One recent Sunday morning, our church service was interrupted by the sound of a toddler babbling away happily in the pews just below my usual seat in the balcony. Her voice carried throughout the sanctuary as the pastor said the liturgy and the choir sang.
As I listened to the toddler's sounds, I found myself thinking of Psalm 98 in which we are called to "make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises." That is exactly what the toddler was doing: making a joyful noise amid our worship.
Of course, we should all be respectful while in church and noises like wailing children, cell phones or conversation shouldn't be allowed to disrupt the service. But sometimes we get a bit too solemn and too serious about our worship. It's highly structured: we stand up and sit down, follow the liturgy, sing the hymns, and listen to the lessons, Gospel and sermon. Then we go home and know that next week we'll do it all over again.
I'm not saying there is anything wrong with our liturgy or the way the service is done. I have found comfort in the familiar and time-honored traditions of our church. That said, I don't see anything wrong with making some joyful noise once in awhile.
Sometimes that joyful noise is a happily babbling baby, a child giggling, teenagers whispering, or a couple quietly sharing their thoughts and a hug.
The sound of life happening both within and outside of our church building can be a joyful noise. Whether it's loud music from a passing car, the shouts of children playing, or motorcycles cruising down Main Street, these sounds all serve to remind us that our relationship with God takes place in the world, not just in the church. Our world can be a messy place filled with unhappiness and struggles, a place that is often in need of joy.
When I hear these joyful sounds of life happening around us during worship, I'm reminded of a lecture I heard in seminary. Our professor encouraged us to see that the kingdom of God is like a party and that our worship is a time of celebration, a time to make a joyful noise.
So I don't mind hearing the sounds of life happening around us during worship. In fact, when I have the opportunity to preach, I often practice my sermon in front of the television or with the radio on so I can get used to working through the distractions of life and still proclaim the gospel. This is similar to what we are called to do as Christians: to carry the message of the gospel into the world and share the good news of God's grace, which has been freely given to us, amid our noisy and sometimes messy world.
As followers of Christ, we are called to make a joyful noise, where it is needed to be heard — right here, where we are.
© 2013 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers