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 of God.

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 of Worship?”

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 said,

“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 prompter.”

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 today.

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 the priests.

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 today.

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 prelude.

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 truth.”

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 us.

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 it joyfully.

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!