Marks of discipleship Week 2: Weekly worship
Sermon published by Pastor Joel Pukallus
The second in our series of sermons on the marks of discipleship is about weekly worship. So isn’t it fantastic timing, that for the people of St Marks Lutheran church here in Dalby, this is the first week that we have come back to doing worship almost exactly as we did before the covid-19 pandemic hit? And we will now be worshipping again every week. But if you are not able to worship every week, based on your circumstances, I would like us to hear this as talking about REGULAR worship, taking the opportunity to come into he presence of God in a special way as often as we can.
Amongst all the hardships of this year, there have been some benefits, and one of those is to be able to step back and analyze how we view certain parts of our faith-lives, how we view Holy Communion and why it is important, AND to ask the question, what is worship?
Many groups in society today like to believe that there is no difference between humans and animals. Not intelligence, or personality. But there is no getting over this fact. There are no animals that worship. No concept of God among primates or simple animal life forms.
To be fully human is to worship.
I do not usually read long quotes from any books in my sermons, but this one really spoke to me about the nature of worship. It is from one of the source books for this material, Real Faith for Real Life, by Mike Foss ( page 41.)
The sacred meeting time called worship happens when God’s sabbath gift to us meets our reverence, and praise is our response to this giver and gift. The human soul that does not worship shrinks into itself. That which was created to house eternity, that part of us that longs to be embraced by forever, shrinks to the confines of its own desires. All we need to do is imagine those cultures that have forbidden worship to see how they have sunk into the ugliness of selfishness- with all of its consequent greed and tyranny.
Worship is essential to the beauty and life of the soul. Sabbath is God’s wonderful affirmation of the best of being human- not what is perfect, but what is best. The best within us is awakened in this presence. Few people feel as fully alive as those who have truly worshipped.
So weekly worship is the second practice of discipleship. This Mark of Discipleship is an invitation to meet God… and the best in ourselves.
All human beings are created with a need for God and for one another. St. Augustine (354- 430AD) had this to say, “God has made us for Himself and our heart is restless until it rests in Him.” This is our reality. We will always have a restlessness in our soul until we find our rest in God.
But, how we live that out matters.
In our society we tend to confuse a personal relationship with God with a private relationship with God. There is, however, no Biblical basis to affirm the notion of a ‘private faith’. Each disciple, though called personally, was called into a community. As long as we think Christianity condones a private faith it is easy to deny our need for corporate worship (worship together).
And I believe that the restrictions of this year have shown this to us very clearly.
For a while now, we have been showing our youtube services in the church, and then taking part in a rite of Holy Communion afterwards.
Now, as far as Lutheran Theology is concerned, this is all the fullness of the worship experience. We have two high points in the traditional worship service, the service of the Word, which involves the readings and Sermon, and the service of Holy Communion.
We had the service of the word initially, as we quickly pivoted to services on youtube, as well as hand-delivering the service in printed form to many of our members, and then eventually we were able to partake in Holy Communion together as well, as we took the first steps in transitioning back to worship in the church. So according to our theology you would think that this would be all that we would need, wouldn’t you? (Word, and Sacrament) But there has still been something missing for so many people.
And what has been missing is this: OTHER PEOPLE! The whole congregation.
And this proves to us, doesn’t it, that the Faith life is about connectedness to others, it is about living our faith out communally. Some people have started watching the worship services on their own, or as a family, but after a while for many the idea has gone cold and the fire has gone out. It’s not as much fun to sing on your own, when all you can hear is yourself. In a church full of people if you don’t want to sing or if that is not one of your gifts you can be quiet and just listen to the praise all around you. It is uplifting!
During this time of “Worship isolation” it seems that those who have been involved in Home Groups have generally fared better spiritually than those who are more isolated, and some Home Groups have indeed thrived, and new ones formed in this time.
So the question for me is: “Now what”? How does our time apart enrich the future of our time together? And just like last week the challenge was to put that time aside for prayer, the challenge today is to come to worship with expectations. (And this is the same whether you are coming here in person or worshipping at home)
When you sit down to worship, expect to see and hear God at work in this worship time. They say we often find what we look for. If we expect to be bored, we probably will. If we expect to see the Holy Spirit working faith in us through his word, and to see the wonderful freedom of sins forgiven, to see the image of God in the faces of those leading or those around us, to see the God-given gifts with which he has blessed his people being used in his service, in music, reading and prayer, then we will find them. These things are there happening every week whether we look for them or not.
What is your relationship with worship? What do you expect to see when you sit down to worship? What SHOULD you expect to see? How can you make the worship experience more special for those with whom you share a church? A loungeroom?
We as Lutherans believe, to quote a book called reclaiming the “L” word, that I quoted when I first came to this Parish, we believe that God always comes down. He comes down to us in a special way in worship. We give a little bit back, but it is nothing compared to what rains down upon us in worship. And we enjoy this, as much as possible together.
You may be able to be Christian without ever going to worship in a church. But I can’t. Jesus worshipped often. I can’t do without it. I need it. I need it to reconnect, to God and others. To be fed, to be forgiven, to be blessed.
Use it, please. Come as often as you can, whether online or in person. Feed your soul, be fully human, as we interact with the God who made us to be in relationship with him, and each other.