Dr. David D. Young
September 25, 2005
I Chronicles 16: 4-13, 23-36
Hebrews 9: 1-26
“Why The Order of Worship?”
On this cool, breezy September Sunday morn, we
gather here, quietly assembled, bringing our public faces, bringing our personal
secrets, bringing our shared humanity. We gather here, gently assembled, seeking
deeper understanding, seeking the nourishment of our spirits, seeking the grace
of being together.
We gather here anxious and concerned sensing vulnerability to the forces of
nature and tragedies. We gather here angrily assembled, knowing the ills of
society’s oppression, knowing the personal failures of courage and action,
knowing we can act justly, and knowing we can change the world. We gather here,
amazingly assembled, giving thanks for one another, praising the gift of life,
and remembering our responsibility to serve all humanity, which is the service
John Westerhoff, an Episcopal priest and Professor writes,
“You can teach about religion, but you
cannot teach people faith. To transmit faith to the next generation is to
include them as participants in all the community’s rituals.”
Friends, one of our goals and roles as adult
members of this church is to help raise up a generation of children who know how
to worship and enjoy participating in it. In worship we rehearse who we are and
how we are to live as people of faith. It is a kind of weekly dress rehearsal
where we take our part as sons and daughters of God. Worship is equipping for
everything that follows.
Last week I mentioned, just how important worship is in the life of our church,
I believe it is central to who we are and to what we are. And I discussed how
important it is that we understand liturgy and what it is and why we do what we
do. Last week I mentioned there are different kinds of sermons. Last weeks was a
didactic sermon, a teaching sermon, and today’s is as well. Today “Why the Order
First let me review and give a little more history before plunging in. Last week
I said that liturgy, the word liturgy literally means the work of the people, so
thanks for coming to work this morning. And I also quoted Soren Kierkegaard who
“The trouble with the church is that it is
too much like the theater, the preacher is the actor; the congregation is
the audience; and God is the prompter. No, said Kierkegaard: the
congregation is the actor; God is the audience; and the preacher is the
For many people, worship is seen to be in the
vein of so much else in our culture and that is in the way of entertaining. They
want a worship service to be entertaining to keep their attention, to be
stimulated, to have all the latest technical gadgets and gizmos and pictures.
They want worship to truly stimulate them so they can be thinking about what
they get out of it. No, worship is what we do together. Hopefully today, will
help us see our role and activity more purposefully and clearly.
Now, a little more history. The Roman mass of the Catholic Church for centuries
and centuries after the resurrection of Christ, had everything moving toward the
Eucharist, toward Holy Communion where the element of bread and wine became the
body and blood of Jesus. Literally the Catholics believe in transubstantiation,
they believe that after the priest blesses the elements they become the actual
body and blood of Jesus. It may look like bread and it may look like wine but
they are really the body and blood of Jesus.
And hence, the Priest says, at least use to say in the Latin, Hoc est poc est,
sound familiar? Hocus Pocus, that’s where that came from, the idea of magically
transforming something and changing it. And so everything was moving towards the
communion or the sacrament.
With the Protestant reformation came a movement to refute that and the
sacramentality of the Lord’s supper became symbolic. The power was not in
transforming the elements, the power was in transforming the human spirit, the
mind and heart of the believer. So, the liturgy, all the ritual that led to that
became less important in the Protestant service.
The Puritans went so far as to remove much of the sensuous beauty of the
sanctuary and there was with that a compensatory loss in the majesty and mystery
and awe of God. Even much of the music of the Catholic Church was given up,
music was not important and then when music came back into the worship service
it became in the form of new music and different songs.
Well, in medieval Catholicism, as I mentioned last week, the role of the mass
became less and less as the role of the priesthood became greater and greater
and finally there was a time when the mass, the people didn’t even participate
in the elements they just watched the priest take the elements on their behalf.
And then, because it was so important, the masses would just leave and the
priest would stay and continue on with the worship.
When Martin Luther came along and the ensuing reformation, he wanted worship to
be oriented to the congregation. He wanted the congregation to receive both
elements, the bread and the cup, and he wanted the Bible to be interpreted
through a sermon and he wanted the service to be spoken in the local language.
