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Category Archives: Worship

For All the Gifts Along the Way

(a sermon for November 24, 2019, the 24th Sunday after Pentecost and Thanksgiving Sunday, based on Deuteronomy 26:1-11)

Actually, as much as you all know I’ve always loved Thanksgiving Day (!), I must confess that most of those celebrations over the years have all pretty much melded together in my memory; a cornucopia, if you will, of many busy, sometimes even chaotic family gatherings and endless servings of turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy (and stuffing, and sweet potato casserole, and peas and onions, and pies, and… well, you get the idea)!

There are, of course, a few memories that stand out: one of my earliest memories of Thanksgiving, for instance, was one spent at my grandparents’ house and how their table was elegantly and perfectly set with the fine china, polished silverware, and freshly pressed linen tablecloths and napkins, with a small crystal goblet filled with cranberry juice set just so at the center of each plate, to be drank at the very beginning of the Thanksgiving meal, just after grace and before anything else was served!  By contrast I also remember later years when the meal itself seemed overshadowed by my father’s and my utter determination (and, I realize now in retrospect, my mother’s great forbearance!) that we get up to the hunting camp for the last couple of days of deer season that weekend!

And I’ll always have very fond Thanksgiving memories of our own children growing up, all of them running around underfoot laughing and playing with their cousins, even a couple of occasions of Lisa and I having to sit at the dreaded “children’s table” with them when they were very small (which, by the way, did not reduce my consumption of turkey one little bit!).  I also remember one year when Zachary, who was just a toddler at the time, was so fussy at mealtime that I ended up taking him out for a long drive all through the surrounding countryside, in the fervent hope that he might actually fall asleep and so everyone else could eat in relative peace and quiet; but how, all in all, it turned out to be a pretty enjoyable day for my son and me, and I might add, another great, albeit for me slightly delayed, Thanksgiving Dinner!

Strangely enough, however, as I was thinking about it this week I’ve realized that ultimately what I remember most about all these Thanksgivings past is not primarily the food but the people with whom it was shared; all the laugher and conversation, and the stories that get told and told again around that table often long into the night, all these joyous reminders of who we are, where we came from, the many blessings that we share, and most importantly, where those blessings came from…

…which, when you come right down to it, is kind of what the day is supposed to be all about anyway!

Therein lies one of the more interesting things about our Thanksgiving Day celebrations: as the late columnist Erma Bombeck once wrote, “Thanksgiving dinners take eighteen hours to prepare, [but] they are consumed in twelve minutes,” so… the question becomes, what are we to do with the rest of the day?  Granted, for many people and families these days Thanksgiving becomes more like a progressive dinner with several stops (and very often more than one dinner!) throughout the day, and what with parades and football and of course, the infamous “Black Friday” sales that now begin as early as Thursday afternoon (!) there is plenty happening to occupy the day; truly, I don’t think I need to tell anyone here how busy and convoluted a day Thanksgiving can become!  But that said, you have to wonder if at the end of the day it’s all worthwhile.  After all we’ve managed to layer upon our celebration of the day and admittedly, in all that is often required by it, can it still be said of us that we’re honoring the origin and purpose of Thanksgiving Day; and perhaps even more importantly, is it still about true thanksgiving unto God?

It’s worth noting here that though our American celebration of Thanksgiving commemorates that storied feast of the Pilgrims at Plymouth Plantation in 1621, historically speaking it wasn’t the first in North America.  That distinction likely belongs to the members of an expedition to Newfoundland in 1578, who celebrated their survival from a series of vicious storms with a feast of “tinned beef and mushy peas” brought over from England (mmmm….).  History also records a celebration meal shared in Nova Scotia by European settlers and the indigenous people of the region in the early 1600’s; and there’s even a proclamation of a yearly “day of thanksgiving” following a safe landing at Jamestown, Virginia in 1619, several months before the Mayflower even set sail for the New World.  But regardless of the timing or circumstance, all these celebrations had at least one thing in common: the admonition to give prayerful thanks to God for the blessings of the harvest and, indeed, for life itself.  In the exhortation of an English preacher named Robert Wolfall, who was amongst that group of explorers in Newfoundland, they needed to be “thankefull to God for theyr strange and miraculous deliverance in those so dangerous places.”  That’s a conviction that continues to be expressed every year as “we gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing,” praying that in whatever form it might take in this particular generation “the wicked oppressing [might] now cease from distressing.”

