Friday, 23 October 2015

Why do we worship?

I was due to deliver this sermon this Sunday, but have had a setback with my long term anxiety, something that I though I had successfully managed to a point that it was no longer an issue, however due to multiple strands of stress, including behaviour patterns from people in Churches and at work and my own inability to say NO, I have found myself exhausted, emotionally fragile, and in a bit of state really.  GP has said stop, so stop it is.

I have therefore relinquished my position as Steward at my local Church, but will continue in my work as a local preacher as that is what God has called me to do, be a prophet in effect, sharing his word.

below is the Sermon I was due to deliver in a service that was themed as "Worship stripped bare".

As I started to pray and to reflect on the message for today, I found myself struck by a question.  Why do we worship, and why do we nearly always get it wrong?  I know, before anyone whispers under his or her breath – that’s technically two questions, but they are linked.  I am therefore considering them as parts (a) and (b) of one question.

The first part then is this: Why do we worship?  Why are you here today?  I’m not talking about the social aspect of going to church, meeting people, sharing coffee and cake, or enjoying hymn singing that can be very cohesive and meaningful in its own way.  All those are in the end made and provided by us for our own self-pleasuring. 

Why do we do liturgy?  Why do we break bread and share wine?  Because it is what we do?  Because it is Tradition?  Is that enough?

If we go to the source, God’s word, Deuteronomy 6 calls upon us to deeply respect God and God only.  The Israelites who had been rescued from Egypt had a tendency to create images of God to aid them in their worship – and God’s answer was unequivocal, we are to worship God and God alone.  Any creation on our part, statues, images, churches, created worship itself always comes with a theological health warning of separating us from God as we focus our worship on the statue or image or worship itself instead of God and then we “miss the mark” of the proper object of our worship.  Note the words carefully here – we miss the mark – which means that we are left in a state of sin.  Sin means that we are separated from God, potentially the very opposite of what we were seeking.

Think of Jesus’ response to Satan in Matthew 4 at the ending of his time of testing in the wilderness, “beat it Satan!”, “Worship the Lord your God, and only him.  Serve him with absolute single heartedness.”

In a book I have, a novel about Jesus’ missing years, Jesus, Judas Iscariot and Mary Magdalene find themselves as outlaws; (don’t ask – it’s complicated).  Any way in a barn at night with the wind howling outside our three intrepid travellers had found somewhere to shelter just before the Shabbat.  Jesus was keen on celebrating the Shabbat, but he stopped Judas from just rushing ahead to ask, “Why are we doing this?”  Judas just wanted to get on with it because he felt to stop and celebrate Shabbat was putting them at risk of capture, but Jesus was insistent.  “Why are we doing this?” The point of Shabbat was to remind the chosen people of who they were.  To remind them of the truth that they were a holy people.  If they forgot this, then where would they be?  Lost in a wilderness – perhaps there is a topic for another sermon.  Isn’t this why we meet to worship on a Sunday?  To remind us that we are also God’s chosen people, that we are Holy and we seek union with God, quality time with the one who is Holy and beyond sin.

And so we come, but even from the beginning humanity has regularly got it wrong, and we still do.  In Isaiah, the prophet rails at the “church” of the day, reminding them that God isn’t impressed with the religion that they have created, the conferences, the meetings for this or that; in fact He’s sick of it all.  This is instead what God wants from us in our worship, and end to bullying each other, saying no that which is wrong, watching out for those among you who are suffering.  Micah 6:8 has this to say; “God has already made it plain how to live…It’s quite simple.  Do what is fair…. be compassionate…don’t take yourself too seriously; take God seriously.

Hosea 6:6 has this reminder, just in case we thing we are doing OK in our smug 21st Century high tech version, “ Your declarations of love last no longer that morning mist and predawn dew.  That’s why I use prophets to shake your attention, why my words cut you to the quick.  To wake you up to my judgement – blazing like Light!  I’m after love that lasts, not more religion.  I want you to know God, not go to more prayer meetings.  You broke the covenant…. You broke faith with me!”

This church has been through some tough times of late, is this us?  Are we really worshipping God or are we tending to worship each other or ourselves!

Matt Redman is well known as a contemporary Christian songwriter tells this story about his Church in Watford that eventually led to one of his best-known songs. “The Heart of Worship”,


The song dates back to the late 1990s, born from a period of apathy within Matt’s home church, Soul Survivor, in Watford, England. Despite the country’s overall contribution to the current worship revival, Redman’s congregation was struggling to find meaning in its musical outpouring at the time.
“There was a dynamic missing, so the pastor did a pretty brave thing,” he recalls. “He decided to get rid of the sound system and band for a season, and we gathered together with just our voices. His point was that we’d lost our way in worship, and the way to get back to the heart would be to strip everything away.”
Reminding his church family to be producers in worship, not just consumers, the pastor, Mike Pilavachi, asked, “When you come through the doors on a Sunday, what are you bringing as your offering to God?”

This Church is going through a time of significant change at the moment; it is recovering and needs TLC, lots of it.  Is it possible that we have lost our way with God?  To repent means to turn back.  To turn back towards God, if we are looking away from God how can we receive from him? 

What do we mean by prayer or worship?  Have we forgotten why we do it?  We do things we are comfortable with, or have become comfortable with.  We then are forced to justify why we do it this or that way.  We defend or positions by saying that this way is better than yours.  Matt Redman is the man, I’m with Tim Hughes, sound has to be done to the maximum, or no, Organ recitals are the way forward, or no, TaizĂ© worship is the bs and es. 

By adhering to one approach or the other, we sin; we miss the mark.  We focus on the style of worship instead of the object of worship.  We forget that Jesus is the reason for our worship and it is God whom we come to worship.  I ask you, should anything get in the way of our worship for God?

Surely worship is about so much more that the style of the music put out on a Sunday.  Doesn’t our whole approach to life equate to our worship of God, the way we speak to each other, the way we trust each other, the way that we show our trust in God.  How much do we really place our trust in God?  How often when during the day do we take time out to listen to him?

When Peter babbled on at the transfiguration, God interjected and told him to be quiet and to listen to what his Son had to say.  Jesus is God so this equates also to Listen to me, not sing or shout at me, or give me lists of things that we want fixed.

God calls us to worship, to spend time in his company, but our sacrifices or offerings in whatever shape or form they take, shouldn’t be so self centred that they are worship of us and not of God.

How sad it is if we go to Church and just meet reflections of ourselves.  Surely we want to come and meet with God himself don’t we?  Nothing less will do.  The Holy Spirit demands nothing less.  Jesus gave himself for nothing less.

Don’t fall into the trap of worshipping worship!  In doing so, we fall short of worshipping God, and it doesn’t matter how short we are of missing the mark, the result is the same, we fall. 

Let’s get back to God, let’s get back to the heart of worship.  Let’s clear away the mess that we have made and reach out for God for to echo the words of  John; for God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship him in spirit and truth.

May the Lord bless us and help us, as we try and meet the demands of this challenge.

  Amen