Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | March 8, 2009

2009.03.08 “PoWeRSuRGe: “W” is for Worship”

Central United Methodist Church

“PoWeRSuRGe: “W” is for Worship”

Pastor David L. Haley

The 2nd Sunday in Lent

March 8th, 2009

            “Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshiping together as some do but spurring each other on, especially as we see the big Day approaching.” – Hebrews 10: 25, The Message


It was many years ago, in a conversation with a teenager, that I heard it expressed most clearly. “How long have you gone to church?”, I had asked. “You mean, ‘How long have I wanted to go?,” he said.  And he went on to explain: “I used to go to church only because my parents made me go,” he said.  “But then there came a time when I went because I wanted to go,” he said.”

I assume – unfortunately – that those here under 18 are here because your parents make you (like they make you pick up your room and do household chores).  And I assume that if you are here and over 18, you are here because you want to be here.  

You are here, as I am here – because worship is an intentional, essential part of your life, and without it you feel diminished and deprived:  as a Christian, as a spiritual person, as a human being. And so we gather in a mix of desperation and anticipation, hoping for the best, continuing to return even if – on any given week – worship is less than fulfilling.

The truth is, if you want to grow as a spiritual person, as a lover of God and a follower of Jesus, worship must not only be a part of your life, worship should flow out of your life. 

The importance of worship as one of six essential spiritual disciplines is my topic today. This is the second sermon in my Lenten series of sermons, entitled, PoWeRSuRGe.  Developed by Pastor Michael Foss of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, in Burnsville, MN, the acronym stands for: Prayer (last week), Worship, Reading the Bible, Serving, Relationships, and Giving; six essential disciplines for growth in spirituality and discipleship.  My emphasis is more practical than theological.

        First thing you should know about worship, is that, as worshipers, we come from a very long tradition.  Across centuries and continents, more often than not, people have felt the need to worship God or gods, in both ways both good and bad. (For example, I’ve always been thankful I was born Methodist rather than, say, Mayan, as worship is pretty much over for you once your heart is cut out.)

The Bible – in particular – is full of people worshipping, singing, praying, praising God in ways both formal and informal, public and in private, definitely not all in church. In fact, as you know, most of the language we still use in worship is the language of the Bible (Sometimes it’s up to it and sometimes not: the thought of God, for example, as solely masculine. I confess I cringe when I say, “God” = “He”)

What we see in the Scriptures, as we discover in our own life, is that worship is the overflow and expression of gratitude of our life with God.  As that, it can happen anytime, anyplace.

The old notion of a “private time” where one must sit down with a Bible and unbroken quiet – while it may be ideal – is no longer the only way, and in some cases, even impossible. Thanks to portable electronics, worship is no longer confined to sitting in a sanctuary, or sitting anywhere, for that matter. With iPod in ear, I’ve had worship experiences while running. GIA, the liturgical musical company located here in Chicago, has two series of CDs: My Morning Prayer: Seven Daily Services for People on the Go, and, now, My Evening Prayer.  These prayers are partly sung, with much of the music drawn from the Taize community or hymnody from Catholic liturgical renewal.  They would be, I think, a very useful resource for commuters. 

While you can worship anytime and anyplace, we also come from a tradition of sacred time, a time set aside for rest, renewal, and worship.

From Jewish tradition, and the Old Testament, we inherited the notion of the Sabbath: one day in seven set aside, as sacred time, as a day for rest as well as worship. For Christians, that day changed from the 7th day of the week, the Sabbath, to the 1st day of the week, the day of the Resurrection, in our culture, Sunday.  Perhaps best named in Spanish:  Domingo, the Lord’s Day. 

To live in this Sabbath tradition means that in our lives we emulate God by taking one day out of the week, every week, to hand our life back to God and remember that it is not our own.  What a concept!

We who live in Skokie, with so many orthodox Jews, should understand this: dressed in their Shabbat best, we see them walking to and from synagogue with their families, Friday night and Saturday morning. Tell me, aren’t you just a little bit envious?

I wouldn’t advocate going back to Blue Laws, perhaps not even to the way it was when I was young, where everything was closed on Sunday, but I think we have lost something.  When I was a kid, on Sundays, we went to church, we had a big Sunday dinner as a family, we read the newspaper and took naps, and – imagine this – even when for a drive.

I know these days are gone, but what if – in observance of the Sabbath – the “one in seven” principle, we committed ourselves to doing something different than we do the other six days: attend worship, do things as a family, take naps, read books, listen to music, go for walks (alas, the days of drives are gone . . .)

It was also a part of the Sabbath tradition – whether on the 7th day (Jewish or 7th day Adventist) or Sunday, the 1st day of the week, that we attend worship.

You see, an essential part of the Biblical and Christian tradition is that it is not enough only to worship in private, alone, but together, to worship in community, with other Christians. I have quoted one such exhortation under my sermon title, from The Letter to the Hebrews:

        “Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshiping together as some do but spurring each other on, especially as we see the big Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10: 25, The Message)


        John Wesley, the founder of our tradition of Methodism, once went so far as to say, “There are no solitary Christians.”  Someone else once compared Christians to bees: “You can no more be a solitary Christian than you can raise a single bee.”  We need to meet together, and worship together, for community, for nurture, care, and encouragement, in order to grow in our spiritual life, and as a Christian.