So for us this act and celebration of thanksgiving does carry with it a long and austere tradition; but here’s the thing:  the desire of people to offer thanks to God goes back a lot further than that.  The example of giving thanks unto the Lord can be traced back to the very beginning of scripture; as far back as the story of Noah we hear about how after he emerge from the ark, the very first thing he did was to build “an altar to the LORD” (Genesis 8:20) for purposes of offering up a sacrifice of thanksgiving, thus establishing a tradition of giving thanks unto God.  In fact, there are at least 140 passages throughout scripture that call for God’s people to true thanksgiving, both individually and all together; giving thanks and praise to God as the giver of all our many blessings, and as the ultimate source of all goodness, the foundation of all that we have and all that we are.  And that story continues even now:  for God, you see, has always been the very heart of our story, yours and mine, and those of the families of which we are part; God is at the beginning of that story, God’s in the midst of every detail that’s unfolding as we speak, and God will be there at its conclusion.  And God’s presence through it all, is the supreme reminder of who we are, where we came from, all the many blessings that we share, and most importantly, of where those blessings came from… and the first and best reason for us to give thanks!

Which brings us to our text for this morning, from the Old Testament Book of Deuteronomy, in which Moses seeks to retell the story of God’s chosen and redeemed people, as well as about the need for worship, true thanksgiving and a the humble offering back unto the Lord. Now, the “back story” of this particular passage is that the people of Israel have been wandering in the wilderness for 40 years and are just about to enter the Promised Land; however, Moses is dying and knows that he will not have the privilege of entering into that land.  And so, quite literally on his deathbed, Moses tells the story of their long history in the care and presence of God, along with very specific instruction as a good and proper “act and attitude” of thanksgiving.  As we heard it read this morning, you know that it involves taking “some of the first of all the fruit of the ground,” putting it in the basket and going “to the place that your God will choose as a dwelling for his name,” handing it to the priest who in turn will set the offering on that altar of the Lord.  It’s all very ceremonial, and in the parlance of Biblical scholars very much part of the “priestly narrative” of some the Pentateuch, that is, the first five books of the Old Testament; and it’s still very much in keeping with our Christian liturgy and tradition even to this day.

But here’s the thing I want us to notice this morning: that all of this culminates in… a story; a story that’s meant to be shared and passed on.  When this offering of first fruits has been set upon the altar, says Moses, “you shall make this response before the LORD your God: ‘a wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous.’”  This is your story, says Moses, and it is a story that needs to be told again and again and again; it must be shared because this is the story of how God brought his people – our ancestors, yours and mine together – safely from there to here, guided and cared for and blessed every step of the way.

And you’ll notice also that the story that Moses recounts is unflinching in its honesty, remembering the painful parts of the journey as well as its triumphs: their affliction and suffering at the hands of the Egyptians, the years of slavery and their cries to God for redemption.  Just as so many family stories will inevitably include a remembrance of some the most difficult times that family has faced, Moses here wants to be clear that true thanksgiving, in some way or another, acknowledges both the bitter and the sweet, understanding that it was the hardship of their journey that led them to even more fully appreciate the mighty hand of God, his “signs and wonders” and his deliverance of his people to “a land flowing with milk and honey.”  This, says Moses to the people of Israel, is your heritage, this is your blessing, and this is who you and whose you are; and for this reason, you are to give thanks, make your offering and with all those who reside among you, friend and stranger alike, “celebrate with all the bounty that the LORD your God has given to you and to your house.”

And that, dear friends, is what Thanksgiving is all about.  It’s all about our story: yours, mine and God.

I love what the Rev. W. Dennis Tucker, Jr., of Truett Seminary of Baylor University, says about this: “Simply put,” he writes, “gratitude is rarely confined to the present moment.  More often than not the present moment is the culmination of ‘givings’ all along the way – sometimes being delivered to something and sometimes from something… the fruitfulness of the present [is rooted] with the faithfulness of God all along.”  I like that; Tucker’s words serve as a reminder to me that the act and attitude of thanksgiving, as well as to the matter at hand, our celebration of “Turkey Day” this Thursday, must involve more than just a cursory moment of grace for good food and fellowship, spoken quickly before the food gets cold!  Certainly we should be thankful for “health and strength and daily bread,” just as we ought to be happy for family and friends who have gathered around the table with us and for the countless gifts of love that are ours in the here and now.  But we also need to be aware and truly thankful for all the gifts that have come to us along the way: for the lessons learned over time and across generations, and the inheritance left us from those family members and friends – the saints of this and every generation – who have helped to make us who we are; for the experiences of life that have helped us to grow and persons and as a people, for love and laughter and wonder, and even for the difficulties of life and living we’ve been forced to face which have given us strength and understanding for the living of these days; as well as for the untold blessings of freedom and the fullness of bounty that is ours as a nation and as a people.

For all these gifts given along the way from generation to generation we give thanks and praise… but most of all, we give thanks to the one who is the true source of all good gifts around us, the ones, as the song says, are “sent from heaven above,” the ones that which “the LORD your God has given to you and to your house.”

So have a wonderful day this Thursday, friends!  Have a great time with your family or with your friends, eat lots of turkey and stuffing (I know I will!) and if you can, make sure you take the time to visit and sit around the table and tell the good stories… again!  Have fun; and as you do, remember just who you are and where you came from… take some time to remember the many blessings you share – speak them aloud, because that’s always a good thing to do – but most importantly, let us all remember where those gifts, the ones for today and the ones along the way, actually came from…

… and may our thanks be to God!

Amen and AMEN!

 

© 2019  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 

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The Way… of Faithful Giving

Opening Scene from “Chariots of Fire,” 1981

(a sermon for October 20, 2019, the 19th Sunday after Pentecost; third in a series, based on 2 Corinthians 9:6-15)

It’s a wonderful scene from one of the great films of the 1980’s: Chariots of Fire, and it still ranks among my all-time favorites.  Now, if you’ve seen this movie (and if you haven’t, why not?), you know that this was the true story of two runners competing in the 1924 Olympics in Paris, one of whom was a Scottish missionary by the name of Eric Liddell.  And the scene in question depicts Liddell trying in vain to explain to his sister Jennie why he had decided to put off a Missionary call to China so that first he could compete in those Olympic Games.  “Jennie,” he says. “You’ve got to understand… I believe that God made me for a purpose… for China.  But he also made me fast… and when I run I feel his pleasure.”

It’s just this little moment in the film, but I think the reason I love it so much is that though I’ll never, ever be confused with someone who is any kind of runner, much less one of Olympic-caliber, nonetheless I understand exactly what Liddell was talking about there, and moreover, I know that  feeling!  I’ve felt it, for instance, in music – many times in singing or playing the guitar – moments when by some miracle of grace everything just goes right; when the melodies and harmonies all come together just as they should and the song, or the hymn or the anthem – whatever the music happens to be at that moment – is, as musicians like to say, “in the pocket.” And let me just say here that there are also times – quite often, in fact – that I feel it in our times of worship together: sometimes, it’ll be there in the music we share; it can also be felt in our laughter, our fellowship and the occasional unpredictability of this time we spend together every Sunday morning; it’s certainly been there in our moments of prayerfulness; and sometimes – not always, mind you, but sometimes – I even feel it when I’m standing at this pulpit preaching the sermon for the day.

