Mt. McKinley in Alaska, originally known as Denali, "the Great One." .... "Lead me to the rock that is higher than I; for you are my refuge..." (Ps. 61:2-3)

       "Who do you say that I am?" Jesus asked.  Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."  And Jesus answered, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! ... You are Peter (petros), and on this rock (petra) I will build my church..."  Jesus then began to speak of the rough road ahead. And Peter took him aside and rebuked him... "Get behind me, Satan!" Jesus replied. "You are a stumbling block..."
                                                (Matthew 16:13-23)

May these words of this Peter be like a rock,
not a stumbling block!

"Joyful noise to the rock of our salvation"

Message preached February 27, 2005
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland USA

based upon  Psalm 95

Order of Worship

  (this is a transcript of what was said without notes, "amble and ramble" style.)

            And there was light! "Make a joyful noise unto the rock of our salvation." It was the first day of our visit to San Juan. We had a wonderful meal in the home of Pastor Miguel and his wife Maria. If anything on our visit, we were not lacking food. Just like any Brethren church here in

            the states, they kept us stuffed to the gills. But after great fellowship with many people who came over to visit with us before worship and after - what was it, one meal or two? - we walked to the church. As I said before, their practice is to have worship every night, and "night" is the operative word right now. Sunday, they have Sunday school in the morning, but their main worship is in the evening.

            Well after our time with Pastor Miguel and Maria in their home, we walked over to the church ... in the dark. Remember those words, "in the dark." Only six or seven blocks over to the meeting house, and worship began when they were ready, not one minute before, not one minute after. No clock in the sanctuary - in fact my watch for that week or so in the Dominican Republic was basically a piece of jewelry, no more. We were on ‘Dominican time’ the whole week. But eventually worship did begin, and you youth need to know that Saturday nights the youth in our sister church are in charge of worship. And they led us forth.

            Now worship there is a little bit different than here. For one thing, no organ, no piano, I’ve shared this fact before. I think they do have a keyboard, but I don’t think it works. They have an amplifier. Amplifiers and big speakers are a big thing there. Zermain mentioned this other church where we had Love feast in the town of Arroyo Salado. They have a working sound system. In fact, for them ‘witness’ involves taking this huge speaker they have outside the church building so they can crank it up and broadcast the church service out to the community. Sometimes the volume was a bit different than the volume that we are used to. I don’t think that you would need your hearing aid there.

            Unfortunately in San Juan their sound system wasn’t working all that well. The persons coming forward to lead, they tried it a few times and then said ‘ah, so what’ and put the microphone aside. The praying and the singing were very different. The singing in the beginning of worship - I’ve got to tell you folks - I didn’t recognize any of the songs. We do not share a common hymnody. Not the old-time gospel hymns. Not the more contemporary songs. We really don’t have any of these in common. Theirs and ours are different, very different. Theirs are more like choruses. Remember, they have no hymnal or songbook. Each person has a bible--but no hymnals. No worship bulletins. Songs are shared from the heart, usually choruses. Repeated over and over again.

            Persons came out of the woodwork to lead, they have such wonderful leadership in that church, it just comes out everywhere. Pastor Miguel is very good at cultivating leadership, even among children. Each would come and lead prayer or singing. The singing that was lead there, they didn’t come forward and say ‘okay turn to page such and such’ or anything. The person would just come forward and start singing. From the heart. Often with their eyes closed. They were usually women leading the singing. I don’t think I saw too many men leading the singing. And this person would start singing, and everyone would just join in. There wasn’t harmony, mostly melody. Of interest, and I’ve mentioned this before, they did have accompaniment. But their accompaniment was what, Shawn? Drums, yes! They had a drum set up there, and Pastor Miguel’s son Eliezar - after a bit of singing - just went over to the drum set and started playing away. He was then joined by Benito, on the big bongo drums. And they played away, accompanying us. At the end of the song, after we had sung the chorus through many times, the worship leader would just give a cue that the song was over. Apparently the drummers didn’t catch the cue (or weren’t expected to). They’d keep on playing until they were finished.

            As I said it was very different, but does that mean it was less ‘worship’ than our time of praise? Was it less worship? Well, it certainly was different that first night, and remember that operative words "night/dark." We were in the middle of a song when the electricity cut out. Perhaps you guessed that it was on purpose that we cut the electricity this morning during the singing of the last song. The electric went out that evening in San Juan. Of course, this morning it is a bright, sun-shiny day, so we could keep singing the hymn, using our hymnals. But, I’ve got to tell you, on that evening it was dark, very dark! Did they stop singing? Were you tempted to stop singing? Anyone tempted to stop singing when the organ cut out? There was a little bit of a pause. Now those who knew what was happening, I told beforehand not to take the lead, but rather just see what happens. And you did. You kept going.

