Monday, September 29, 2014

Five Practices: Passionate Worship

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Matthew 22:34-40:

Most of us are aware of the importance of words, and how one word can make a huge difference in our perspective or in the story we tell.  When I was growing up my brother loved madlibs, in which you add random words to a story to create something funny.  Many of you are probably familiar with the idea, but we are going to do one here today, and to warn you this is going to be a much more interactive sermon than normal, and interactive, so you are all aware, means that you are active in it along with me.

An Unforgettable Church Service

We arrived at the Church of the Holy _________ (noun). We were dressed in our __________ (day of week) best. Today was special because it was ___________ (holiday) and the kids looked forward to receiving _________ (noun) as part of the celebration.

Pastor John welcomed us and the service started with invigorating ___________ (action verb). It was so __________ (emotion), people were ___________ (verb ending in ing).

The sermon was based on _________ (Book of the Bible). The pastor talked about  ____________________ (biblical character)’s injunction to love God with all of our  ______________________ (body part) _________________ (body part) and   ________________ (human characteristic).   When he finished, I couldn’t believe he had only talked for _________________ (amount of time).  Then we sang a ___________________ (musical style) version of Amazing Grace. 

We wrote a check for $_________ (amount of money) and put it into the __________ (noun). This made us so ________ (emotion) we couldn't contain ourselves.

The _________ (kind of team) team played another song and we filed out to the ___________ (name of a room) to have _____________ (beverage). We stood there waiting to ________ (verb) to someone.

All in all it was a(n) ________ (adjective)  worship service.   _________ (exclamation) God!

Words matter, and descriptive words sometimes make all the difference.

Today we begin a new sermon series based on The Five Practices of Fruitful Living by Bishop Robert Schnase.  It’s been said that once someone becomes bishop that they believe that everything they think has to be written down and published, and Bishop Schnase certainly lives into that belief, but he also has something to say to us.  He says that the five habits are radical hospitality, passionate worship, intentional faith development, risk-taking mission and service and extravagant generosity.  But, while the activites in and of themselves are important, Schnase says it is the adjectives that really make all the difference, and you can move them around, you could have extravagant hospitality and passionate mission and service and risk-taking worship.  The adjectives make a difference because they are describing what it is that we are really doing.  There is a difference between worship and passionate worship.  The adjective matters.  Most of us have probably participated in boring worship or even mediocre worship, maybe even here.  Those are the times in which we don’t feel like we worshipped at all.  And then there are the times in which we have been truly moved, in which we knew that God was present for us in that moment, in which we may have been fundamentally changed.  That is what passionate worship feels like, and yet it is about so much more than that as well.
Just before the passage we heard this morning from Matthew, the Pharisees and Saducees have come together, even though they don’t like each other, to ask questions of Jesus to try and trick him into saying something blasphemous, but have failed each time.  And so what we heard was their last attempt to trick him by asking him which is the greatest commandment.  This is not as easy of a question as we might see it, because we already know how Jesus is going to answer.  But there are not just the 10 commandments, and perhaps the lawyer has his fingers crossed and he’s thinking, don’t say adultery or coveting, but there are actually 613 mitzvot, or laws, and so Jesus actually has a lot of commandments to choose from, and he chooses what is known as the shema, coming from Deuteronomy 6, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your might.”  These are the words that Jews are supposed to pray every day.  If you see a Jew with tefillin, the little black boxes that they put on their arms and foreheads during prayer, this is what it containes, and it’s also put in a little container that they put on the doorpost of their homes, or front doorjam.  This is at the heart of Judaism, but then Jesus adds a second, although they only ask for one, that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves.  “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets,” Jesus says.  That means that everything else, icnlduing the ten commandments are subservient to these two, because these two commandments contain everything.

And so what is one of the ways that we love the Lord our God with all of our heart, and all of our soul, all of our mind?  Worship.  But what is worship?  What is it that we do when we worship?  (what are some synonyms of worship: adoration, glory, honor, praise, reverence, veneration)  The Hebrew word means to bow down.  We bow down to someone not just to honor them, but to say that we are giving total allegiance to them.  that they are the ones to whom we give over authority over our life.  That’s what it means to worship.  It is more than just honoring and adoration it is a claim of loyalty, and giving command over our life. Worship involves setting aside ourselves in order to focus on God’s will for our lives, rather than focus on our own agendas or our own points of view.  Worship should pull us out of ourselves to express our love for God.   When Jesus says that we are to give all that we are, and all that we have to God, one of the ways we do that and show that is through worship.  But what Bishop Schnase is saying is that we don’t do that through just any type of worship.  That how we approach God and worship is important, that we are to do this with passion.