And understand, I’m not talking here about everything going perfectly, or even according to plan – trust me here, sometimes the best moments we share as a congregation are the ones that no one saw coming, including your pastor (!) – what I’m referring to here (and I suspect you know what I’m talking about here) are the moments when everything connects; when it’s clear from everything that’s happening that the Holy Spirit is moving in and through this place and its people; when there’s joy that’s palpable or, for that matter,  when  grief and sorrow is mutually borne.  It’s in such moments that yes, we do feel God’s pleasure in it, and in us.  In fact, I would go so far as to suggest to you that this is maybe the primary reason we’ve come to worship and ultimately, what we get out of coming here (actually echoing something we talked about here a couple of weeks ago): to faithfully give the best of ourselves unto God so that we might feel God’s pleasure in what we do.  And to quote Eric Liddell (or at least, as he’s quoted in the movie), “to give it up would be to hold [God] in contempt,” but “to win is to honor him.”

And who are we, I ask you this morning, to deny God’s pleasure?

All of this brings us to our text for this morning, in which Paul is exhorting the Gentile Christians in Corinth to contribute to an offering to benefit the poor Jewish Christians in Jerusalem.  First off, let’s be honest about this particular passage of Paul’s epistle; there’s no disguising the fact that this is a financial appeal, and a pretty effective one at that! Not only does Paul emphasize the spiritual rewards for an abundant response (“For the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God”), while also reminding them that since they’ve been provided with every blessing in abundance, they might also “share abundantly in every good work,”  Paul also manages to, shall we say, “play the guilt card” in mentioning Macedonian Christians (to whom, Paul makes a point of saying, “I’ve been bragging about you.”), suggesting that “if some Macedonians come with me and find that you are not ready” – that is, if you aren’t ready with an offering, “we’d all be pretty red-faced – you and us – for acting so sure of ourselves.” [The Message]  See what I mean?  It’s a stewardship message, basically with no hold barred; and it’s no wonder that we preachers return to this particular passage on days… well, days just like this one (did I happen to mention that next week is Stewardship Sunday here at East Church?).

But all that said, friends, we need to understand that there’s much more going on in this passage than merely a pitch for the benevolent support of Jerusalem; in fact, in just a few short verses of scripture Paul lays out for us “the way” of faithful giving, and whether it involves our time, talent, treasure or all of life itself, it all really comes down to those very familiar words, “God loves a cheerful giver.”  Now, there’s a whole lot that’s interesting about this verse for me, but just about at the top of the list is the fact that the word translated at “cheerful” is from the original Greek word, hilaron, which is also where we get our word “hilarious.”  So this verse could well be translated as “God loves a hilarious giver;” which, at least in our 21st century parlance, sort of suggests a lack of seriousness on the part of the giver (sort of creates an image of someone running through the sanctuary throwing money in the air while laughing maniacally, doesn’t it; not exactly the wisest approach to stewardship!).  No, in this instance, that word hilaron has to do with delight, as in (and this is how The Message translates it, and very well, I might add), “God loves it when the giver delights in the giving.”  And that’s exactly what’s at the heart of the way of faithful giving: delight!  When you and I give of ourselves delightfully – that is, when we find our joy in that giving – we will most certainly feel God’s pleasure in it.

I hasten to add, however, that Paul is not suggesting any kind sort of false piety here or fake generosity; and he’s certainly not demanding, as a parent might ask of a reluctant child, that we “do it with a smile on our face.”  No; that’s the other message of Paul’s stewardship letter to the Corinthians: that each one “must give as [he or she] has made up [his] mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion.”  The act and intent of giving, you see, always has to be from the heart.  And that’s also borne out in the original Greek of this text: the word used for “decide” or to “make up one’s mind” is actually karia, which means heart and yes, why it’s referred to in a hospital as a “cardiac” unit.  In other words, the true way of giving is not meant to be sorrowful, or forced, or born of necessity, but should be that action of a truly delighted believer; the giving itself ought to be a sustained and joyful response to every blessing that God gives in abundance.

