A while back we were visiting a church in the Midwest. We had a weekend free and it was wonderful to just participate as worshipers. We were blessed. We were moved. Great music. Powerful message. The morning was obviously well planned and graceful. Till it came time to end the sermon.
I neglected to mention that the service was being televised. That meant there were time constraints. Everything that happened had to pirouette around the countdown clock on the front pew. As the clock approached 30 seconds to go the pastor was just coming to the good part. He had been building toward a strong conclusion and a passionate appeal but he ran out of clock. Not many options open to him. So he quit. He just quit. His final line as he looked into the camera was something like, “Tune in next week…”
There was a palpable sense that all the air was rushing out of the tire. Someone had the benediction and we left. But it set me thinking about some of the constraints our traditions put on the work of the Holy Spirit. Like some hardliner in the congregation, “Pastor, at this church we are through with the service by noon. If we aren’t, the devil takes over, you know.” Or this one, “I’ve got a roast in the oven and if we don’t get home on time it will be charcoal.” I was once told (true story) by one of the elders just before we went on the platform, “You can preach as long as you want to here, but we go home at noon.” I wasn’t sure whether he was joking or not.
And then there’s the church bulletin. In some places you do not deviate from the bulletin. “We’ve been using that in our worship service since anyone can remember, and we prefer if you don’t deviate from that structure.” You don’t often hear it spoken in those words but there are places where it is expected that the bulletin will be the blueprint for the morning service.
But what if the Holy Spirit elected to do something out of the ordinary? What if the worship leader sensed a move of the Spirit and decided to have an unscheduled time of intercession? What if a deacon handed a note to the pastor to say that there is a family in our service who just lost a child in death over night? What if a prodigal wandered in, smelling of alcohol, just after the offering.
My appeal is not for an unplanned service. My appeal is that we hone our sensitivities to be alert to those times when the Holy Spirit may choose to move in ways we had not anticipated. I hunch that the service on the Day of Pentecost may have run past noon.