"Treasure In Clay Jars" series
WORSHIPPING GOD FOR THE SAKE OF THE WORLD
PATTERN OF FAITHFULNESS #5
Worship. Do we ever stop and consider the significance of this hour on Sunday? I know I do. I think about it quite a bit. And yet, I know that this assembly has significance an importance beyond anything I can plan. I have learned over the years that ... Some Sundays will be very special. Some will be very ordinary. Some of you are uplifted and some of you will be discouraged. Some of you are about to hear something that may change your life forever and some of you are just trying to calm a fidgety child.
Worship. It is the at times the most spiritual and transcendent event of our week, and at other times it is the most mundane and human. And thought we always want worship to be on the holy mountaintop, worship will sometimes take place in the ordinary spaces in the halls of our schools, around the water cooler at work, in the shopping mall, downtown at the corner of forgotten streets.
Jesus met a Samaritan woman at the hub of her city the local well. And in the midst of business and daily chores worship broke out. Jesus met an outsider to the house of Israel a Samaritan woman and they began to talk about eternal life, her life, and family and (wouldnt you know it) they talked about worship. So are we supposed to worship on the mountain or in the temple? she asked Jesus.
Jesus answered, 21Jesus replied, "Believe me, the time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father here or in Jerusalem. 22You Samaritans know so little about the one you worship, while we Jews know all about him, for salvation comes through the Jews. 23But the time is coming and is already here when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for anyone who will worship him that way. 24For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth. (John 4)
Worship in spirit and truth. Jesus invited the Samaritan woman and all of us who hear his teaching to understand worship in a new light. Worship isnt the little insider club for the saved. But neither is it a recruitment rally to draw in the outsiders and get them saved. God is looking for anyone who will worship him in spirit and truth. What does this mean? Well, when you place this statement of Jesus in the context of God sending his son (John 3) and the life that we live as we participate in the life of the son, then worship has something to do with living the true life of a disciple and being a part of a people who are gathered together by the spirit of God.
It sort of turns worship inside out from the way we often think of worship because we see that worship is really at the center of Gods mission to turn the inside out. You see, God is the focus of the worshipper of every worshipper and of course the focus of the whole worshipping community. And the focus of God is the whole world. Hes not just looking for his core group of insiders, no he wants the whole world to come to worship. So our worship takes place in a sort of glass house with wide open doors and everyone is welcome to worship.
That way of thinking of worship cuts against the grain of some of our typical assumptions about worship. We often think that worship is ...
- Worship is private. Consider the language we use to prepare ourselves for worship. We often strive to forget the cares and worries of the world. I wonder if that is really what God intends? When Jesus speaks with the Samaritan woman, he brings up all her cares and worries. He makes mention of her five husbands and he isnt diplomatic about it hes really just abrupt about it. But maybe thats because worship in spirit and truth isnt about pretense dressed up as privacy. Worship isnt a fashion pageant nicely divorced from the realities of the world we live in. When we encounter the God who is passionately trying to rescue the world we may find that he has little time for pomp and circumstance but like the awesome God he is he is engaged in a mission that calls upon all of us to be very serious and very genuine about the matters of life and death in which we find ourselves.
- Worship is personal. Of course when worship turns inside out that is to say, when we become aware of the passion of our God who loves a lost world it cuts against the grain of the assumption that worship is a user-friendly service just for me. This is the typical assumption that worship is personal. Consider the ways evaluate worship: Even if we are kind we might say, Well it wasnt what I was used to, or I didnt really get anything out of it. Now that doesnt mean we shouldnt have some high personal expectations of worship. There is no justification for defending pitiful, lazy, mediocre worship by saying Worship isnt about what you get out of it but what you put into it. That statement may be true, but when no one wants to put anything into worship it suffers. We need high expectations, but not as critics of how others perform, rather we need to expect something out of one another. We need to work together to build one another up. If you witnessed any of the Air Show this weekend you saw aviation teams that demand the most of one another. Worship isnt personal in the sense that we are spectators, rather we are all participants in praising God before a watching world.
- Worship is about preference. In America, we have all been told that you can worship at the church or synagogue of your choice. And choice is often the key word. We have heard of worship wars. These are often wars over preference in worship style and not really about doctrine or faith (after all, churches with praise teams and churches with shape notes all worship Jesus). Because we are such individuals and such consumers, we tend to think that worship is just another personal choice. Another pursuit that fits our preferences and please understand that all of us have preferences. Everyone has preferences except for me because my preference is the right way to do it. (Get it?). Two stories: 1) I spoke to an elderly woman who attended a church where the preacher wore khakis and a golf shirt. She said, I just cant used to a preacher not wearing a suit and tie. I asked why and I appreciated her honest answer. Its just what I am used to I guess thats all. 2) The custodian of one of my congregations would find cards that people had used to write notes during the less thrilling portions of worship. One card was obviously written by some teens that were visiting with their friends. It said: This churchs style is so old-fashioned Yeah! Its so 1990s. And this was in 1999!
