Sunday, November 21, 2010

Spiritual Discipline of Worship- 11.21

Harvest Sunday - Spiritual Discipline of Worship

The Lyrics of My Heart by Deborah Belka
With what words shall I compose,
the lyrics of my heart?
I hear them in my mind,
yet, I am not sure where to start.

Shall I arrange them in perfect order,
from the time when we first met?
Or open with the refrain of the day,
You took upon Yourself my debt?

Shall I begin with my appreciation,
with the gratitude I have for You?
Or, perhaps I should open with my love,
ah, yes that is what I ought to do.

For to capture from within my soul,
the melody of my full expression.
I would have to come up with the tune,
of how Your love left its true impression.

Oh, to know what I now understand,
and to see how my love has grown.
You would have to one day meet,
this Man I have loved and known.

For He loved the world so,
and gave to all His only Son.
And that is the greatest love song,
this heart can sing to anyone.

As we gather this morning on our 7th annual HARVEST SUNDAY, we celebrate our gracious God. We worship the Humble King, the one whom we look to in our times of need and our times of plenty.
            At Seattle First Church, today is the last day in our series looking at Spiritual Disciplines. We spent time reflecting on: Solitude, Community, Prayer & Meditation, Fasting, Stewardship, Service, and today we wrap it up with Worship. How fitting, on a day the Global church closes out the calendar year, a day we collectively celebrate Christ as King, the Sunday before Thanksgiving – that we carve out time to spend participating in the Spiritual Discipline, the Spiritual Exercise of Worship!
            I found out this week that speaking on Worship during a worship service is not an easy task. Wrapping our minds around why we do what we do – and its implications – is not an easy task! I’ve found myself asking questions I’m sure many of you have asked as I’ve grappled with what Worship is, and its role in Spiritual formation.
            So what is it about Worship that brings us together each week? I have three basic questions I want us to look at: What is worship? What do we do in worship? and What are the implications of worship on our lives?

What is worship?
Is it merely an hour set aside every week to gather in a building, sing some songs, listen to a message, shake some hands and continue on with our lives? Or is it more?
Praise and worship seems to be universal. Have you ever heard of an explorer finding a new tribe or a culture that doesn't worship? For every person, for every people group - worship is a natural instinct, a basic need, a historical expression. A simple definition of worship is to regard with great devotion or to honor as a divine being. Worship is defined by what we are devoted to.
A great place for us to begin looking at worship is found in the Scriptures. Let’s look at a handful of passages that point us to what and how worship is depicted. I have several verses I’d like us to read. They are: Ephesians 5:19-20, Romans 12:1-2, Psalm 95:1-2, John 4:23, Matthew 22:36-39, Matthew 6:33.   
Seek first his kingdom & his righteousness. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength – and your neighbor as yourself. Worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth. Sing for joy, make music. Offer your bodies as a living and holy sacrifice.
What is worship? Of all those verses we just read – one theme emerges prominently. Each verse speaks to the action of worship. The call to worship – is one that is not stagnant. Worship is a movement. Worship is exciting – life giving – and transforming.

What do we do in worship?
Thinking about worship – how do you worship. What does worship look like for you? What aspects do you like to have as a part of your worship experience, your worship expression?

This morning we have incorporated many different ways for us to express our worship of God. We have singing, live art, a choreographed dance, and we have communion. We have read scriptures and poems. We have prayed and we have one another – a beautiful mixture of lives and backgrounds.
Often when we think of worship, our culture thinks only of singing, and attending church, and praying. These obviously are expressions of worship, ones which we participate in regularly, but I believe worship is more than just those three. Worship is not found only on Sundays or only within a church building. When we honestly look at worship, it’s what our lives ought to be about – a dynamic, everlasting celebration of God. Worship is not an isolated occasional activity, it is a lifestyle.
The call to worship – is one that is not stagnant. Worship is a movement. Worship is exciting – life giving – and transforming.
Worship is not found only on Sundays or only within a church building.
Growing up, the worship services I remember best – most of them were outside, at a camp, in the mountains or on the beach, around a fire. In college – they took place outside in the Greek Amphitheater. I have opened my heart to God in unique ways in buildings, on beaches, in rivers, and in the mountains. God is not limited to a location and he’s not limited to a singular expression! And God does not expect his people to be limited to a location or to a singular expression!
I have been to an art museum and nearly moved to tears as I gazed upon the beautiful depiction of God’s grace. I have sat on the beach, listening to the sound of the waves – enamored by the awesome power of God. I have been on a bus, in a crowd, at a random event – and been blown away by God’s indescribable presence.
In 1999 I sat in a worship service, one I will never forget. I’m sure you have a few that stand out to you! That night I heard the amazing transformative story of an African tribal princess. I don’t know her name. It wasn’t shared with us. You see, it was not safe for her to share her identity incase word got back to her surrounding villages of what she was saying and sharing. I will never forget that night as she told us the story of her conversion from witch-craft to following Christ.
Years before her conversion three Catholic nuns moved near her village. But for fear of their lives, the nuns didn’t share the Good News. They basically just lived in proximity to their neighbors. They didn’t proclaim, they didn’t do anything, they were just there.
As crazy as this sounds, the Princess said It was in a dream that she became aware of Jesus. She woke up freaked out, wondering who that was. As she went about her day, days on end she just thought about Jesus. She began to know him, and speak to him. Not knowing any of the scriptural facts about his life – she became compelled to seek out the nuns and learn from them.
One day she traveled over to the Nuns house and asked them for a bible. To her amazement (and ours) they said no. They thought it was a trick. But she convinced them that she was honestly interested in learning about their book and asked them who Jesus is. Still a little skeptical and afraid, they said he is the Son of God. The Princess replied – yes I know.
You see, God was made known and God was worshiped that day. Out in the fields, at the doorstep of the house, and eventually throughout the whole village God was worshiped. He is not confined to a system, a mountain, or a temple.
The call to worship – is one that is not stagnant. It is active it is moving. Worship is a movement of the Spirit. Worship is exciting – life giving – and transforming.
Worship is not found only on Sundays or only within a church building, and worship is not expressed in only one way.          