            The question is - if power goes out, if the electric cuts off, does worship end? No.... Of course, we here have come to depend upon certain things in life, like electricity, maybe more than we should. Not that we shouldn’t depend upon the power company, but... In the Dominican Republic they do have power, they do have an infrastructure (much better, by the way, than their neighbor, Haiti). But with the electric, because there is a limited amount of it, they have rolling "brown-outs," and no one is told when it’s going to happen. It just cuts off - at any time of day, or night. Since the people know it could happen at any time, they live accordingly. Things just keep going on.

            After a while (which seemed like a lot longer than it probably was) of singing in the dark, brother Felix calmly walked forward and lit the propane lamp up front. There was no ‘pause’ in the worship. They didn’t miss a beat... "Make a joyful noise to the Lord ... Make a joyful noise unto the rock of our salvation." We’re not singing the same songs. We’re using different instruments. Is it still worship - there or here? Yes.

            Prayer. You need to know that there is a Pentecostal flavor to our Dominican Brethren. Their worship is very vibrant and alive, active and chaotic ... and noisy! When it comes to prayer, my background in this regard is more "quietist," a bit more Quaker in flavor. I’m used to the pastor being up front and quietly leading prayer, with plenty of silence mixed in... That’s not how prayer is among our brothers in sisters in San Juan during their times of worship. A person comes forward to lead prayer, and they begin, but that person isn’t the only one praying out loud. Everybody prays out loud. Not quietly, either.

            During the service, I was trying to keep connected by leaning upon my friend Irv to translate, or Izzy (when he remembered to translate). But, do you translate the prayer? If you could translate such a prayer, whose voice would you translate? Especially the prayer after the message. Now, I’ve been in Pentecostal services before, and I’ve heard ‘speaking in tongues.’ I’m not sure I heard any ‘speaking in tongues’ in our sister church, but I recognized many words - like "corazon" which means "heart." You’d hear "Gloria!" and "Santo!" (spoken emphatically with great volume), and "Amen!" and "Jesu Christo!" Especially in the prayer after the sermon, it was like a growing crescendo, becoming louder and louder and louder.

            There have been worship services I’ve attended elsewhere, in which (please forgive me if this sounds offensive) I have felt like a character from Star Trek transported into an alien environment, and - truthfully - the desire of my heart is to flip open the communicator and whisper, "Beam me up, Scotty." Have you ever been there? This worship service with our sisters and brothers in the Dominican Republic was very different, but I didn’t that sense of being out of place. It felt right. I had no idea what was being prayed (and prayed in a very different way), but it was real. My prayer at that time [I was raised in the ‘sit on your hands’ school of worship, with ‘invisible glue’ on my hands keeping them down, even today], it felt so right there to tentatively lift my palms upward - not in any huge way, mind you.

            "Make a joyful noise to the Lord ..." Part of our time there, we traveled down the road to visit with a Mennonite group, like a Mennonite colony. American, conservative, plain dress and all, Mennonites have been there for twenty some-odd years. And in that time they’ve managed to grow about five churches. The Brethren have been there half that time and now there are about twenty fellowships, with lots of what they call "campo blancos," or "white fields" ready for harvest (i.e. new church developments). When we visited these Mennonites, they indicated there were about four or five families in each of these five congregations, about half of whom or less were Dominican. The rest were Americans who had come down from the states. That’s indicative of how they understand ‘mission.’

            I asked, "what’s your worship like, how is it different from what worship would be like back in the states?" The response? "Oh, it’s not really any different. We just do it in Spanish." How different that understanding is from the Brethren in the Dominican Republic! Zermain earlier shared about how the church in Arroyo Salado changed for us (in our ignorance of their practice) their celebration of Love Feast, allowing food into their sanctuary contrary to what they normally would do. Would we be willing to be as hospitable for them, changing how we do things to make them welcome among us?

            When you share the gospel somewhere else, what do you take with you? Do you take all your traditions and just dump them upon people in an area different from your own? Or do you allow what you share to sprout and grow in different ways?

            "Make a joyful noise to the Lord ... Make a joyful noise unto the rock of our salvation." I wonder, I wonder ... how does ‘heaven’ hear our noise? How does the ‘rock of our salvation’ receive our praise? What does it sound like to God? Is it just ‘noise,’ or is it ‘joyful’ noise? I wonder. As we sing our final song, let your ‘noise’ be ‘joyful.’ Lift up your hearts (and maybe even your hands) to the rock of your salvation. Amen? Amen!

online resources for this scripture text

For commentaries consulted, see Psalms.


©2005 Peter L. Haynes
(you are welcome to borrow and, where / as appropriate, note the source - myself or those from whom I have knowingly borrowed.)

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