Now, does this mean that if you’re not feeling happy or delighted in giving you ought to give it up? I say this as a preacher of God’s word, but also as a church pastor: Perish the thought!  In the words of a church sign I saw some years ago, “God loves a cheerful giver, but God accepts from a grouch!”  Make no mistake; as persons and a people of faith, giving, in whatever form it takes, is part of our spiritual DNA.  To quote John Calvin here, “For we are not born for ourselves merely, so a Christian… ought neither to live to himself, nor lay out what he has, merely for his own use.”  In other words, for the Christian giving is essential, but the motivation for that giving is… everything.  The right motivation for giving, you see, is what brings us joy, it is what fulfills purpose, it serves as a catalyst for a true generosity of spirit, it’s what creates community and it is what fuels ministries of love and peace in Jesus’ name.  And it’s a blessing… one that when extended ends up blessing you in return.

But, says Paul… and this is a very important point… “the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.”  And I don’t think one needs to be a farmer to understand what that means.

This morning we have had the distinct honor and great joy to dedicate gifts to this church to the glory of God; gifts that were given by a faithful and devoted long-time member of this very congregation, our friend “Effie” Watts. And let me just say once again that while choir robes, tables and chairs, and a clavinova are wonderful, useful and “spirit filled” tools for the ministries of East Church, the true blessing we received came in how it was given to us, in the faithful heart – Effie’s heart – that motivated the giving.  That is a wonderful thing indeed… and I have to say that it’s all served to remind us that in so many ways, who we are as a church – our history, our tradition, our personality (joyous, loving, unique and even at times quirky!), and most especially our shared ministry in the name of Jesus Christ our risen Lord and Savior – all of it has come about as the result of many faithful hearts who have found delight in following Jesus and sowing the seeds of love and faith as they give of themselves to others and to the glory of God, both in this place and out those doors and into the world.  You and I, beloved, we are the recipients of the “surpassing grace of God” that has been given to all the saints, past and present, who have walked the way of faithful giving.

And I’ll tell you something else, in case you haven’t noticed… because of them, and by God’s surpassing grace, we thrive as a congregation here on Mountain Road.  It doesn’t mean it’s all easy and that we don’t have budgetary concerns, because we do; but nonetheless we thrive in this place.  We flourish as God’s people because of YOU, who by that surpassing grace of God give wholly of yourselves with great delight in what God has given you and in joy awaiting what God has yet to do in our midst.

From the bottom of my heart I thank you for that, beloved, and I ask that we all give this matter some thought and prayer as you consider our shared pathway as a church in the coming year.

And as we do, may our “thanks be to God for his indescribable gift.”

Amen and AMEN.

©  2019 Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 

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The Way… of True Worship

(a sermon for October 6, 2019, the 17th Sunday after Pentecost and World Communion Sunday; first in a series, based on 1 Chronicles 16:23-31 and James 5:13-20)

(a podcast version of this message can be found here)

So the question is… why are you even here today?

Seriously… what motivated you to get up out of bed and come to worship on such a beautiful autumn morning as this?  Don’t get me wrong; speaking both pastorally and personally I’m very glad (and grateful!) that you’re here, but I’ll confess this is something I always kind of wonder about!  Have you come here, for instance, out of a sense of gratitude for the ways God has been acting in your life?  Does this place and our time together in worship serve as an oasis, if you will, amidst life’s many difficulties, not to mention respite from a world that that more and more seems to be spinning out of control? Or is it more of a matter of routine for you, something you do simply because it’s Sunday morning?  I don’t know, perhaps you’re here this morning out of some sense of obligation or even guilt; hey, it happens!

