Seward United Methodist Church
Monday, December 17, 2018
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Fixing Church 5: Worship

1 John 5:1-6 and Deuteronomy 6:1-9

I never served in the military, but I have to assume that the author of this study, Bill Kemp, knows that this is true: In the military, you are not allowed to have public displays of affection, PDAs, while in uniform, not even between husband and wife. The understanding is that a PDA is not appropriate while in uniform. Well, worship is a PDA that disrupts what is uniform, that is “normal” or conforming, in our lives.

What is the purpose of worship? It reorients our lives. It orients us from self to God. Worship trains us to undo our selfishness, our competitiveness, and our “me first” focus. Worship helps us to shift our mindset and see life from God’s point of view. I think worship is essential. We need worship to remind ourselves that life is not all about us. Worship puts God back in the center of life and living.

Some might say, “I don’t have to worship to be a good Christian. I can just do the things that God wants me to do on my own.” Are we really required to worship? Well, are husbands and wives required to display affection towards each other? In both private and public? No, it’s not required. But it would be strange if they never did. We would question the relationship of a husband and wife who never displayed any affection for each other.

Affection improves relationship. And relationship with God improves discipleship, our willingness to follow and obey Christ. So if we want to have a good life of discipleship, then we should worship.

Public affection improves private affection, and vice versa. So a good worship life in public will improve our private life of devotion, and a good devotional life will improve our experience of public worship.

Worship is about having a good emotional connection to God. Deuteronomy 6:5 is one of the verses of Scripture that is lifted up as an example of the heart and soul of biblical piety. “We must love the Lord with all our heart, soul, and strength.” These words refer to the whole being. Our heart is our affections, our emotions. The soul is our mind, our rational being. And our strength is our physical being, our actions. We are to love God with all our being.

Our chief mistake in worship is that we focus too much on our own preferences. When we are asked, “Was it a good worship experience?” our most likely response is,

“Well, I liked this” or “I didn’t like that.” And many churches are torn apart by so-called “worship wars,” most often over the kind of music used in the worship services. The problem is that then we are focusing on what we like and not on the purpose of worship, creating that emotional connection to God and bringing God glory through our whole-being love for him.

Now it is true that appropriate PDAs are influenced by culture. Worship in a typical white, middle-class American church looks quite different than worship in a rural African church, because the cultures are so different. And it’s not that one is right and the other is wrong. Pentecostals jumping up and down and rolling in the aisles are no more in love with God than quiet, stoic Quakers.

Worship should resonate with the culture, but not just the culture inside the church. It also has to resonate with the culture in the community outside the church. Our love for neighbor should mean we are willing to step out of our comfort zone for the sake of our neighbor. Maybe you don’t like that certain style of music. But if that music helps your neighbor to connect with God, then for the sake of love of neighbor, you should welcome it. And the failure to do that is what leads to “worship wars.”

Ideally, each part of worship has the proper emotional tone and they all work together. Sometimes the tone is joyful and other times it’s mournful and somber. Sometimes it’s quiet and reverent; other times it’s loud and exuberant. Worship guides us and accompanies us on the journey of life, and there are many different emotions in that journey.

What is required for worship? What has to be done in order for there to be a time of public worship?

First, there has to be Scripture, the Word of God, and it has to be presented in a way that speaks to daily life. We heard earlier from Deuteronomy 6, which reminds us that effective “religious education” is life-oriented, and not just information-oriented. Effective religious education happens in the context of daily life. And I don’t think that we should miss that the primary place of study and teaching for God’s Word is the home, not the “sacred assembly.” We should view the hour of public worship we spend here as a “nutritional supplement” to a daily diet of God’s Word, and not the only meal.

Second, worship requires prayer that is taught and practiced as effective. And in order for us to see prayer as effective, we need to hear not just the requests, but the answers. Our prayer time should be about our needs and God’s provisions.

Third, affection for God has to be expressed. Most often we do that through song, but that doesn’t have to be how it’s done. Sharing our testimonies is a powerful way to express our affection for God.

Fourth, there must be a welcoming spirit. We heard earlier from 1 John 5, which reminds us that our love for God and our love for God’s children are inseparable. We can’t express love for God without also demonstrating that we love each other.

And finally, the sacraments, baptism and the Lord’s Supper, must be present, not necessarily every time we worship, but they have to be there. 1 John also reminds us that Jesus is revealed as God’s Son in the water of baptism, and the blood of the cross, which is represented in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.

 

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