Dr. Anne M. Cameron
March 27, 2011
Lake Highlands Presbyterian Church
Second in a series on, "Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations"
A psalm. For giving grateful praise.
1 Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth.
2 Worship the LORD with gladness;
come before him with joyful songs.
3 Know that the LORD is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
5 For the LORD is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations.
Some time ago I was talking with a guest here at LHPC. He was the father of one of the Boy Scouts participating in worship that Sunday. We got around to talking about his "day job," which was in the marketing field.
He said, "When you start talking religion on the job, people shut down." Recently, though, one of his colleagues brought up the subject of church shopping. This guy explained how he and his wife were looking for a church, but they just hadn't found the right one to meet all their needs yet.
Mr. Boy Scout Dad had a bit of a smirk on his face. “Do you want to know what I said to him, Pastor? I looked him straight in the eye and said, "You don't get it, do you?"
"Church isn't supposed to fill your needs, it's supposed to change you."
Church is for change; worship is for change, too.
Psalm 100 begins with a notation that it is a Psalm of Thanksgiving. In ancient Israel, the thank offering was a voluntary offering given as a sign of gratitude to God. Worshippers are told not just to praise God, but to offer praise in a spirit of thanksgiving.
Psalm 100 is also a call to worship. In fact, it is two calls to worship. The first is a general call to worship outside the Temple (which I think of as outside the sanctuary---out there where we live), while the second part is a call to worship inside the Temple, to prepare a sacrifice of thanksgiving.
The Hebrew word for worship means a lot more than just coming to church on Sunday. The word for worship also means to orient one's whole life and existence to God, to be God's servant or slave .
At its best, worship is transformative. Worship changes us, worship challenges us, worship allows God to do God's work of grace on us. Fruitful congregations have passionate, life-changing worship. Fruitful congregations approach worship with joy, thanks, and openness.
Worship nurtures us. "God uses worship to change lives, heal wounded souls, renew hope, shape decisions, provoke change, inspire compassion and bind people to one another. . . 1" These are the words of Bishop Robert Schnase. Note the verbs. Change. Heal. Renew. Shape. Provoke. Inspire. Bind.
There is an old story that has been making the rounds of the internet lately. It's showed up in my in-box twice in the last few weeks. I have taken the liberty of doing some editing. . .
A churchgoer complained that it made no sense to come to worship every Sunday. "I've gone for 30 years now," he wrote, "and in that time I have heard something like 1,500 sermons. But for the life of me, there's only a handful I remember. So, I think I'm wasting my time and the pastors are wasting theirs."
This comment struck a nerve. It kicked off deep and serious parking lot discussion.
"You know, he's right! These sermons aren't doing us any good."
"That preacher has moved from preaching to meddling!"
"Wouldn't the pastor's time be better spent visiting more people?"
All discussion stopped when someone said this:
"I've been married thirty years. In that time my wife has cooked some 32,000 meals. (Wow! This woman was cooking three meals a day!) There's no way I can remember all the meals. There were some favorites, and there were some duds. There were some I liked, and some I hated. There were some I grew to love (but I wouldn't have said that the first time I ate them!). But I do know this. They all nourished me. If I hadn't taken these meals, I would be dead. Likewise, if I had not gone to church for nourishment, I would be dead in spirit."
I would like to extend the analogy of worship as dining a bit further.
When you are invited to dine at someone's home, there is the invitation (whether it be formal or informal, in person, or not) AND there is the response. You set a time; you make a commitment to attend. You look forward to the day. You prepare. You offer to bring something. You may bring food, or flowers, or a bottle of wine. You shop and you get ready. You get cleaned up a bit more than usual. You show up and you engage with the host. You talk and you laugh, you enjoy a good meal, you enjoy the kids or the back yard patio or whatever. You go home, satisfied, and you thank your hosts for what they have given you, which is far more than a meal. You leave, your relationship strengthened and your bonds deepened. You are different because of this meal.
You can see how a dinner party is a bit like worship. Planning, response, scheduling, commitment, preparation, offering, physical preparations, attendance, engagement, enjoyment, thankfulness, deepening of bonds, change. One main difference: in worship, God is our host.
Here in Psalm 100, the psalmist knows that worship is crucial. Worship is priority. Worship is communal and active. And worship is JOYFUL! There are a number of imperatives in this psalm, all of them requiring activity on the part of the worshipper: Shout, Serve, Come, Enter, Give thanks!
The threefold call to praise in Psalm 100 (Shout, Serve, Come) is followed by an explanation of the reason behind this. We praise God simply because God exists! Life begins with God. God created us. This alone is reason for joy.
But it is easy to forget all this, because our human efforts at worship do not always meet this beautiful standard.
Every meal we eat is not a glorious one. There are some that are downright distasteful. Sometimes we have to put up with leftovers that are not our favorites. Other times we find we have to reduce our salt (and things taste more bland) or our portion size (and we feel less full) or our fat (and doesn't fat taste good?!). Sometimes we eat things we don't particularly enjoy because they are good for us. Those green things, broccoli or spinach or cabbage or Brussels sprouts. That protein drink or those supplements. Nonetheless, these things nourish us and yes, even change us.
Every meal we eat has been prepared by someone---ourselves, a loved one, a factory, a restaurant chef. Care and concern has been put into the preparation.
We are blessed here at LHPC to have incredible staff and a core group of volunteers who regularly pray, study, practice, plan and prepare for worship. Countless hours are spent behind the scenes to plan theologically sound, challenging, joyful, and tasteful worship. If you are a part of planning for worship, or taking care of worship needs, will you please stand now and be acknowledged? Staff and volunteers could always use more help and more ideas to make our worship even better and more meaningful. We invite you to join us in that endeavor, if passionate worship is your passion.
On a personal level, I encourage you to prepare for worship. It is easy to get into a rut. Commit to a regular diet of worship. Come to different types of worship services you might not normally attend. Maundy Thursday. Services of Healing. Worship at a different hour, just to see how it is. Actively, joyfully, and openly participate in worship so you can respond to God's desire to change you through the act of worship. Come to worship with an expectant, thankful, and open orientation to what God may be doing. When we come prepared and open, when we come with the idea that we have something to offer God---our prayers, our thanks---ourselves, worship is much more powerful.
On reflection, I don't think I agree 100% with what Mr. Boy Scout Dad had to say when he said:
"Church isn't supposed to fill your needs, it's supposed to change you."
I offer my own twist on his thoughts.
Church-and worship--- changes us. It challenges us. Worship touches us deep down in some hidden place where God enters in and messes with us in unpredictable ways. When we allow this to happen, we will find ourselves villed. We will find everything we have ever needed. Everything.
I hope this thought sends you to the parking lot talking.