We're bouncing off a text in the Gospel of Luke where even the ancient Jews knew when church ran too long - when Zechariah did not come out of the Most Holy Place on time.
See, as the priest chosen by lot that year, his job was to go into the Temple and burn the incense and offer the prayer that would cover God's people until another lot would be cast the next year. This was a ritual that the people understood, and they knew exactly how it should go.
It's interesting to think about what the people must have been thinking when Zechariah didn't come out on time. The truth is that they were probably worried about something having gone wrong, something either unworthy in Zechariah himself or the incense or the prayer. Remember all those folks in the Old Testament who offered unlicensed incense to God and died for it? The people were probably thinking Zechariah died in the Most Holy Place.
They were probably trying to figure out how they were going to get his body out of the Most Holy Place. No one else could go in for a whole year. Anyone who tried to even reach in to grab Zechariah's ankle and try to pull him out was going to die themselves; they knew that for sure. But they can't just leave the guy in there for a year, either. The smell...would not be pleasing to the Lord.
What we know is that they were not out in the courtyard thinking that something holy was happening in there. That thought didn't cross their minds at all.
Because it's not until Zechariah comes out and cannot speak to them that they seem to realize that something happened in there. Something holy. It's not until it's clear to them that he has seen a vision that they seem to even consider the possibility that he has seen a vision.
Think about that for a minute. The people of God did not even seem to consider that the reason church was taking so long is because God showed up.
We, too, are prone to think just about everything except that. We are prone to pick apart the Sunday service when it runs too long. The praise team shouldn't have played that extra chorus. The guy giving the prayer rambled on too long. The pastor shouldn't have told that story - even though it was a good story. And who gave that woman the microphone? Didn't they know she was going to tell her own life story? We even pick apart the time "wasted" on technical malfunctions - trying to line up the slides, finding a lost slide, fixing a staticky microphone, finding the right light dimmer, etc.
What we often don't consider is that...maybe God was there. Maybe God, not human error, orchestrated your church service to run that long. Maybe God was speaking something that you didn't hear because you were too busy listening to the clock tick. Maybe God was speaking something that someone else desperately needed to hear - and she didn't even notice how long church was taking.
Maybe God doesn't care if you beat the Methodists to Wendy's.
It seems so strange to me that the people of God seem to be the last ones to consider that God might actually show up. That our minds go to a thousand other possibilities first. That we get so worried, and so upset, when things aren't going the way we think they should. After all, we plan the order of worship, don't we? We know how church should work.
Or do we?
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