        As I was working on this sermon, I came to the conclusion that one of the worst inventions in the history of church architecture was the pew.  Consider this: in Christian history, for the first four centuries, Christians met not in buildings exclusively devoted to worship, but homes. (Not homes as we think of them, but Roman homes.)  Once Christianity became “official” and buildings devoted to worship began to be build (called “churches”), until almost the 16th century, they had no pews, and people stood to worship! (As they still do in most eastern Orthodox Churches.)  The popularity of pews arose around the time of the Protestant Reformation, when the center of the service became not the Mass but the Sermon, not these anemic sermons we preach today, but sermons which went on for hours.  And the next thing you knew people were purchasing their own pews, and not allowing anybody else to sit in them (that would never happen here . . .), and the rich and powerful would get the front seats (today it’s the back seats), and then, in time, the pews would be bolted to the floor, and instead of interacting, and worshiping with their bodies, people would sit separated from each other looking at their neighbor’s neck. I celebrate the renovation of this sanctuary, but pews are the one step I which you had gone further on: flexible seating: that’s the past and the future of worship.

In our congregation, we have already talked about worship extensively. (An initial sermon on its importance after I came, and, as you remember (I hope you remember) a whole sermon series last spring. At that time, we talked about what uniquely happens in worship together:  (1) God Is Praised, (2) The Scriptures Are Proclaimed; (3) The Sacraments Are Served; and (4) We Are Sent To Serve

        But we might also ask, “What is my role, as an individual worshipper, to prepare myself for worship?” “What can I do to make worship more meaningful and transformative for me?”

First, personal preparation. Ideally, get a good night’s sleep. (Today, the day when we “Spring Forward”, is perhaps not the best day for an example.)  And, as for sleeping in church: as my professor told me, “If one person’s asleep, it’s their problem. If there’s several people, asleep, it’s your problem.” (The old joke: “What’s your average attendance?  We sleep about 125 each Sunday.)

Ideally, don’t fight with your spouse or your kids before you come here. (“But that’s the only way I can get them here!”) 

Some people go so far as to read the Scriptures beforehand.  Are you all aware that we have an adult Bible class, at 9:30, that goes over the same Scriptures we read an hour later in worship? Of course, you can also do that at home, during the week, before you come to church.

Secondly, come in expectation and anticipation, with an open heart and mind.  Ask yourself, “For what do I praise God this week?”  What is God saying to me? “What are the burdens and desires that I bring before God as I pray?”  “What do I have to offer?”  In worship, look up; look within, look around.

Which brings us to the third thing you can do to make worship more meaningful and transformative: participate & offer your gifts.  To paraphrase President John Kennedy, “Ask not what worship can do for you, ask what you can do for worship.” I guarantee you, the more you participate, the more you receive out of worship. Offer to read the Scriptures. Bring your Bible and follow along. Take up the offering.  Greet your neighbor.  Sing a solo or play an instrument.  Join the choir.  Help with the audiovisuals.  Take out the pews.

Because, contrary to popular misunderstanding, worship is not a spectator sport.


Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855), the Danish philosopher and theologian, has in his book Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing, an entire chapter devoted to this topic:  (Chapter 12:  “What Then Must I Do: The Listener’s Role in a Devotional Address.”).  In that chapter he says:


“We attend worship thinking the church is a stage, the preacher is the actor, we are the audience.  In reality, God is the audience, the preacher is the prompter, we — the worshippers — are the actors, and the stage is eternity.”

On January 27th of this year, the writer John Updike died at the age of 76.  Updike wrote prolifically, and was one of our best, with novels full of both sex and religion, a winning combination. “My subject is the American Protestant small town middle class,” Updike told Jane Howard in a 1966 interview for Life magazine.  Perhaps the reason for this was because they were his people. He liked to joke about his lifelong “tour of Protestantism.” He was the grandson of a Presbyterian minister. He was raised in the Lutheran church in Pennsylvania, but joined the Congregational church as an adult. In his later years, he became an Episcopalian and dated a Methodist chaplain. Most Sundays he attended his hometown church in Beverly Farms, Massachusetts.

On November 18th, 2004, Updike spoke at the Center for Religious Inquiry at St. Bartholomew’s Church in New York City, and said, among other things, this:

“When I haven’t been to church in a couple of Sundays I begin to hunger for it and need to be there,” he said, standing at a podium in front of the altar, against a backdrop of Byzantine-style mosaics and dressed in a gray suit befitting one of America’s elder statesmen of letters. “It’s not just the words, the sacraments. It’s the company of other people, who show up and pledge themselves to an invisible entity.”

And so we do, week-by-week. Because worship is an important, intentional, essential part of our lives, and without it we feel diminished and deprived: as Christians, as spiritual persons, as human beings.


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