What are the implications of worship on our lives?
The Gospel of Luke paints a beautiful description of Jesus entering Jerusalem on Palm Sunday – we hear that the disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” Well some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus: “Rebuke your disciples!” And Jesus replied, “I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”
If we don’t worship, if we don’t praise, if we don’t sing songs, dance, create, break bread, remember – the stones, inanimate objects will cry out. If we don’t worship – the rocks will!
We know Worshiping God is not about us – it’s about turning our hearts to him, sharing our thankfulness, our praise and adoration. We know it is an act founded in Spirit and in Truth.
But what then does worship do as a spiritual discipline?
In God’s upside down kingdom – I believe worship looks and takes on different characteristics than it does in our empirical/regular world. What does it mean to worship the king who came as a servant… who does not sit on a throne idly – but steps into the lives of his people – empowering love? Perhaps our worship is not only about him – but about his transformative power in our lives, readjusting our perspective.
Perhaps as we worship, worshiping the king who came in stable, and rode in on a donkey, we are strategically being swept away from the functions and mindset of this empirical world. Worship in the upside down kingdom varies from worship in the empirical world – While there are similarities of conforming to the images, the differences lie in not being elevated – but becoming a servant.
            As we worship God. As we seek to be more like Christ, like minded, action oriented – holy as he is holy – our very countenance changes from seeking financial or public glory to living the life of a servant, humble, meek. As we worship the Humble King we are drawn into a counter cultural movement where love wins. As we worship the Creator God we are given freedom to dance, sing, proclaim and create, not for ourselves but for the one who loves, and is love.
I believe worship is like our tool box. It’s kind of like going to the gas station/the filling station. We are getting the stuff, the tools, the sustenance, the ability to pick up our cross and follow him. I believe we must practice the exercise of worship because while God is blessed during the process – he is also daily drawing us closer to him. He, like the Wood Carver reminding Punchinello, transforms who we are as we engage in more of him. As we are being drawn to him – we are being reoriented to our true selves – ones of love and compassion, ones where we look not to our own needs, but to the needs of our brothers and sisters.
God cares about us so much, that even the things that are about him – I believe are about us. I might get some flack for saying that. But really – I don’t believe he is an egotistical, narcissistic God who needs our praise. I believe he needs our praise, he needs our worship simply because he cars so much about us. It is in his caring about us, that in worship of him, we can be transformed, re-oriented, purely conditioned in his love.
It is in our worship of him, that we become so much like him – that we begin to see the world as he sees it. It is in our Worship of him, that we become so much like him – that we begin to walk as he walks, talk as he talks, live as he lives, love as he loves. It is in our Worship of God that we are transformed by the renewing of our minds. It is then that we are able to live, putting our individual and corporate action into God’s will – his good, pleasing and perfect will.

On Harvest Sunday, what a great day to be reminded of who we are, what we do, and why we do it. What a great day to have prayers in different languages, art being created, songs of love and joy, and a dance of thanksgiving. Today is a powerful day of worship where we break bread, remembering Christ’s unconditional call of love and justice for all. Today we will not partake in communion in the traditional form found in the cup and plate – rather we have brought clothes, canned foods, and a Thanksgiving meal. Today we bring our harvest of God’s bountiful love to the table. Today we worship, across denominational lines, ethnic backgrounds, and economic diversity – Praising God for his blessings, his presence, and his transformation in our lives. Today we worship that we may continue to be his instruments of peace, and his hands and feet of love.

As we close, I’d like to read A Poem of Worship by Amber Williams

Praise the Lord here in this place.
Praise our God for his wonderful grace.

Tell of his glory, his power and love.
Tell of the one who reigns up above.

Sing and be glad for our God is great.
Sing of the wonders that He did create.

Shout for joy, be glad He is King.
Shout to the Lord, let your praises ring.

Worship the Lord with prayers and with song.
Worship the Lord all the day long.

Love the Lord for He sent his Son.
Love the Lord, His will be done.

Lift your feet and dance around.
Lift your voice, make a joyful sound.

Raise your hands and praise his name.
Raise a prayer- thank God Christ came.

Praise the Lord, our God of love.
Praise the Lord who reigns above.

As you go, worship the Lord in all you do – Go and Love!

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