We can get so distracted by these that we miss out on what worship in spirit and truth. Worship that participates in Gods mission is ...
- Worship is proclamation - (2 Corinthians 4:5-6 - For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake.) In worship we proclaim certain things. Whenever we eat and drink the Lords Supper we proclaim the Lords death and affirm our hope that he will come again. When we preach the word of God we are proclaiming that this is the truth that shapes our identity and shapes our community. The church in worship is the church in mission you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9)
- Worship is political - Please pay attention to me on this one! It is ingrained in our culture that politics and religion do not mix. We are not comfortable with politics in the pulpit. I am not talking about using the worship assembly to advance political agendas. That is too mundane and mediocre of an agenda for worship. But worship is political in the sense that it participates in kingdom politics. In ancient times worship was viewed as politics. In the first century when Christians affirmed that there was no Lord but Christ they found themselves at odds with the Roman Empire. The governments of nations like Laos and Vietnam understand that worship is political. Their authoritarian rule is threatened by a people who pledge their allegiance to the Lord Jesus. (Read Acts 4:23-31.) Is our worship any less political because we worship in America? No, thankfully our nation allows us freedom to worship, but do we realize that our God calls upon us to place his rule above the rule of our government. We are pledging our ultimate allegiance to God and his kingdom when we worship.
- Worship is public - (ekklesia) an assembly of the citizens regularly summoned, the legislative assembly. Why would the early church choose this term to refer to their assembly? Terms with a more religious connotation could have been used. I think they chose this term because their worship was not a mystery cult or insider club but a public assembly for the Kingdom of God and all the world is invited. Paul seems to understand that the worship of the church is open to the public. In 1 Corinthians 14 23So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and some who do not understand or some unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind? 24But if an unbeliever or someone who does not understand comes in while everybody is prophesying, he will be convinced by all that he is a sinner and will be judged by all, 25and the secrets of his heart will be laid bare. So he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, "God is really among you!"
I recall a story a colleague told me about worship in India. They do not worship closed off from the general population in a place of comfort and privacy. Rather, they gather outside often around a tall tree where they can hang a lantern and the faithful gather to worship. And along with them come on-lookers and spectators who simply watch. No one can really tell where the church folk end and the on-lookers begin. And part of the reason for that is that the circle is ever widening because those who start on the outside looking in find their way inside as they too become disciples and begin to worship the God who seeks worshippers in spirit and truth.
West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 26 March 2006
Treasure in Clay Jars
Lesson Six: Pattern 5 March 26, 2006
Worshipping God for the Sake of the World
What is this lesson all about?
- You will perceive how worship is directed toward God rather than directed toward insiders or outsiders.
- You will understand that mission and worship are closely connected.
- You will explore the public and communal implications of God-focused worship.
- You will explore how worship celebrates Gods presence and Gods promised future by focusing the church on both memory and hope.
- You will explore how memory and hope inform our practice of communion, the ministry of the word, prayer, praise, and other worship activities.
Searching the Word:
- Recall a time that worship was particularly meaningful to you.
- Can you remember worship services in and around the time of 9/11? Tell these stories then reflect on the following:
- How did worship become very public then?
- How was it ekklesia or public assembly?
- How is this different from our assumptions about worship being private, internal, and spiritual (to the exclusion of physical)?
- When you visit a new church, what do you look for? What helps you find your way around?
Making It Real: Exploration and Response
- Discuss the following texts that show how worship is a public witness to the reign of God as well as an opportunity for identity formation:
- Genesis 12:1-9. God calls Abraham to participate in his mission within the world. When Abraham arrives in the land of the Canaanites he builds an altar to the LORD and worships.
- Exodus 12:1-16. Notice how the Passover worship is public in nature. What does this worship communicate to the watching world? How does it shape the identity of the participants throughout generations? How does it proclaim the reign of God?
- 1 Corinthians 14:22-25. How is worship open to both insiders and outsiders? What should God-focused worship communicate to the watching world? (Notice the anticipated response of the unbeliever in v. 25).
- What are the symbols and expressions of allegiance and values that are present in various ways in our worship?
- Exploration Strategy: Take a field trip through the worship center of our congregation (either mentally or physically). What symbols of allegiance are present? (Be sure and notice utilitarian items such as clocks, etc.). What rule or reign is being proclaimed through these symbols? What powers and principalities are acknowledged?
- Consider the order of worship for your congregation. Consider the words and phrases that comprise worship for your congregation. What allegiance and reign is being proclaimed? How would an unbeliever respond to what we proclaim in worship? (Notice: Focus on what we actually proclaim, not on what the unbeliever might think about our style).