So what does passion mean?  (and let’s keep it clean).  Passion by definition means to be inflamed with love or to show strong and barely controllable emotion.  From a Christian perspective we talk about the passion of Jesus, which is about his death and suffering, so we could say it’s the way that Jesus gave his all.  All of us have something that we are passionate about.  Former major leaguer Al Gallagher said, “there are three things in my life which I really love: God, my family and baseball.  The only problem – once baseball season starts, I change the order around a little bit.”  I can certainly relate to that idea.  And the problem with some of our passions is that they can become little gods for us, they can be what we worship, where we give our allegiance and praise.  But what Schnase is saying is that we need to bring that same passion to the things that we love to our worship of God.

There are several things that that implies.  The first is that it means that worship is not a spectator activity.  Worship is impacted by what we bring to it, and it affects all of us.  Passionate worship begins with each individual who is worshipping.  Have we prepared for worship?  Have we read the scripture readings in advance?  Have we opened yourself up to experience God?  Have we said that this time is not about us as individuals, but it’s first about God, and secondarily about all of us as a collective body?  What we bring to worship will impact our worship experience.  Liturgy is one of those big church words, but the call to worship is liturgy, the prayer is liturgy, and even the hymns are a part of liturgy, but liturgy means the work of the people.  That means that liturgy, or worship, is not just about me or the musicians, or the choir/band, or the ushers, it is about all of us bringing our best to this experience.  If we just show up expecting to be entertained, that all we have to do is just sit back, it is not going to be passionate worship, and I might add that means laughing at my jokes as well.  We should come to worship expecting that we will experience God and that we will be changed in some way by our time in worship, that we will have had a worship experience.

What passionate worship also means is that you should expect that we as the church are going to try and put together the best worship service we can.  Not just for the big events of the church, but for every single worship service.  I know one pastor who in his welcome thanked people for being there and said they were going to have the best worship service the church had ever done, and that was the expectation he had every single week.  Now did that happen every week?  Of course not, because we are all humans, and so we have off days, which upsets the nature of worship.  But you should still expect that we are going to give our best, because poor quality robs worship of its meaning and its purpose.   But passionate worship calls us into the presence of God, calls God to come into our lives, calls for God to transform us, calls for God to lead us and guide us, calls for God to give us hope and strength and peace and assurance and all the other things we need.  An hour of passionate worship changes every other hour of the week.

This is one of the most important things that we do as a church.  When someone says they are going to church, more than likely they mean they are going to worship.  And, when someone says they don’t go to church any more, what they mean is that they aren’t going to worship.  But not going to worship means that we are not coming together to experience God individually or collectively, and the collective portion of worship is important.  We come not only to remember what God has done, but we come together to be re-membered, that we are brought together as one body of Christ, that we as individuals are joined together in one body, that where 2 or more are gathered in Christ’s name he is there with them.  And that means that we should be bringing our best to worship and to be expecting the best of each other, because that is what Jesus calls for us to do.

Love the Lord your God with all that you are, with all of your heart, and all of your mind and all of your soul, and love your neighbor as yourself.  We are called to bring passion to worship.  Now this does not mean we have to be shouting during worship, or rolling on the floor or speaking in tongues.  That’s a particular style of worship, and has nothing to do with passion.  Quakers, who normally sit in silence, can have a passionate worship service, just like Pentecostals can have a passionate worship service.  We can worship as we do and still be passionate about it, because passion is what we bring to the experience not about what we do or do not do.  So how do we prepare for worship to give our hearts and soul and mind?  How are we allowing God to form us, change us and transform us through our time of worship?  Worship is about us, and it also has nothing to do with us, because we gather together in order to worship, to bow down, to give, honor, praise and glory to God.  We worship not because God is some ego maniac, we worship because that is the response we have to what God has done for us, because we belong to God.  We gather together for worship not to evaluate and critique each other or the service itself, but to “receive what God is offering” to us and to offer our best in return.  But the adjective makes the difference.

We can worship, or we can worship with passion, we can worship, or we can worship with all that we are and with all that we have, to give the best that we have to God, and we do that by giving the best that we have to each other, by expecting that we will all come prepared to worship, that all of us will give of ourselves in worship, even if it is only just our presence, that we will all try and give the best worship experience we can, that we will all come expecting to experience God, and that we will also come expecting that we will be transformed  and changed by our time of worship.  Passionate worship affects everything we do in worship, from how we sing and pray, to how we greet each other, to how we participate in hearing the word of God, and how we approach the scriptures.  “Passionate worship,” Bishop Schnase says, “begins with our love for God, our desire to open ourselves to God’s grace, and our eagerness for relationship with God.”  Jesus says that our faith is demonstrated by the fruit that we produce, and the first step to fruitful living is by practicing and promoting and living into passionate worship.  I pray that it will be so my brothers and sisters.  Amen.

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