So, the shift came away from doing everything in Latin which the masses didn’t
understand, because they were ignorant when it came to what was actually being
said in the service. And so, the service became more and more oriented not on
communion but on the sermon. And that’s how reformed liturgy is still focused
With all those changes, then of course, came changes in the liturgy or the order
of worship and what the people did. And with that came a lessening of importance
on the church calendar year, that I went over last Sunday, where we begin not on
January first but with the beginning of Advent and the anticipation of Christ’s
birth and then everything that follows is a result of that. I’m not going to go
over all that today but we talked about that last week.
Communion as many reformers wanted it was only done and observed a couple of
times a year. Because if its done every week then it really loses its freshness
and meaning and just becomes a rote response and so to celebrate it just a few
times a year made it very special. Let me read again just a portion of our
Hebrews text that Caroline Paulus read for us,
“Now even the first covenant had
regulations for worship,” see there are references in scripture for
regulations and rituals, “for worship and an earthly sanctuary. For a tent
was constructed, the first one, in which were the lampstand, the table, and
the bread of the Presence; this was called the Holy Place. Behind the second
curtain was a tent called the Holy of Holies. In it stood the golden altar
of incense and the ark” and so on and so forth.
And if you have visited the cathedrals in
Europe you know there is a screen or something that separates the more sacred
space from the regular people. Not everyone can go up there, it’s reserved for
Well, the reformation broke down barriers and tried to minimize the distance
between clergy and laity and that’s what we now understand as part of our
tradition. And so sprang forth many different expressions of faith and many
different orders of worship. Some churches had virtually no orders of worship,
it was just kind of a free spirit of whatever they felt like doing on any given
Sunday. Our service is a typical reformed liturgy.
We remember that at the beginning of Genesis when reference is made to the
creation of the world there was chaos. Nothing was ordered and then God spoke
creation into being and there was order. And so the Jews, very early on, had an
ordered structured of worship. And that’s why there’s order in our worship
If you look in your bulletin there are headings at each transitional point
throughout the service suggesting why we’re doing what were doing at a
particular point in the service and you can follow along if you want to
throughout the sermon. The first is preparing for worship beginning with the
While driving out one evening on a date, a boy came to a quiet spot on a country
lane and the car stopped, “Well, I’m out of gas,” said the boy. From her purse,
his date extracted a bottle and began to open it. “Wow!” said the boy. “A bottle
of…What is it?” “Gasoline,” said the girl.
Like most things in life – when we prepare – we’re better able to act than fall
into something by default. Could I preach without preparing? Probably, it would
not be as purposeful or worshipful. You are actors – participants and the same
is true for you. And so that period prior to the bells ringing at 10:00 a.m. is
a time of preparing in quiet meditation for worship. To prepare our hearts and
minds. And yet we also want a spirit of friendliness here as we gather and greet
each other. It’s a fine balancing point between quietly greeting each other but
allowing our neighbor to prepare with some sense of quiet for worship. Then we
gather the community together with the call to community sharing the community
announcements that will launch us into the week ahead.
Next comes praising God. The Call To Worship is a very powerful moment as we
call ourselves into this act of worship to praise God. Hear again, just a few
verses of our passage from Chronicles,
“O give thanks to the Lord, call on his
name, make known his deeds among the peoples. Sing to God, sing praises to
God, tell of all his wonderful works. Glory in his holy name; let the hearts
of those who seek the Lord rejoice.”
We are called to come into God’s presence with
singing and with praise. And that’s what we do at the very beginning. Praising
God is giving up idealism and becoming pragmatic. Praising God is tossing away
all the mumbo jumbo of technological arrogance and just speaking the facts of
faith. It’s praising God. It’s abandoning the illusion of human control and
embracing the truth of God’s power.
And so the beginning of worship is to put the focus totally on God. To get it
off ourselves as we offer our thanksgiving and our praise. And that’s what the
opening hymn and procession does. It lifts us up in the spirit of praise and
then comes the opening prayer offering gratitude and praise putting a right
focus on God.
Next comes Confession. As we come into God’s presence with praise and
thanksgiving and recognize in that presence we have not always walked with God
in all our living – we come to the awareness that at times we are not in
alignment with God. But sometimes we get out of that alignment. That our spirits
are not right with God. Some prefer to use the language of sin – others want to
talk about not having the right relationship with God. But the fact of the
matter is we all are out of sync at times with God. And even though there might
be times when I feel a right alignment with God, I have to recognize that my
neighbor may not and for him or her the prayer of confession can be the most
powerful moment of the service, when a new sense of forgiveness and renewal and
healing has come into that life as God touches that person out of a very
difficult and dark week.