- Consider how believers worship in countries that persecute Christian believers. What do the governments of countries that persecute worshippers understand about worship as a political act? Why would it be any different in the U.S.? [For information on persecuted churches see www.persecution.com]
- Discuss how worship sustains and shapes the identity of the church that is gathered and called by Gods missional activity.
- What assumptions set the agenda for worship in our congregation? How do we decide the content and structure of worship?
- What worship activities enable us to experience Gods presence in worship?
- Discuss this statement: The churchs worship is not about itself but about God.
- Do we typically view worship as being for our benefit or is directed toward God? How would God-directed worship actually benefit the church? Can you imagine ways that it might be more satisfying than worship aimed at meeting our needs?
- Explore how memory of Gods acts and hope in Gods promised future inform our worship.
- Exploration Strategy: Use a table with columns labeled memory, hope and witness and rows with various acts of worship (add those that are particular to your context). Use this to discuss the various ways that worship shapes our identity and serves as a witness to the world.
(What memory about Gods act or character does this worship act recall?)
(What promise or hope about the future does this worship act inspire?)
(What does this worship act communicate to the watching world?)
The Lords Supper|| || ||
Sermon|| || ||
Singing|| || ||
Confession|| || ||
Baptism|| || ||
[Add other acts]|| || ||
- Discuss what it means for worship to be public without thinking of worship as seeker-sensitive or worship evangelism or insider motivation.
- Imagine you are hosting your traditional Thanksgiving Dinner for family and new friends are joining you. Would you change anything for the sake of your friends? Would you continue with your traditions? How would you help your friends feel welcome even though they lack the understanding of your family traditions? How does the presence of new friends enable your family to appreciate their tradition? How does it renew and change tradition? How is Gods presence communicated at your Thanksgiving meal? Would the new friends understand that communication?
- What parts of our faith can be adapted to welcome those who know nothing about Jesus? Musical styles, attire, meeting times, avoiding strange words (i.e. - thee, thou, foyer, pew).
- What parts of our faith cannot be adapted? What are the things we need to maintain, even though we know it is difficult for a non-Christian to embrace? Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead, and now he calls us to follow him by denying ourselves and serving others.
- Pray for some people God is trying to reach in our community. By name, if you know.
- Ask God to make us more aware of what our assemblies communicate to outsiders.
- Pray for the guests who will attend our next worship service.
- Pray for our group to live in a way that is inviting to non-Christians.
- Pray for persecuted churches. What can we do in our worship to bless and intercede for those churches - publicly? How can their public witness inspire us in our public witness of worship?
- Read I Corinthians 14:26 aloud.
- Pair up kids & adults one-on-one and answer the following questions:
- What is something that is good about worship?
- What is something that is difficult about worship?
- What are we trying to accomplish in worship? Why is it worth our time?
Special Discussion: Inside Out Worship
Use the graphics in Appendix to introduce the biblical relationship between worship and mission. By
compartmentalizing the activities of the church we have begun to think too rigidly about what is for insiders and what is for outsiders. It has created an us and them way of thinking that hampers our participation in Gods mission in the world. This rigid us and them way of thinking is seen most vividly in two typical misconceptions about the relationship between worship and mission.
- Slide 1: Inside and Outside The first, and probably the most prominent, view is a traditional one that for the purpose of discussion we will call the Inside and Out view. The inside and out approach views worship as the activity for those inside the church which spiritually empowers them for the task of mission which is limited to work outside the church.
Slide 2: Outside In The outside in approach responds to the conventional approach by bringing the outside mission activity of the church inside to the worship assembly. In this approach the worship is regarded as either a presentation of the gospel or a platform to rally commitment to social action. This approach may be an attempt to unite worship and mission, but the relationship is still understood instrumentally that is, worship is an instrument to accomplish mission. Bringing the outside in to the inside is sometimes called worship evangelism. But attempts at worship evangelism do not consider the unity of the two. Rather they attempt to re-orient the focus of worship on the outsider. Notice however that the us and them thinking is still in effect. What remains is the false choice that worship is strictly for insiders and evangelism is strictly for outsiders.
Slide 3: Inside Out: The trouble with both of the previous approaches is that they are flat. They are
two-dimensional and do not account for Gods missional activity in the world and our participation in that activity. The inside out approach avoids the weaknesses of the other approaches because it understands mission as the mission of God toward the world rather than the evangelistic efforts of the church. Since worship takes place within the arena of the mission of God in the world, the assembly for worship is mission. The church worships because it is gathered up into the mission of God moving within the world. The church in worship reflects the reign of God in a public way.
Learn more about "Inside Out" on our Web site.
West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 26 March 2006
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