Monday, April 10, 2017

A DISCIPLES PATH: The Joy of True Worship

Psalm 100    (NRSV)
A Psalm of thanksgiving.
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.
    Worship the Lord with gladness;
    come into his presence with singing.
Know that the Lord is God.
    It is he that made us, and we are his;
    we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
    and his courts with praise.
    Give thanks to him, bless his name.
For the Lord is good;
    his steadfast love endures forever,
    and his faithfulness to all generations.

As much as we sometimes believe it, the truth is NO ONE can be a FOLLOWER of JESUS all by THEMSELVES.

There is no such thing as a solitary Christian or Disciple of Jesus.

Christianity --- being a follower or Disciple of Jesus is ALWAYS lived out in community.

No matter how hard we try --- we cannot be spiritual or religious without the presence of other people in our lives.

We need each other --- for:
          and accountability

I think E Stanley Jones was right when he said:
"everyone who belongs to Christ, belongs to everyone who belongs to Christ"

While reading McLaren's Book, EVERYTHING MUST CHANGE --- he shared the African concept of ubuntu.  Archbishop Desmond Tutu defined ubuntu as meaning:
"My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in yours. . . . A person is a person through other persons."
Our humanity is found in our connections with other people!
          I am who I am because you are who you are

This is the whole example of Jesus --- his life was lived in community
·         He calls 12 very ordinary men to be his first Disciples
·         He promises that whenever two or three gather he would be among us
·         As he and his disciples shared a last meal together Jesus even seemed to raise Christian friendship to a sacramental level when he said:

John 15:15   (NRSV)
I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.

And when Paul told the Disciples in Corinth:
1 Corinthians 12:27   
Now you are the body of Christ and each one of you is a part of it.

Or as the author of Hebrews reminds us of the need for community
Hebrews 10:23-25   (NRSV)
Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

You understand that there is a problem with this idea?
          This goes totally counter to everything in our culture.

We live by a "do it yourself" --- "pull yourself up by the bootstraps" mentality

But that is not the message of the Gospel

One of my favorite passages of Scripture ---- one that I often use at weddings because the image of community is so powerful is found in the book of Ecclesiastes
Ecclesiastes 4:9-12   (NRSV)
Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up the other; but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help. Again, if two lie together, they keep warm; but how can one keep warm alone? And though one might prevail against another, two will withstand one. A threefold cord is not quickly broken.

When John Wesley began, what became known as the Methodist Movement, one of the things that he did very early was to organize people into small groups.  The purpose of these groups was to do all those things that the author of Hebrews talked about.
provoke one another to love and good deeds, . . . encouraging one another

One of the things that Wesley observed was that those who were active participants in these small groups continued to grow in their faith while those who were not involved often would fall away.

The same seems true today.

If somebody's only contact with the church is worship, there is a pretty good chance that that person will fall away --- or even sadder, miss out on the care and concern of the church community.

Growth as a disciple happens best when each individual is connected to others in the community through a small group

Currently there are a bunch of opportunities for you to connect --- if you so choose, but this fall we will be making a big push to invite you to join a house or what I call an affinity group.

But the place that I want focus, or start this morning is the entry point for most people when they decide that they want to inquire about what it means to follow Jesus --- and that is worship.

Mike Slaughter, pastor of one of the larger UM Churches made this true but sarcastic comment on his twitter page:
          "Curious crowds don't equal committed disciples"

What makes a committed Disciple is one that participates not only in worship, but seeks opportunities to further their spiritual growth.

I have people tell me all the time that they are spiritual, but don't have any use for the church.

As I have already shared --- I think they are missing the most important part of the church --- supporting and encouraging each other.

But more than just that --- worship isn't a solitary experience.

I have had some profound experiences of the divine while watching the sun rise and set ---- particularly over the ocean.
          That experience just opens me up to God

And I have even had those experiences by myself --- but something is missing when I cannot share them with others.

Just about a year ago, I was making a round trip journey here to Indianapolis. 

On my way back to Munster, as I was nearing the wind farm along I65 the sun was just setting. 
It was so beautiful, I had to stop and take a picture.
But I also had to share it --- so I took a few minutes and posted it online, but also sent it to Nancy and the girls

I don't believe we can experience the fullness of Christian worship by ourselves.

It is in coming together --- sharing our common journey ---- that we experience the power of God.

But one of the main reasons we gather together to worship is to be able to proclaim the Word together.

We are the people of the BOOK --- we have a story to tell.

When we come together to worship, we come together to tell the story.

And we do this through a variety of means

We tell the story of what God has done and is doing through Jesus and us!

We tell the story that shapes us as disciples of Jesus.

We tell the story to invite others to join us on the journey.

Regardless of HOW we tell the story ---- We tell the story to help us find our place within the story so that God's story becomes our story!

But the story is just empty words if we don't do anything with it.

Once we receive the story, we are called to respond to it!

You have probably heard the story before about the guy who was always falling asleep in church.
One Sunday the pastor wanted to try and teach him a lesson, so when the man was asleep he said rather quietly to the congregation:
"Everybody who wants to go to heaven, raise your hand."
Everybody quietly raised their hands --- except for the one guy who was sound asleep.  Then the Pastor shouted:
"Everybody who wants to go to hell, STAND UP!"
The man, startled, jumped up, looked around, and said:
"Preacher, I'm not sure what we are voting on, but it looks like we are the only two in favor of it."

That's not the kind of response that I am talking about.

We are invited to respond to God's word in a number of ways.

One of the ways that we are invited to respond is in thanksgiving to God for all that God has done in our lives and for our commitment to Jesus.

And that brings us to the offering.

Wesley said that the offering should be after the Proclamation of the Word --- as a response to the Word.

Now, we do it earlier in the service, but regardless, where it is placed in the order of worship  --- The purpose of the offering is not to raise money for the church.

The giving of our gifts is symbolic of giving ourselves.

It is the act of worship in which we say thanks to God for all that God has done in Jesus and in which we once again affirm our commitment to Jesus by pledging our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service and our witness.

We are called to respond to God's love --- to God's story.

Worship, then concludes with what we call the Benediction --- it is a final blessing, but it really is a sending forth.

Having heard God's story we are called to take that story of love out into the world and share it.

Worship is sort of like the locker room of a sports team.
          We gather together to get fired up on the love of God in Jesus.
          We are sent out of the worship service to share that powerful love!

Can one be a Christian and not participate in worship
          Not really

Worship matters

It matters because it is one of the disciplines that helps shape us into the likeness of Jesus.

It matters because our presence may be the very thing that God uses to strengthen, encourage, challenge and bless one of our brothers or sisters.

It matters because it prepares us to go out into the world to share God's unconditional love and God uses us to help transform the world.

So make a joyful noise to the Lord and worship God with gladness. 

Because God's steadfast love --- endures forever!

No comments: