Great Ends of the Church-Worship (Psalm 96)

This is the third week of our sermon series on the Great Ends of the Church, as the book History and Theology in the Book of Order says, “The great ends of the church refer to the mission of the community called Christians. These six great ends or purposes provide a concise formulation of how we Presbyterians understand our mission as church.”[1]

The Great Ends of the Church are:
·      The proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of humankind
·      The shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the children of god
·      The maintenance of divine worship
·      The preservation of the truth
·      The promotion of social righteousness
·      The exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the world

So far we have discussed the proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of humankind and the shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the children of God. Today we will dissect and dive into the maintenance of divine worship.

Divine worship? Wow, what makes it divine? What makes it divine for you?

Is it an organ? Is it a big choir? Is it a soloist? Is it congregational singing? Is it a riveting sermon by an amazing preacher? Does it involve raising your hands? Is it outside? Is it when you’re by yourself? Is it with your family? Is it in pews? Is it in chairs? Is it a pastor in a robe? What makes it divine?

In our scriptures today we hear about singing to the Lord a new song over all the earth. We hear about the world declaring the greatness of God. We hear about the heaven celebrating, the trees, the seas, the countryside rejoicing. So it sounds like to me that worship is occurring all around us. Whether that’s a rushing river, a flowering plant, a tree bearing fruit, a recently planted field beginning to grow the entirety of heaven and earth are called to worship.

I thought it might be helpful if we define our terms, so at least for this interpretation we are all working from the same definition.  

First let’s look at the term divine. This is from the Merriam-Webster dictionary.

a : of, relating to, or proceeding directly from God or a god<divine love>
b : being a deity <the divine Savior>
c : directed to a deity <divine worship>[2]

Now let’s look at how worship is defined by Merriam-Webster.

1chiefly British : a person of importance —used as a title for various officials (as magistrates and some mayors)
2: reverence offered a divine being or supernatural power; also : an act of expressing such reverence
3: a form of religious practice with its creed and ritual
4: extravagant respect or admiration for or devotion to an object of esteem <worship of the dollar>

Now let’s see how worship is described in the Book of Order’s Director for Worship.

“Christian worship joyfully ascribes all praise and honor, glory and power to the triune God. In worship the people of God acknowledge God present in the world and in their lives. As they respond to God’s claim and redemptive action in Jesus Christ, believers are transformed and renewed. In worship the faithful offer themselves to God and are equipped for God’s service in the world.”[3]

Now that we’ve defined our terms the question comes how do we maintain divine worship?

The only way I am certain we maintain worship is through community.

Community with God, community with our neighbors, community with the world; God calls us to be in community. It starts in Genesis 1 and flows throughout the scriptures through Revelation. That being said there are certain times that we are need of worship on an individual basis. Luckily, our Book of Order has some instructions regarding the whole gamut. Let’s look at those.

Daily personal worship is a discipline for attending to God and accepting God’s grace. The daily challenge of discipleship requires the daily nurture of worship. Daily personal worship may occur in a gathered community of faith, in households and families, or in private. Scripture, prayer, self-offering, and commitments to service are elements of daily personal worship. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are by their nature communal, but preparing for and remembering these Sacraments are important in daily personal worship. An aspect of the discipline of daily personal worship is finding the times and places where one can focus on God’s presence, hear God’s Word, and respond to God’s grace in prayer, self-offering, and commitment to service.[4]

Sometimes I wonder if we get too caught up in the how we worship rather than THAT we worship. That we stop for a moment or two at least every day and give thanks to God for the gifts in our life. Some days are easier than others.

The other day my family and I were just driving around. We were just getting to know the town a little bit. We went off on a gravel road and then all of a sudden we were out on Pumpkin Ridge and WOW!!! That was easy to stop and look and worship, even for a minute. When we are looking outside trying to decide whether or not to go to the basement might be a little harder to worship or as we sit in the hospital waiting room waiting for news of our relatives, it’s hard to maintain worship.

I know there are many different styles and ways to worship. I know that I have some of my favorites but I think that is less important the style in which we worship, the important key to maintenance is the attitude and energy we bring to worship.

There was a man who woke up late, his hot water was out, he was out of milk, he cut himself shaving, his gas tank was on empty. When he finally got to the worship service they had already shook hands and the pastor was in the middle of announcements. Then there was a baby that wouldn’t stop making noise, the choir was off key, the special music wasn’t special at all. The sermon was too long and didn’t make sense, the hymns were obscure and nobody sang. Finally, mercifully the worship service ended and the man, grumpy, wondering why he even bothered coming to worship that day turned to the man next to him to at least be courteous. The man was crying and blowing his nose, he had the biggest smile on his face and joy shining through his puffy eyes. He said, “That was the most meaningful service I have ever been to! I’m so glad that I was here to experience that! The choir sang like angels, the little boy reminded me of my grandson, I think the pastor was speaking to me personally through that message. They hymns were so perfect! That was divine!” The grumpy man shook his hand and walked away, dumbfounded. How could he have enjoyed that?

We come to worship with different baggage, with different spirits, with different expectations. What makes worship divine is the recognition that we are in this together, with each other, with God, with our community. In order to maintain divine worship, we must realize that ultimately it isn’t about us. Certainly, we have needs and wants and sometimes those will be touched and fed and other times all we need to do to worship, to truly worship, is to show up and be. Be with God, be with each other,

May it be so.

[1] History and Theology in the Book of Order: Blood on Every Page. Chapman, William. Witherspoon Press. 1999. Pg. 10
[4] Ibid (W 5.2001)