First United Methodist Church
Plymouth, Indiana

Worship Is...

Worship is….: Selected Psalms
First United Methodist Church, October 7, 2018
Pastor Toni Carmer

Worship is:  The Gathering of the Body of Christ

This morning our worship order is different than usual, because the message has been divided into several sections.  As we continue through our series on Shaped by God’s Heart: The Passion and Practices of Missional Churches, we are talking today about Missional Practice # 4: Rewrite worship every week.   The purpose of the order change isn’t to make a grand effort to do things in a completely different way than we usually do, but to intentionally “name” and talk a bit about the various elements of worship as we experience them.

Worship, in whatever style it is done, always begins with the Gathering.  

We come into this place on Sunday mornings for a variety of reasons—sometimes out of habit, sometimes because we can't imagine starting a new week anywhere else; this just seems to be the best place.  

We come from high places or low places, work places or home places, sad places or joyful places, and we gather. In us there is a yearning to meet God, a desire to connect with others, and to be shaped by the Holy Spirit. 
As the crowds streamed over the hills of Galilee, or walked through the streets of Jerusalem to be in the presence of Jesus, so we come.

As a part of our gathering, as we consider what it means to be a missional church, we want to be intentional about welcoming the stranger, about being a place where all people are welcome, where all people can experience the love of God.  We want to be a place that prepares us to GO OUT, and to share the GOOD NEWS of Jesus Christ.  We want to be a people who look outward, who acknowledge the brokenness of the world, and in response, offers a word of hope.    

And so, let us hear now the words of Psalm 100 as we prepare our hearts and minds to offer God our worship and praise:

1 Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.
2     Worship the Lord with gladness;
    come into his presence with singing.
3 Know that the Lord is God.
    It is he that made us, and we are his;[a]
    we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
    and his courts with praise.
    Give thanks to him, bless his name.
5 For the Lord is good;
    his steadfast love endures forever,
    and his faithfulness to all generations.

Worship is…Salve for the Soul

We watch and listen to our children and are joyed by their energy and enthusiasm.  We may reflect briefly on our own childhoods, thinking—those were the days, when our troubles were few, when life was carefree, when someone was looking out for us, and yet we know that even children can go through difficult times.  Heartache has no age limitation; we are each faced with sadness, concern, trouble.

All of us are both blessed and wounded. We may look bright and shiny on the outside, but we may be less bright and shiny on the inside. Our hearts have been broken, our spirits may have been discouraged, we may have failed in ways large or small, and we need to be renewed. We need healing. We need to be made well again by God.

Worship is an experience through which the Holy Spirit leads us into the healing presence of God. Here, we can offer our burdens to God, and whether or not we choose to share what we carry inside us, the community of faith receives us into a fold of love and care.  

Fred Craddock shares the story of his family, remembering that his mother took the children to church and Sunday school but their father didn't attend.  He complained about Sunday dinner being late when she came home.  Sometimes the preacher would call, and his father would say, "I don't know what the church wants.  Church doesn't care about me. Church wants another name, another pledge, another name, another pledge."  That's what he always said.

Sometimes the church would have a revival. Pastor would bring the evangelist and say to the evangelist, "There's one now, sic him, get him, get him," and my father would say the same thing.  Every time, my mother in the kitchen, always nervous, in fear of flaring tempers, of somebody being hurt. And always my father said, "The church doesn't care about me. The church wants another name and another pledge." I guess I heard it a thousand times.

One time he didn't say it. He was in the veteran's hospital and he was down to 73 pounds. They'd taken out his throat, and said, "It's too late."  They put in a metal tube, and x-rays burned him to pieces. I flew in to see him.  He couldn't speak, couldn't eat. I looked around the room, potted plants and cut flowers on all the windowsills, a stack of cards twenty inches deep beside his bed. And even that tray where they put food, if you can eat, on that was a flower. And all the flowers beside the bed, every card, every blossom, were from persons or groups from the church.

He saw me read a card. He could not speak, so he took a Kleenex box and wrote on the side of it a line from Shakespeare. If he had not written this line, I would not tell you this story.  He wrote, "In this harsh world, draw your breath in pain to tell my story."

I said, "What is your story, Daddy?"

And he wrote, "I was wrong." 
                                                          (Craddock Stories, edited by Mike Graves and Richard F. Ward, 2001) 

Grace often comes to us through community—in worship—where we come face to face with the love of God and the love of others.  Those moments can restore our souls…

Hear now, the words of the 23rd Psalm:  23: The Divine Shepherd

1 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
2     He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
3     he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
    for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
    I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff—
    they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
    my whole life long.

Worship is…Celebration

We throw parties on milestone occasions, when we want to celebrate something grand and wonderful that is happening in our lives.  And sometimes we celebrate in small ways for small wonders, for small gifts that make all the difference.  

I can celebrate on the bench in my garden and on the swing in our back yard…enjoying the fresh air, the sound of birds, the tangled mess of the vines and the vegetables that are still hanging but will probably never make it to our table…

Those moments are good and blessed…but parties experienced with others?  Those times can be pretty amazing, too!

What would happen if we looked at worship as a celebration, as a party of grace, where laughter was a good thing, where smiles broke out as people come to know the love of God in Jesus? 

Maybe we should hang streamers and banners in the sanctuary, put on party hats, and hand out noisemakers to remind one another that worship is often a party of grace…where joy fills the room and people’s bodies and souls move to the music of God’s love. Or maybe we don’t need to hang banners and streamers and hand out party hats, but just remember…just remember…that worship is a time of celebration and joy. 

