Because You Care, We Can Worship
"I will praise the Lord as long as I live," proclaimed the psalmist in the assigned psalm for the day from the lectionary, Psalm 146, verse 2. This psalm differs from other psalms. Most of the psalms used in temple worship praise the Lord because of Godís majesty, splendor, dominion, power, and because of Godís mighty deeds in nature, in the world, and in history. But, the author Psalm 146 went to the temple to praise God for Godís acts on behalf of the hungry, the oppressed, the friendless, the blind, the widow, and the orphan. Verses 7-9, "who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets the prisoners free; the Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow." Because of the Lordís compassion and deeds which perhaps the author experienced in his/her own life, and in the lives of those who hurt and suffer, the author cannot contain his worship, "I will praise the Lord as long as I live."
What does worship mean to you? Why do you come to the temple--this sanctuary--to worship?
Do you worship because you are moved by Godís mighty deeds in history, nature, and on behalf of those who suffer by even bringing down oppressive governments and walls?
Do you worship because you are moved by the wonders of Godís creation? Who can gaze on the beauty of Yosemite without at least a thought about the One who made it all?
Do you worship because your heart is full of the goodness of God, because you have been abundantly blessed, and you are grateful?
Do you worship because you love music, and particularly like to worship God with our congregation because of long tradition of excellent music?
Do you worship because you want to hear a good word, because you want to learn something that can help you in the following week?
Do you worship because worship is a family experience, because you were trained in your childhood to worship, and you are continuing the tradition?
Do you worship because you are in need? Last week I visited with a couple who said it had been years since they had worshiped in church. They were neglecting God, but when a good friend was told he had terminal cancer, they were suddenly confronted with their need of God.
Why do you worship? These are all valid motivations for worshiping, but there is another reason why we worship. There is something in each of us that cries out for God, a yearning, a longing. There is something in you that material things cannot satisfy. You were created by God to be in relationship with God. You were created to worship, and when that dimension is denied, your spirit suffers. It shrivels and cries out. Many people do not recognize what is missing in their lives. They know they are searching, but they are not sure what will satisfy them. Oh, if they knew that it is God for whom they long, they could rejoice with the psalmist, "I will praise the Lord as long as I live."
I was impressed on my study leave with the commitment and fortitude of those who worshiped in spite of governments which openly criticized and persecuted. Persecution of Christians is not just a biblical phenomenon. Christians in East Germany and Czechoslovakia worshiped God not because it was easy, not because it was the social thing to do. They worshiped God because their spirits cried out, "I will worship the Lord as long as I live!" They worshiped in spite of social pressure to the contrary. They were taught in school that only the ignorant believe in God. Children were pressured to join communist youth groups. We were told of a third grade boy in East Berlin who was called to the principalís office once a week. Do you remember what it was like to be called to the principalís office? Once a week, he was called out of the class, with the eyes of all his classmates on him, to the principalís office where he was asked why he had not joined the socialist childrenís club. In Czechoslovakia, children of pastors were refused admission to universities. In the work place, Christians were bypassed when job promotions were made.
Yet, the Christians worshiped. "I will praise the Lord as long as I live." Persecution culls out the half-hearted and the half-committed. The numbers who worship may be small, but they mean it. Because of persecution, they know who they are, they know what they believe, they know their loyalties, and their worship is from the heart. There were no pew warmers. Would you worship if your promotion or your childrenís education were in jeopardy?
What does worship mean to you? Worship is more than filling a pew on Sunday morning. Worship is more than coming here expecting to be entertained. Worship is more than feeling good. Worship is more than enjoying an anthem, or hearing a sermon. Worship begins with the inner conviction, "I will praise the Lord as long as I live."
Worship is more than being a spectator, worship is being a participant. You do your own worshiping. We here in the chancel only lead the service. Whether you worship is your decision and your privilege. Worship is something you do, not something that is done to you, or for you. We were invited to dinner once when, after we sat down and the prayer was offered, the hostess waved her hand over the table and declared, "Now, make your meal." She had it right. She did the cooking. She prepared many dishes, but it was up to us to make our meal, to choose what we wanted to eat and how much. She didnít feed us. Dining is not something someone else does for you. You make your own meal.
Likewise, you do your own worshiping. We who are the worship leaders provide the opportunities. The choirs offer music. We are led in prayer, but you do your own praying. No one can do your praying for you. We sing hymns, but you do your own singing. No one can do your singing for you. We provide opportunities for you to praise God, confess and recognize your sins and shortcomings, and receive forgiveness. We read and preach the Word of God, but you have to listen, hear what is said, and appropriate, assimilate and apply. We provide an opportunity for you to respond to Godís work with your offering, but you make your own contribution. No one can do your contributing for you. We invite you to commit your life to Jesus Christ, but you make your own commitment. No one can make your commitment for you.
An added benefit of my study leave was to sit where you sit for several weeks. When I visit other churches, I find it tempting to be critical, or interested to see how they do it, like a chef visiting another restaurant, or a carpenter visiting a new building. When I worship, it is tempting to become a spectator, inspector, or critic, rather than a worshiper. When I was open to the experience, did my praying, sung the hymns to the Lord rather than to the people sitting around me; when I allowed honest introspection, and brought my concerns to the Lord in the company of fellow worshipers, then I worshiped, and I found myself nourished, uplifted, blessed.
Worship is something you do, not something done for you. Worship is what your spirit cries out to do. You were created to worship God, to be in relationship with God as long as you live. Worship is a joy, a privilege, a blessing. You can sit back, be critical or cynical, or you can participate with your whole being, give yourself to the experience, hold nothing back, sing with gusto, (who cares whether you are in tune?) pray with sincerity, laugh with your stomach, cry with your eyes, give with generosity. Then you will worship and find yourself nourished, uplifted, and blessed.
We are privileged to be able to worship in this country without persecution, without social pressure to the contrary. I wonder how faithful I would have been if I had lived in East Germany or Czechoslovakia. But, we are not tested. We have been given the privilege of worshiping.
We are also given the responsibility of worshiping. A transforming church, with the posture of Jesus, arms open, inviting and making disciples, with the world as its agenda, is a worshiping church. A transforming church is grounded in worship and prayer, where our spirits are nourished, our souls fed, our aspirations for God fulfilled.
We have a magnificent sanctuary in which to worship. We have great choirs to sing and ring to God on our behalf, and to help us sing. We have an organ and an organist who feeds the soul. We have as good preaching as you will find in most places. We are privileged here, and we have the privilege to praise the Lord because people have cared, and are caring, to provide this building, provide the funds with which to maintain it, provide funds for worship leaders.
What does worship mean to you? Enough to worship regularly, at least weekly? Does worship mean enough to you to give generously, even sacrificially, so that you and I can worship, can praise the Lord as long as we live!
ã 1990 Douglas I. Norris