Now, I’d like to think that maybe you’ve come here today because in some way or another you’ve found some measure of comfort, inspiration and joy in what happens in our time of worship, and you’ve come seeking more of that:  that you’re needing to hear and to sing music that speaks to the heart and lifts the spirit; hoping perhaps to recognize yourself in scripture or song or prayer; wondering if today the preacher just might say something applicable to your own life (and I’ll be honest, I’m always hoping that’ll happen)!  Or it could be that you’re hoping that being here will help you grow in faith and, to quote the Rev. Christopher Winkler, a Methodist pastor and preacher from Illinois, to live your life a little “more faithfully tomorrow than you did yesterday;” and perhaps by being part of this sacred community of the church you’ll find the kind of fellowship, support and teaching that will help you do that.

Actually, I suspect that truth be told, the reasons that led you to worship here this morning likely encompassed all or parts of this, and so much more besides!  And I hope it goes without saying that it’s all valid; I mean, this all speaks directly to our personality as a congregation and about the vitality of our life together, right?  It’s all about who we are and what we do in the context of Christian worship.  And worship matters; in fact, I think it’s safe to say that our gathering together for worship is the central activity of our life together as the church; some might even argue that it’s our primary reason for being.  But all of this said, friends, I would like suggest to you this morning that the real purpose for our gathering together on this or any Sunday morning, “the Way” of true worship ultimately has little or nothing to do with any of these reasons we’ve been listing off here.  If we are sincerely engaged, as we so often say, in worshiping the Lord “in Spirit and in Truth,” then it’s not  primarily going to be about the style of worship, or the preaching, or the music, or the way we “do” communion, or how we pray, or how long the service lasts, or how great the refreshments are going to be after the service, but simply and wholly in “ascrib[ing] to the LORD the glory due his name… worship[ing] the LORD in holy splendor,” glorifying and praising God for his steadfast love that endures forever.

Without that being first and foremost in our hearts, then all the rest of it?  It’s all very well and good, to be sure, but in the words of a worship consultant by the name of Ken Lamb, it all ends up as “all the wrong reasons for all the right things.”

The great 19th century Danish theologian Soren Kierkegaard used to use the theater as a metaphor for describing how most of us will misunderstand the role and purpose of worship. Kierkegaard would complain that all too often we imagine that the minister is the star actor or actress in a play, with the choir, the musicians and the rest of the worship leaders in supporting roles, and the congregation as the audience of theatergoers. In other words, worship itself becomes too much like a performance, in which those of us “up here” are engaged in offering up something of value to you “down there.”  And, trust me here, that’s not how it should be at all!  In fact, just the opposite; Kierkegaard says that in a proper “act and attitude of worship,” the worship leaders are in fact prompters helping to lead the congregation in offering up their best “performance” of worship and praise unto the God who is, “in the most earnest sense,” Kierkegaard writes, “the critical theatergoer, who looks on to see how the lines are spoken and how they are listened to.”

The way of true worship, you see, is not so much about what we’re getting out of the experience but rather about what we are putting into it!  I’m reminded here of a great story told by Craig Barnes of Princeton Seminary in which he recalled his years of being a church pastor, and how following a service of worship one day a member of the congregation met him at the door to berate him for the his choice of hymns for that day.  “Those songs you picked out were horrible,” she said.  “Not a single one of them were the least bit familiar, the words are all changed and they weren’t even singable… I hated every one of them.”  And to this, Barnes calmly replied, “Well, that’s okay… we weren’t singing them to you.” (I wish I’d thought of that!)  Ultimately, you see, our worship is not for us; our singing isn’t for our benefit nor our entertainment; our prayers of praise and thanksgiving and intercession is never meant to be an act of self-aggrandizement.

It’s about God.  Every part of our worship is to be directed toward and for the praise and glory of God.  I’m here as a prompter, so to speak, as are Kat and Susan and our choir; we are here to prompt your worship of God.  And in that regard as worshippers we’re all the performers, and the Lord God is the audience.  But it’s in that all those gifts grace and healing and forgiveness and wonder come to pass.