In Nehemiah 8, the people of Israel gather and they immediately begin to think worship is best done with long faces. But the leaders say, “Don’t mourn or weep. Go, eat rich food and drink something sweet. This day is holy to the Lord. Don’t be sad, because the joy from the Lord is your strength!”

Worship is celebration. Worship is a party of grace. Worship is an opportunity to lean back, and sing to the heavens, “Thank you! We love you!”

As we continue our worship, let us offer our thanks, our celebration, for all God has done and continues to do in our lives.   

Psalm 117
1 Praise the Lord, all you nations!
    Extol him, all you peoples!
2 For great is his steadfast love toward us,
    and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever.
Praise the Lord!

Worship…Offered to an audience of one.

Tis' the season…of football!!  People gather in stadiums around the country, in front of television screens at home, gathered at restaurants, in sports bars, wherever—faces painted their team colors, sporting t-shirts, hats, license plates, tattoos [not mentioning any names].  I've even known a certain pastor to wear a Bronco stole around his neck on Super Bowl Sunday when his favorite team made it that far.  Each one proclaiming to all the world the team they carry in their hearts and minds.

Football is a spectator sport.  There have to be players, of course, but what gets ya'll excited is watching what the players are doing: seeing how well they're throwing, who stops the ball from going where it was intended to go, and who jumps on it first.  (That's about the extent of my understanding of football, so that's as far as we're going with that image).  

When you're a spectator, you aren't expected to go out on the field.  I know there are armchair quarterbacks, but you won't be making decisions about who does what or who should be taken out of the game.  Your job is to cheer on those people who are out on the field, to spend your money on some hotdogs, and to have a good time.

Worship is not a spectator sport.  Worship is something we do together for God.  Using the stadium analogy, all of us would be the players out on the field, with God sitting in the stadium.  God would be the one cheering us on, encouraging us, wearing a t-shirt with our names and numbers on it (I don't even want to think about how God's face might be painted).  

Worship is what we do to honor God, to give thanks to God, to give back to God.  We offer our worship as a gift to God, because of who God is, and all that God has done.  

God is the focus of our worship.  

In planning worship, the pastor's role involves the creation of an environment, as much as possible, that is worshipful. To help us to focus on where we are and what we're doing.  Some of that is very basic, like temperature and sound.  When those are off, your focus (and mine) understandably goes astray.  The visual images, the slides we select, the banners are all a part of creating a worship space.   Today we have articles and fabrics from Russia, Haiti, Poland, Guatemala, and Uganda (and a couple of other countries in Africa that I'm not sure about) because it's World Communion Sunday, a day when Christians from all over the world share the sacrament together.  These things remind us that we're a part of a great big world, and though we are different in so many ways, we are one in Christ.  The hymns that we sing together, the music offered by our musicians, these are all offered, not to entertain us, but as gifts to God.  So we all do our best, we offer our best…we want to give God our best.

As members of the congregation, you are on the playing field as well.  You are participants in worship.  You come, to the best of your ability, with hearts and minds open to the movement of the Spirit—to offer your voices, your prayers, your interactions with one another, and your own unique selves to the mix of what is happening here.  Sometimes you usher, sometimes you read scripture, sometimes you join in the liturgy (which means "the work of the people"), sometimes you take care of our tech and sound needs, but wherever you are and whatever you're doing—if you are in this room, your presence is on the playing field.  What you bring is your gift to God.  What you bring is an important part of our community's gift to God.

Psalm 111
1 Praise the Lord!
I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart,
    in the company of the upright, in the congregation.
2 Great are the works of the Lord,
    studied by all who delight in them.
3 Full of honor and majesty is his work,
    and his righteousness endures forever.
4 He has gained renown by his wonderful deeds;
    the Lord is gracious and merciful.
5 He provides food for those who fear him;
    he is ever mindful of his covenant.
6 He has shown his people the power of his works,
    in giving them the heritage of the nations.
7 The works of his hands are faithful and just;
    all his precepts are trustworthy.
8 They are established forever and ever,
    to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness.
9 He sent redemption to his people;
    he has commanded his covenant forever.
    Holy and awesome is his name.
10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
    all those who practice it have a good understanding.
    His praise endures forever.

Worship is…Sacrament

The Jewish and the Christian faiths are very physical. Some people, who consider themselves spiritual, look down on this material world but Jews and Christians see the material world as a gift…and one way we experience the glory of God and the power of grace.

When Jesus wanted to make clear the power of God’s forgiving love, Jesus  -like a good Jew- pointed us to baptism. Words about God’s love and grace are wonderful, but we need something more: we need a physical experience of what grace does. So the water of baptism washes over us and marks us with God’s love…forever.

When Jesus wanted his friends to know who they were, and how God loves them, he reached for bread and wine. He took ordinary elements from everyday life, and he said, “Remember me…know that you are one loaf…despite how many divisions there may be in the world. Know that you are one loaf…you are one. And know that I am with you…every time you hold a piece of bread or break a dinner roll or have a breakfast bagel…that is a reminder that I am with you and will never leave you. Every time you break bread with one another will be a reminder that I am in the Bread of Life, and in me you will find life.”

So the sacraments of baptism and communion are a part of our worship life. Through these material things, these physical things, the glory of God’s love and truth in Jesus makes itself real to us.

And so today, we gather at Christ's table with Christians all around the world to receive the bread and the cup given to us, so we remember the love of God as offered to us in Christ.