A young girl was squirming while sitting in a large church on Sunday morning when she noticed the list of names on the plaques on the wall. She whispered to her mother during the sermon, “Who are those people?” Her mother answered, “Those are people who died in the service.” The daughter responded, “The first service or the second service?”
Yes, indeed worship sometimes can be…well…not always satisfying. Sometimes worship doesn’t do “it” for you. Honestly, it doesn’t always do “it” for me either, at times.
But then there are times…like when we sang “Holy, Holy, Holy” this morning and the choir moved us to a more profound alleluia. There are times when something in the sermon does speak precisely to you. Times when you almost didn’t come to church but then you did and you had a holy experience – a conversation or an idea that you didn’t even know you needed. Or times when a child or young person leads us and we catch a glimpse of something good and powerful.
Worship is so important – indeed, it is the central act of the church. Don’t get me wrong – I am all for personal experiences of God’s grace. I get the awesomeness of the personal spiritual connection when walking in the wilderness. But Sunday worship – corporate worship – that’s what sets us apart and makes us unique.
Sunday morning worship is the start of your Christian walk. Together we claim our heritage, and get charged up for the week to come. It doesn’t matter whether you understand or agree with what’s being done and said. Just being part of this imperfect but lovable bunch of people is where we see the kingdom of God revealed. You may have trouble believing but you experience something.
St. Paul wrote to the church in Rome, “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
Or in the words of Eugene Peterson, “Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God.”
Sunday worship is when we all fix our attention on God and move along our transformative path.
God, you see, through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, is doing something great in our world and in your life right now.
I know that may seem unbelievable as you read the headlines and you feel the weight of all that you carry, but it is true.
You might be feeling under the power of judgment and sin in your life. You may think that our world is decaying and our civic bonds are breaking, but I believe that you and I are under the power of God’s transformation!
And right now, at this moment in history, at this precise moment of your life – we together need to empower and equip each other. We need to build the church, save the nation and heal the world. Because that is what we are doing!
And this transformative work – being changed from the inside out – all starts on Sunday mornings with worship: an old English word meaning “to give worth to.”
Every Sunday we remember God, who is worthy to be praised, and recognize our own worth as a beloved child of God. To lay aside everything, all the other things that we give too much worth to and wrongly worship: money, our jobs, our families, our nation, our flag, our status, ourselves. Michael Lindval once wrote that “worship is the weekly practice at not being God.”
In worship, we confess and profess – in song, in prayer, in sermon, in sacrament, in fellowship and in service – that God is worthy above all else. That God is the source from whom all blessings flow. And aligning yourself with that – that God is worthy to be praised, that God is God and we are not – we trust that all else will fall into place. ”All things work for good for those who love God!” It makes a profound difference; it creates power that radiates in your life; it changes you.
Both the Hebrew and Greek words for worship (and there are many) give added spice to our understanding of worship: dancing, singing, rejoicing, bowing down, falling down, seeking, awe, fear, movement, action, service, relationship.
Frederick Buechner writes: “To worship God means to serve God. Basically there are two ways to do it. One way is to do things for God that God needs to have done – run errands for God, carry messages for God, fight on the Lord’s side, feed God’s lambs, and so on. The other way is to do thing for God that you need to do – sing songs for God, create beautiful things for God, give things up for God, tell God what’s on your mind and in your heart. In general rejoice in God and make a fool of yourself for God the way lovers have always made fools of themselves for the one they love. A Quaker Meeting, a Pontifical High Mass, the Family Service at First Presbyterian Church, a Holy Roller Happening – unless there is an element of joy and foolishness in the proceedings, the time would be better spent doing something useful.”
Worship is not just sitting passively and waiting to be entertained. Now don’t get me wrong, I am a Presbyterian (decent and orderly) but I have always liked Annie Dillard’s words: “It is madness to wear straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return. ”
So say “amen” and shout “alleluia!” It is better than applause!
Every Sunday, you come and get ready to open yourself to God, to present yourself to God as a “living sacrifice.” This is the place you bring all your burdens and set them aside for a little bit, knowing they will be waiting for you at the end of the service, but maybe they will be lighter, or maybe you will find that others will help you carry them. Worship is where you find others who have been through life too and can give you wisdom. It’s where you will find people who love you despite yourself and will pray for you. And maybe you will find a spirit that changes everything. Maybe you will be found.
And from this Sunday morning worship you go forth: a little changed from the inside out, a little more dangerous, a little more free. “Your life,” as Eugene Peterson writes, “gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters your life and you become like Christ.”
I have heard this and I believe it to be true that 99% of everything is just showing up. I am asking you to show up, fill this sanctuary, every Sunday. Showing up for worship is the most important spiritual discipline of them all. If you miss a Sunday, you will miss a lot!
Every Sunday we are a worshiping community, engaging one and all in prayer and praise – it starts here.