Last Saturday night at about 10:30 I came up from working on my sermon in the basement and asked Noël if she wanted to take a walk around the block. The air was cool and the moving clouds were letting the stars in and out. We locked the door behind us and started down the front steps. I looked over to my next-door neighbor’s house and through his wide-open window saw a big color TV screen. And on it I saw a girl dancing. Her movements and her clothes were clearly intended to be sexually arousing.
Noël and I began our walk in silence. Then I turned to her and said, “I wonder how many of our people at Bethlehem are preparing themselves for worship tomorrow by watching that show?” As we walked in the quietness I thought back to my teenage years when I used to gorge myself on television. I thought about all those Saturday nights when I religiously positioned myself in the pew of our domestic sanctuary with a box of Wheaties to watch Hootnanny, Have Gun Will Travel, Gunsmoke, and the News and Weather. I remember later at college looking back somewhat rudely and complaining that our church had not provided any really meaningful Sunday morning worship times. Now I look back with repentance and tears. It seems so obvious to me now. All rich and meaningful experiences require preparation and expectancy.
As Noël and I walked toward Elliot Park the city seemed very still. The air was unusually clean and crisp. We thought about the future together and wondered out loud what these scrawny elm-replacements would look like in ten years. We tried to imagine how we should feel through a decade of ministry in this place. Under the stars and in the quietness our lives seemed very short, yet also very long. Noël’s hand in mine assured me of a love that lasts ‘til death and beyond. The silhouettes of the old houses on our street were beautiful with God’s clouds moving in the moonlight behind them. The hum of the freeway traffic made our little pocket of peace seem all the more sweet (like Jesus asleep in the boat).
As we walked up the steps and unlocked the door the TV next door was still filling the dark room with disco flashes. I turned away quickly. God had met us and the aroma of his presence lingered. I didn’t want to lose it by some blast of sensuality. In less than ten hours I would be worshiping with the people of Bethlehem. I was ready, I was eager, I could hardly wait for that first chord, “Lift up your heads, ye mighty gates: behold the King of glory waits!” And I prayed, “O dear God, please, please put it in the hearts of our people to prepare themselves for worship every Saturday night.”