefer?
In Luke 7:36-50, we read the story of two very different people who encountered Jesus. One truly worshipped Him (and left transformed) while the other did not. What made the difference between the two? What is God looking for when we worship Him? The answer is found in the little parable Jesus told in the midst of this story, in vv. 41-43. We'll talk worship this Sunday. And we'll do it a little differently...the sermon will come first, and the congregational singing will come last. That way, we'll get a chance to practice what I've just preached! I hope I see you there.