The St. John’s Pulpit
St. John’s Baptist Church 300 Hawthorne Lane Charlotte, NC 28204
WORSHIP: WELCOME TO THE REAL WORLD
1 Chronicles 16:23-31 and Hebrews 10:19-25
Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost, September 22, 2019
by Senior Minister, Rev. Dennis W. Foust, PhD
A WORD ABOUT WORSHIP TODAY:
This is our second Sunday focused on the theme:
STRENGTHENING OUR CONNECTION WITH GOD’S HEART – A SEASON OF COVENANT RENEWAL:
God’s Mission Is Our Mission
“As my Father sent me, so send I you.”
(Jesus, in John 20:21)
The message begins at approximately 37 minutes.
Last Sunday, we worshipped The Living God by renewing our commitment to be God’s covenant people. Today, we renew our commitment to be a Worshipping Church.
“We will be faithful to the public worship of God, gathering with the family of the Church to celebrate God’s glory and remember God’s grace.”
In this sacred space, our expressions of worship echo the angels who sang at Jesus’ birth,
“Glory to God in the highest.”
And, as John reported in his Revelation, angels were heard,
“…singing with full voice, ‘Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”
Beloved, we have gathered to worship The Living God;
….to celebrate God’s glory and remember God’s grace.
As the family of the Church, please greet one another as a covenant community!
MANUSCRIPT OF THE MESSAGE:
The story is told of Attila the Hun interrupting his ravishing of the ‘civilized’ world.
In the middle of his murdering and plundering, he and his soldiers burst into a monastery amidst the splendor of candlelight and holiness. He noted how the monks were involved in worship and participating in the Holy Eucharist. He ordered his troops into silence and retreated leaving the monastery untouched.
Somehow, even in his disordered and destructive life, there was clarity enough for a brighter light to shine and God’s higher order to emerge through blurred boundaries.
In that moment, Attila the Hun caught a glimpse of God’s real world.
Welcome into sacred space where we catch a glimpse of God’s real world.
We do not gather in this sanctuary to separate ourselves from the real world; we gather to proclaim the real world where God overcomes death with life and despair with hope.
In this very room, we retell God’s Story and breathe God’s Spirit together.
In this sacred space, we gather to reorder our lives according to the reality of God. Welcome to the real world!
Consider God’s Story using the words we use to tell stories: WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, WHY AND HOW (not necessarily in this order).
- CONSIDER WHY WE NEED TO WORSHIP.
Worship contributes to our spiritual transformation by forming God’s reality in us.
Through the seasons of The Christian Year, we retell God’s Story of reality.
Then, we disperse as the scattered Church showing and telling people of God’s reality.
It is no accident that our St. John’s Church Covenant places worship first.
Everything we do as a church is important – but worship is essential!
We are too busy to not stop for the public worship of God.
Worship pushes the reset button for our thoughts, emotions, desires and actions.
Worship re-integrates our easily dis-integrating life and reminds us why we are here.
Worship elevates God’s curriculum for our life above the paths others tell us to follow.
Worship shows us how God views the world and refocuses our perspectives in Christ.
Imagine your parent, partner, spouse or closest friend telling you time together doesn’t matter. Imagine God telling you that time focused on your relationship doesn’t matter.
God does NOT need our worship because God’s ego needs to be fed.
God does NOT need our worship because God’s self-esteem needs a boost.
God needs you to worship God because of your inclination to worship yourself.
Also, other commitments and interests are constantly competing for first place in your life.
Harry Emerson Fosdick was correct: “Preoccupation is the most common form of failure.”
God wants you to be saved from living a life which falls short of God’s will for you.
When you worship, you are more likely to have the will to will God’s will in your life.
These are a few thoughts about WHY we worship.
- CONSIDER WHAT HAPPENS AS WE WORSHIP.
Some of our members are attending reunions of their graduating classes this weekend.
Some of our members have attended homecoming or rival football games this weekend.
Some of our members have attended concerts, movies or dramatic plays this week.
Some of our members have attended art shows or school programs this week.
HOWEVER, YOU SHOULD NOT ATTEND WORSHIP.
When you attend reunions, ballgames, concerts, movies, plays, art shows or school programs, you are the audience. You can be active or passive; but you are observing.
At the end of the game or concert, you hope to be pleased with the performance or score.
Beloved, worship is not a program for you to attend; you do not come to watch.
When we enter this room, we are not to gather as attenders, spectators or an audience.
We enter this sanctuary as players on the field or as performers on stage.
Some of you know of Soren Kierkegaard’s helpful metaphor. He proposes worship as a stage presentation. God is the audience. Worshippers are the actresses and actors. Worship leaders are prompters or directors. This morning, Lee, Ed, Stacey, Noel, Kevin and I are guiding your performance. In other words, what happens up here is not for you to observe as if you are spectators or an audience; it is to prompt your worship of God.
In our entertainment-oriented and crowd-pleasing culture, it is understandable that you enter large spaces like this sanctuary and take your seat as a member of the audience. HOWEVER, YOU SHOULD NOT DO SO; YOU SHOULD NOT ATTEND WORSHIP.
IT IS POSSIBLE TO ATTEND WORSHIP AS A SPECTATOR, RATHER THAN A PARTICIPANT.
YET, YOU ARE RATHER FULL OF YOURSELF IF YOU THINK YOU ARE THE ONE WHO IS THE FOCUS OF OUR WORSHIP. THE FOCUS OF OUR WORSHIP IS GOD ALONE.
