Sermon for 10 August ’08
Let me tell you a story. It was January 1991, the first Gulf War, remember that? My daughter Erin was five going on six going on twenty six. The TV news was showing the late Saddam Hussein at prayer, kneeling and bowing low to the ground on his prayer mat.
“What’s that man doing, daddy?” asked Erin.
“He’s praying,” I said, “that’s how they pray where he comes from.”
“Does he want the war to end?” asked Erin.
“No,” I replied, “he wants it to continue.”
“Then why is he praying?” was Erin’s reply, which astounded me then and astounds me still.
We’re at the end of our series on worship. We’re looking at the end of the liturgy, the bit where we go. There’s not too much to say about that, right?
Well…at the end of the service, it’s a good time to ask Erin’s question: Why pray—why come to worship—unless our lives are being directed towards discovering and following God’s ways?
Why worship God unless what we say on a Sunday is consistent with what we do Monday to Saturday? It’s the question of the prophets, isn’t it? It reminds me of the stinging words of the prophet Amos (5.21-24). The people of Israel had been worshipping images, false gods, and God says:
I hate, I despise your festivals,
and I take no delight
in your solemn assemblies.
Even though you offer me your burnt-offerings and grain-offerings,
I will not accept them;
and the offerings of well-being
of your fatted animals I will not look upon.
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
A few weeks ago, we said that when we gather to worship the living, loving God, we are formed as the body of Christ, right here and now. We re-establish right relationships with one another as the gathered body of Christ.
What’s happening at the end of the service is this: we are being given our commission to go out into the week as the scattered body of Christ. We are dispersed into the world, scattered like seed onto the ground of our homes and our places of work and rest and play. We are being sent out to form right relationships with those we meet during the week, to care and love and serve others. We are being sent out to tell others how they can enter right relationships with God. We are being sent out to bear witness to the justice of God.
We’re not just wrapping things up here, we’re not just winding down; we’re being sent out to share God’s mission in the world. It may be short, but it’s a major part of the service.
Sometimes, people think of a service of worship as a kind of filling station. You’re getting low on spiritual gas, so you go to get your tank filled again. You sing some rousing songs, hear an inspirational message, catch up with your friends, all with their Sunday best smiles, and you feel good for the beginning if a new week.
We’re not in a spiritual gas station! We’re here to be reminded of the great Gospel story that we live by: that God delights to bring life out of death through the work of Jesus the Son, and God delights to bring hope from apathy through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. And don’t you feel refreshed when God does that?
Don’t you feel that you have met the living God? We come with disappointments in our relationships, with anxieties about our nearest and dearest and fears about our own future, and we hear again that God is right there when everything seems hopeless. And we are sent out with that message ringing in our hearts.
We do just a few simple things in this pivotal section of our service. We sing a song, usually a song of commitment or praise. We receive God’s blessing—that’s crucial, we need a blessing to be the people of God. And we are sent with words that tell us to go.
In this series on worship, we’ve used these words:
Go out into the world
in the power of the Spirit;
in all things, at all times,
remember that Christ is with you;
make your life your worship
to the praise and glory of God. Amen.
“Make your life your worship.” In the Eastern Orthodox churches, they speak of “The liturgy beyond the Liturgy”, the work of the people of God in the world, beyond the gathering here. It should all be of a piece.
Erin asked me why Saddam was praying if he didn’t want the war to end. She could have asked the same of the Christian leaders of the west—why do they pray? I’m glad she didn’t expose my hypocrisies. But our children and grandchildren will, and should, ask this question: Why are you worshipping God? And more importantly, we will one day answer that question as it is asked us from the throne of God itself.
Remember: Christ is with you. Make your life your worship. Amen.