Our Old Testament text for this morning from the 1st Book of Chronicles has to do with David’s reclamation of the Ark of the Covenant, which was the container that ancient Israel had created to house the fragments of the stone tablets on which were written the ten commandments (and yes, in case you were wondering, that’s the same Ark of the Covenant that Indiana Jones went searching for in “Raiders of the Lost Ark…” but I digress!).  Biblically and historically speaking, the backstory here is that King David had done just about everything possible to return the Ark to Jerusalem and now it was finally happening; and with much music and shouting and food, not to mention David himself “leaping and dancing,” (15:29), there is this incredible celebration that now, at long last, the Ark – this symbol of who God was to them and everything God had done – the Ark  has been returned and now there would be this place of worship where the presence of God lived amongst his people.  There’s great rejoicing, and it all culminates with David calling the people to thanks and praise for all of God’s wonderful acts, “his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples.  For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised.”  You see what’s happening here?  It’s what one commentator I read this week refers to as “theology set to music;” a song that declares how wonderful God is, sung before the very presence of God!

A celebration of the presence of God amongst us; a joyous affirmation of the movement of God in and through our lives; a much-needed reminder of the reality of God’s unending hope and to give thanks and praise for his power amidst the living of these days:  that is what worship is supposed to be all about.  It’s what informs every part of this time we spend together every Sunday; it’s what my preaching, no matter the text or subject matter, has to be about; it’s why we sing and play the songs we do as a choir and congregation; and it’s what leads us in everything else we seek to be as the church of Jesus Christ, God’s Son and our only Savior.  It’s what makes us who we are as a church and the “Way” that we walk… it is first to ascribe to God the glory due his holy name.

But, of course, that not where it ends.

Our other text for this morning, from the New Testament Letter of James, is another of the so-called “pastoral epistles” that seek to encourage us in the ways that we seek to live as disciples of Christ within (and beyond) the life of the church.  Specifically, it’s about dealing with those are sick or suffering or lost or enmeshed in sin (“Are any among you suffering?  They should pray.”), or even cheerful (!), in which case, a song of praise is in order!  The message here is that “the prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective,” and that’s important to remember; but it seems to me that the larger point is that our prayer and praising, while of first importance and absolutely essential for us as God’s people, is never meant to happen in a vacuum.  We are called to bring true worship unto God and God alone, that is true; but by our worship, we are also meant to be transformed, day by day, more and more into the people God created us to be.  In other words, we should never leave here on a Sunday morning the same way we came in.  In some small, even perhaps at times in a seemingly imperceptible yet nonetheless palpable way, we ought to leave our time of worship feeling different… changed, somehow… challenged in our thinking and living… relieved, maybe, or strengthened, or filled up with something akin to true joy and real love.  Scripture is filled with stories of men and women and entire nations coming into the presence of God and being changed – body and soul and heart and strength – forever; and so it ought to be, each in our own way, with you and me.  What’s the saying about faith being a journey and not a destination?  Well, beloved, it’s God’s presence and power experienced in true worship that sets us forth on that journey.

In just a moment we’ll be answering this divine invitation that’s been given us, joining with countless other kindred hearts on this World Communion Sunday in feasting at the Lord ’s Table, sharing in this wondrous experience of knowing his presence in a simple meal of bread and wine. Now I know that in many ways, our sharing communion today is no different than it is on every other first Sunday of the month when we have communion, and that we have our “way” of having communion that’s wrapped up in tradition and liturgy and “the way we’ve always done it.”  And the truth is, at times I worry that this truly blessed meal becomes for us routine.  I hope and pray that this won’t be the case for any of us today, but that perhaps as we pass the bread from one to another and drink from the cup of blessing we’ll see it as an opportunity to fix our full attention on God; to truly give God our whole thanks and praise for the life abundant and eternal that’s been given us in Christ Jesus; and by our prayers, both spoken and silent, ascribe to God the glory due him.  But then, having been refreshed at this sacred table of joy and life, let us be moved to go… go and become the people that God has always intended for us to be.

This, beloved, will be the way of true worship, and I have no doubt that each one of us, and our world, will be the better for it.

Thanks be to God.

Amen and AMEN!

© 2019  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 

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