“Worship the Lord in holy splendor.” — Psalm 96:9
Quick, answer this question: what’s worship all about?
It’s a good question, one that I suspect will elicit as many responses as there are people in the pews! For instance, if you ask the folks in our congregation this question, some will tell you that they come to church every Sunday morning for the fellowship; the love and security that comes in relationships long nurtured and deeply held within a church family. This is a big part of what makes the spirit of our worship what it is – but worship is not simply another meeting of a social club. Others will tell you that it’s the music that draws them in – the wondrous and sacred mixture of melody and harmony, organ flourishes and occasional guitar strumming that fills our sanctuary each week. And yes, this is also an essential part of our time together; yet, worship is not to be thought of as a performance, either. Some will answer that it’s all about education; learning about faith, Christian tradition and our purpose as the church. That’s true as well, but worship isn’t a classroom. And there will even be a few that will confess that they come to be inspired by the spoken word of scripture, sermon and prayer. And, indeed, speech is at the very center of our worship experience – certainly that’s the case for me (!) – but I’ll be the first to admit that worship should not serve merely to provide a platform for orators.
It goes on and on – praise and celebration, thanksgiving and intercession, word and sacrament, laughter and tears – all essential tenets of the worship experience that hold great meaning for a congregation. The truth is, however, that “the act and attitude of worship” encompasses all of this and so much more besides. It is not so much one aspect or another of our time together that gives the experience is power and purpose, but rather that all the parts of our worship are rooted in once source: the living God who has come to us in Jesus Christ, and even now through the Holy Spirit, moves and empowers us to love and action. Without God, the music we hear has no rhythm; the friendships nurtured in this place have no anchor; and the words spoken simply echo in the emptiness of false hope. But thanks be to God, this isn’t the case here!
I hope that by now you’re seeing how much I love leading and participating in Christian worship – it has always been by far my favorite part of being a pastor, and this is precisely because of God’s prominent place in every part and parcel of the experience! It never ceases to amaze me, for instance, how on any given Sunday morning, even with an order of service you never know exactly what’s going to happen between the Call to Worship and the Benediction. I love how, by the grace of God’s gentle intervention, the different and diverse parts of the liturgy come together as one seamless whole, as if it were intended to be that way (!); and I love the palpable joy that comes in knowing that somehow, some way, the right things can be said to touch a heart at the perfect moment.
Even after so many years of doing this Sunday after Sunday, I can still say that just about every week, I come away from the experience newly impressed by the wonder of it all. That’s especially true right now; indeed, as we’ve gotten to know one another in and through our worship together, I am inspired by the pure emotion of your hymn-singing, strengthened by depth of your prayer. I feel fortified by your love that is expressed in smiles, handshakes and hugs, and there is rarely a Sunday noon when I don’t go home newly reminded of Christ’s presence in my life.
So, what is worship all about? It’s that wonderful mixture of music and liturgy and prayer and fellowship and mission and speaking and silence and scripture and meditation and benediction. It’s about order and spontaneity; it’s about doing things “the way we’ve always done it,” but not being afraid to break new ground so that we might truly worship the Lord in “spirit and truth.” It’s about laying down burdens and, through perfect love, casting out all fear. It’s about children learning about faith with their elders, about grown-ups getting as much out of the children’s sermons as anything else in the service! But more than anything else, it’s about the constant, abiding presence and extravagant love of God – and our renewed opportunity to open our hearts and lives unto the Lord as we set out into the coming week with new hope and vigor!
But – and this is very important – none of this is complete without you. So I hope you’ll be joining us this Sunday as once again we gather together in our sanctuary on Mountain Road to worship the Lord “in holy splendor.” Trust me, it will be an all-encompassing experience!
c. 2012 Rev. Michael W. Lowry