Luis Palau, in Experience God’s Forgiveness writes,
It is rougher to carry sin with you than to
confess it and experience release. Why? Because your burdens collect
interest, and they get heavier with each new day. Imagine carrying a
horrible weight around your neck for the next fifty years. It is not worth
it, my friend. Clear it up and you will be at peace.
“Confession,” says Thomas Troeger in his book
Rage! Reflect. Rejoice!, “is more than wiping away life’s little wrongs
with the once over of a hasty prayer: ‘I’m sorry, God.’ Confession is crying
from the depths. It is probing my fundamental character as a human being and
discovering that the core of my personal existence is out of alignment with the
So we have a Call To Confession, just as we have a Call To Worship we have a
Call To Confession that reminds us of our need to come into an honest
relationship with God. We have the Prayer then the Lord’s Prayer that speaks to
our debts and forgiving our debtors. It’s often at a time when the children are
here in the worship with us because we want them to learn that prayer, to
memorize it and be a part of us in worship.
Then comes Words Of Assurance often scriptural words reminding us of the grace
of God poured out to us in Jesus Christ and of his forgiveness.
Then the Congregational Response as we sung this morning. After that, after
coming with praise and thanksgiving, confessing and trying to allow God to put
us back in a right relationship. Then we’re ready to hear and receive God’s
word, so then comes the Reading, the Scripture and following that a Sermon hymn
of preparation, that prepares us for the Sermon. To be prepared to open our
hearts and our minds. Love is giving our attention, it’s listening. When you
truly love another person you’re willing to give your full attention to that
person and that’s what listening is and so too with God if we want to give our
love and full attention to God then we have to be ready to hear God’s word.
Then the Sermon comes as a further understanding and exploration of the word.
After the words of the preacher, comes the communal words of affirmation as we
all speak a common word together responding and that’s different each week for
The Affirmation is different because as Congregationalist we know that words can
never fully define all that there is to say about God. How can infinite words
and infinite minds say it all about an infinite God, we can’t. So, we use
different expressions of faith, we’re not a creedal church, we’re a church that
looks for different ways to say it and so the affirmations are different and
then comes a Pastoral Prayer, collective of all the prayers and needs of the
community and the world. And then we respond with the offering.
Let me read again just a portion of 1 Chronicles, it wasn’t in the bulletin, but
in Verse 29 of our text,
“Bring an offering and come before Him.
Worship the Lord of holy splendor.”
You see worship is fullest when it also has
response and offering. We don’t bring burnt offerings, we don’t bring animals
but we do bring our financial gifts and we bring our gifts of talent and time as
we offer our full selves, I mean, symbolically when the plate is passed, imagine
just putting your whole self into the plate and offering it to God.
Martin Buber said,
“The one who ceases to make a response
ceases to hear the word.”
And St. John of the Cross said,
“I am not made or unmade by things which
happen to me but by my response to them. That’s all God cares about.”
Let me say that again,
I am not made or unmade by things that happened to me that’s the victim
mentality that’s so common in the world today. No, I am made by my response to
what happens to me. That’s all God cares about and that’s what an offering is.
Responding with all of ourselves.
And then finally, you’ll see the heading Going Forth To Serve God. The Closing
Hymn and Procession come as the choir symbolically on our behalf, but then we
follow and processes back out into the world to serve.
It was Benjamin Franklin whose birthday we’ll celebrate in two weeks, his 300th
birthday, who said,
“Serving God is doing good to others, but
praying is thought an easier service, and therefore more generally chosen.”
For some yes, but not for us, it is not an
either or. Prayer is important but serving is prayer in action or else our
prayers are empty
So we go forth to serve! Two thirds of God is Go! The church is the place you go
from. Worship is a time to praise and honor God. It a time to get back a right
alignment with God. It’s a time to listen to God. It’s a time to respond to God
and it’s a time to go forth into the rest of the week and serve God.
The Closing Sentences tie the theme of the day together and then comes the
Benediction, the Charge, the Blessing to go forth into the world and then the
Benediction response by the choir affirms all that and the Postlude celebrates
So, Why the Order of Worship? It’s all about God. It’s all about you – for you
are God’s own and it’s all about the world – and it too, is God’s. Yes, it’s all
about God! Amen!