3rd Great End of the Church: The Maintenance of Divine Worship
Psalm 95:1-7a, I Corinthians 14:23-33, March 3, 2013
In setting an order for worship on the Lord's Day, the pastor with the concurrence of the session shall provide opportunity for the people from youngest to oldest to participate in a worthy offering of praise to God and for them to hear and to respond to God's word. Book of Order W-3.300
I went back to school last week. I returned to some very basic texts in preparing for preaching about today's Great End of the Church: the maintenance of divine worship Again this is a lofty, high-sounding ideal for the church. A phrase that inspires and challenges us. I'm all for that. Because today is the day the Great End s about worship, I thought it would also be a good day to lead an explained worship service. We follow a standard order or sequence of events in our weekly worship service. There is a logic for doing things the way we do them, there is also a balance in doing things as we do them. Our order of service reminds us what I important when we worship together.
Worship starts with God. God created all things and is to be the sole focus of our worship. I use one simple rule in deciding what can take place in a worship service—everything has to direct the worshippers' attention to God. I'm reminded of a wonderful story that I first heard from Tony Campolo. After worship one Sunday, a parishioner came up to Dr. Campolo and said, "I didn't like what you said in the prayer today!" He responded, "that's OK. I wasn't talking to you." Prayer is addressed to God. Our worship focuses on God. Praising God, singing to God.
Our Psalm this morning tells us to sing, to be joyful, to worship, to bow down and to kneel before God. All of these are actions. The word for worship in the psalm is really a word for lying down in the presence of the Living God. Worship is something we do, not something we attend, something that involves our whole bodies. And I hope you noticed that we are to worship God because of all the things that God has created, we are literally surrounded by God's creations. We gather to worship God in the midst of a good, beautiful creation.
Now the New Testament lesson starts off with a discussion of the place of speaking in tongues in worship. And this is a phenomenon that I am not familiar with. I've heard about it and the gift of speaking in tongues has been present in the Christian church from the very beginning. But, in this morning's lesson Paul was writing to the Corinthian Christians giving them instruction in orderly worship. Things can get out of hand and disruptive-and outsiders may not understand what's going on, so it's best to use plain, clear words. What I really like about this passage is the expectation that everyone has something to contribute to worship. A song, an insight, a thought, a bit of prophesy. What Paul describes sounds like a worship potluck to me. The Book of Order says this about when we worship together: "In Jesus Christ, the Church is a royal priesthood in which worship is the work of everyone. The people of God are called to participate in the common ministry of worship." W-1.4003 Worship is something we do together. And worship is something that everyone can contribute to. And because for us more than 100 people gather to worship we need to have an order or structure to what we do. Disorder or chaos can distract us from focusing on God.
As I was thinking about the task of leading worship I was struck this past week by the number of things Presbyterians try to balance as we worship together. One balance we try to strike is between freedom and order. Too much freedom and there may not be any focus. Too much order and there may not be any room for the Spirit to move.
We had an interesting discussion about this on Wednesday night. Each Sunday we have some parts of the service that vary from week to week. The Call to Worship and the Prayer of Confession for example. These are things that we read together as we are forming ourselves into a worshipping community—making the transition from being individuals. They bring us together as the worship time is starting.
During the gathering portion of the worship service we have the prayer of confession and most weeks we recite the prayer as it appears in the bulletin and on the screen and there is a moment for silent confession. This is one way we recognize that sin is both corporate and individual. We recognize that the words that appear in the bulletin may not speak to each person's individual need to turn from particular sins and resolve to be different. We balance individual and community needs when we confess our sin.
Each week we sing the doxology and the Gloria Patri and we pray the Lord's prayer. I am confident that nearly all of us have all three memorized. It was interesting as we discussed this on Wednesday. For some of the people gathered around the table reciting things from memory made them less meaningful, as if our brains go on "auto-pilot" and speak words without reflecting on their meaning. For others it was powerful to feel the unity of a community that can recall words without having to read them. And for the past few months we've worshipped we have been adjusting to seeing words up on the screen behind me. I have noticed that the singing sounds louder as worshippers are looking up and singing. I expect you're breathing better too. It has also been easier for me to notice who is simply looking up, following the words on the screen, without singing. Even if you don't sing, it's a different experience to look up at the words that everyone else is singing.
There is another balance we try to walk in worship. The balance between the vertical and the horizontal. When we look at the Great Ends of the Church we recognize that the church is a human institution that seeks to give glory to God and to respond to the leading of the Holy Spirit. This morning's great end is the maintenance of divine worship. That is the church exists to keep on singing praises to God. As we talked about this around the tables Wednesday none of us could avoid thinking about God and worshipping God without directing our attention upward. Even though we know that God's presence surrounds us, and is not just shining down on us from above like a lightbulb. Even though I recited this part of our onf my favorite hymns, "Lord how thy wonders are displayed, where e'er I turn my eyes, if I survey the ground I tread or gaze upon the skies." We still think of God above. And when we pray we bow our heads. The vertical dimension of our faith in God is unavoidable. The vertical dimension of our faith in God is expressed in our building. Look at how high the ceiling is in the sanctuary—and when you leave look at how high the steeple is! Both are there to direct our attention up toward godly things.
But so is the horizontal dimension. We gather in a particular place, with other people. And we need to remember that the other people worshipping with us are also children of the Living God and have been called by the same God that has called us to be here in this place. And they have a lot to teach us—and a lot to receive from us also. Look at how broad the sanctuary is. And this sanctuary is really well –designed to help us be a community. We can look around and see other people. The community spreads out—horizontally—and this room directs our attention upward from every seat here. We balance vertical and horizontal. We balance individual and community. We balance silence and speech. We balance memorized and new liturgy.
And there's one other balance I want to show this morning. The first part of worship draws us into a community. The second part focuses on what the Bible says and how we understand it. The words and ideas of the Bible come into us during the second part. But then, in the third part, having received from God, we are ready to give back, to respond. This morning—like all mornings we respond by giving money for the material support of the congregation and the work we do, but we also respond to the invitation of Christ to be nourished and fed in the sacrament of the Lord's Supper.
My hope and expectation each time we gather for worship is that we will become a community under the presence of God, in the presence of each other, that we will receive from the Living God, respond to the Living God and then—most importantly, leave the shelter of this place and the shelter of each other, to return to the world, strengthened and emboldened to live as God's people in the world.