You are bombarded by society’s push toward self-centeredness and individualism.
Worship is God’s gift to you so the image of God, as revealed in Jesus, can form in you.
By realizing God is the audience in our worship, we affirm the Divine Mystery Who is God.
During our childhood and teenage years, we may not fully understand worship.
When we were children, we thought we were going to church.
That’s what childish members said.
But, when we grow up, we learn that we cannot go to church; we are the Church.
When we grow up, we stop attending worship and we become worshippers.
These are a few thoughts about WHAT HAPPENS AS we worship.
- CONSIDER WHEN AND WHERE WE WORSHIP.
We gather to worship at 10:30 on Sunday mornings. Yet, there is more to the ‘when.’
With tongue in cheek, we suggest we worship at 10:30 to beat the Presbyterians to the good chicken. Actually, we know it’s so you can get to your Panther’s tailgate on time.
Many hours of preparation are invested to be ready for this hour on Sundays. During the summer, I retreat for two weeks of study leave planning worship themes, prayerfully selecting scripture readings and writing worship notes for the coming year. I give these notes to Kevin. Each Monday, Kevin and I sit down with worship themes, scriptures and possible experiential elements for the next Sunday. He prepares the Chancel Choir and other musicians and worship leaders. The church staff also offers ideas. Kevin is now enlisting members to serve as short-term focus groups to offer input in worship planning.
By the time we get to the final printing of the worship folder on Friday, more than 100 hours have been devoted to preparations for our expression of worship.
You can also prepare yourself for worship. In the early Church, people were encouraged to observe an hour of silence prior to worship in order to be attentive to the Spirit of God. Some households lay out their clothes on Saturday night for the next day. On Sunday morning, they listen to songs and hymns as they prepare to become worshippers.
Worship doesn’t remove us from the world; worship changes how we live in the world.
By preparing to worship prior to Sunday at 10:30, we invest in the real world of God.
This sanctuary offers us a beautiful context as the place WHERE we worship.
Our charter members’ visions and generations of actively faithful stewards provide this sanctuary with a balance of transcendent grandeur and relational warmth.
One of our stained glass roundels depicts a harp. The Bible tells many stories of how music expresses worship unto the Lord. Through instruments and voice, St. John’s offers our worship unto God through music. The fact that our Chancel Choir continues to serve as worship leaders throughout the summer reflects their commitment to our covenant. One of the beautiful scenes in this room is an adult holding a hymnal at a child’s level and moving their finger to teach the ideas to the child. As you sing hymns and songs, you express your commitment to our covenant.
As our deacons lead us in prayer and members lead us in scripture readings, you express commitment to our covenant.
A few times a year, I enter this room and sit in various places. I pray for you and others.
I remember some of the saints who have passed on ahead of us.
I imagine saints who will worship with us in years to come.
I reflect on symbols in the room. I celebrate God’s glory and remember God’s grace.
Yes, this is a beautiful sanctuary; but what makes it beautiful is God’s Spirit alive in you.
These are a few thoughts about WHEN AND WHERE we worship.
- CONSIDER WHO IS INVOLVED IN OUR WORSHIP AND HOW WE WORSHIP.
Our Covenant commitment is,
“We will be faithful to the public worship of God gathering with the family of the Church to celebrate God’s Glory and remember God’s grace.”
Notice who is mentioned in this statement: “We; God; the family of the Church.”
“WE” are a covenant Church. This is not an individual covenant. The word, “I,” never makes an appearance in this covenant. WE will be faithful to the public worship of God.
“GOD:” 1 Chronicles is one of many scriptures calling us to action inspired by God’s holiness. We are told to, “Tell, declare, revere, ascribe, bring an offering, worship, tremble, be glad and rejoice.” We do not give God glory; we celebrate God’s glory.
God already has glory; God is glorious. Glory signifies ‘beyond measure.’
God is purity, light, splendor, majesty, peace, love beyond measure.
“THE FAMILY OF THE CHURCH:”
When you look in the mirror, you are not a solitary individual.
You are part of a family and a circle of friends who are as close as family.
When we gather to worship, we are not merely a collection of individuals.
We gather as part of the family of the Church.
Hebrews calls us to actions inspired by our confidence in Jesus Christ who unites us.
We hold fast to our commitments and encourage one another to loving deeds.
We value the gifts each person brings as each follows the teachings of Jesus.
The word, ‘worship,’ stems from the sailing phrase, ‘worth-ship.’
Imagine a fleet of ships leaving port behind the ‘worth-ship.’
The ‘worth-ship’ had the maps, navigation tools and, most importantly, the captain.
How do we worship? We celebrate God’s glory and remember God’s grace.
We celebrate how the God who is perfect loves us anyway; so we move past our shame.
We remember how God’s grace has been active in our lives this past week.
(Begin a list of all the ways you see God’s grace at work among us today.)
These are some thoughts on the Who, What, When, Where, Why and How of worship.
It is my prayer that in this season of covenant renewal, we will strengthen our connection with God’s heart by renewing our commitment to be a worshipping people.
I send you forth in the tradition of Robert Frost. When he taught at Amherst College, school policies required him to give his students a final exam. So, as the students assembled on the last day of class, he said something like this to them: “Go now into the world and do something which shows how you have been impacted by this experience.”
Beloved, I encourage you to leave this sanctuary and do something which shows you have caught a glimpse of God’s real world. Amen and AMEN!