Isaiah 61.1–4, 8–11
Earlier this month, I was in Adelaide at a two-day colloquium that was exploring the way our theological colleges across the Uniting Church teach liturgy and worship. I hope and believe that some very good things will come out of it. While I was there, I was thinking about what we do in worship, and about what the significance of our liturgy is.
Gathering together for worship seems like a simple thing to do. Yet we are doing something very significant every Sunday, week by week, as we come together to worship God as the Church. And that significant thing is this: we are sharing with God in remaking the world.
Does that sound a bit grandiose, a bit self-important? How can l’l ol’ us be remaking the world?
We’re doing it with God, of course. Only with God may we dare to utter such words. I want us to reflect on this today, and I want us to remember Isaiah’s words as we do:
The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news
to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.
Isaiah says God’s glory is displayed as God’s will is done; and God’s will for the world is justice and joy for the oppressed. The world isn’t like that right now. We have embedded violence in the Middle East. We have a situation in Queensland where an Aboriginal newborn is almost twice as likely to die as a white baby; where an aboriginal man is likely to die more than ten years younger than a white man. For a woman, that figure is nine years. Not to mention children who are still spending their precious childhood years in detention centres, and not to mention the risks to future generations from climate change.
God’s glory is displayed as God’s will is done; and God’s will for the world is justice and joy for the oppressed. The world will be fully remade one day, and we are part of that remaking right now, here in church. Let’s see how. Let’s look at what we actually do.
We praise and adore God
In a world in which God’s will were done ‘on earth as in heaven’, people would be praising God continually. ‘God’ wouldn’t be a word reserved for when you trap your finger in the car door. God’s praise would resound and rebound again and again.
Mind you, there is continual praise even now; across the world, there are always people of God who are praying. And the creation itself praises its Creator. For example, Psalm 98:
Let the floods clap their hands;
let the hills sing together for joy
at the presence of the Lord, for he is coming
to judge the earth.
And Isaiah 55.12:
For you shall go out in joy,
and be led back in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
shall burst into song,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
In a remade world, everything and everyone praises God! So we do in song, in prayer, when we gather as God’s people.
We confess our sins and receive God’s forgiveness afresh
It’s not a perfect world, and we can be part of the problem. We need our minds and our hearts renewed and reformed in the image of Jesus Christ.
That renewal requires us to confess our sin. But not only that—it also requires that we accept that our sins are forgiven. The Apostle Paul says
if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!
Friends, we are part of that new creation. We are already part of the world that is being remade. We are being remade.
We listen for the Word of God in the Scriptures and preaching
When we hear the Word of God in the Scriptures and obey it, we can share in the work of remaking the world.
Notice though—we can only listen rightly when we have taken our place together as the people who praise God and once more receive forgiveness.
We can’t march into church and immediately expect to hear the good news as it comes to us through the written and preached word. Our hearts must be made ready. Through praise and confession, we put ourselves in the right place to listen well, to discern God’s word to us.
We respond to the Word of God
To share with God in remaking the world, we have to respond to the word God speaks. Our Isaiah passage speaks of bringing good news to the oppressed. How do we do that as we respond to the word that has been brought to us?
We do it through listening and allowing God’s holy Spirit to speak within our hearts. We do it as we have a time of silence in which the Spirit may speak to our spirit. We try to hear the movement of God within our hearts,
We do it through prayer. We give thanks for what God has done and we pray for others. We do the work of praying a new world into life. We pray for those who suffer, whether that suffering is through their own actions, through the actions of governments, or through illness or loss. Through prayer, we
bind up the brokenhearted,
proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
we proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.
We pray because things change as we pray. One of those things that changes is our hearts. We change when we pray.
Then, we take up the Offering. We give of ourselves and our resources. We dedicate our gifts and we dedicate ourselves to the Lord, in order to share in the remaking of the world.
We share the Eucharistic Meal
A full Sunday service includes the Eucharist. Most Uniting Church congregations only have Communion once a month—but that doesn’t change the fact that Communion is of the very essence of worship. We are people of Word and Sacrament.
Sometimes I have found that the most moving part of the Eucharist is seeing people coming forward for Communion. Men, women, children, old people, Anglo, Asian, African, coming to share this Holy Meal together.
Some of them may not have understood the sermon. They are welcome.
Some may have sadness crushing them. They are welcome.
Some may have heavy weights bearing down on their shoulders. They are welcome.
Some may have consciences that accuse them. They are welcome.
Here is where Isaiah’s oppressed, brokenhearted, and prisoners come; here, we proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.
I’ve said it before. I don’t understand the resistance of Uniting Church people to weekly Communion. It is a foretaste of God’s kingdom, here and now.
We go to share in remaking the world
Finally, we are sent forth into ‘the world’. We go as people of faith, hope and love. We go as people who have tasted God’s remade world.
We go with Good News to share!
In worship, we share in God’s remaking of the world. Why should we come to worship, why should we make ‘going to church’ a priority? Because the habit of worship forms us into people who will share in God’s remaking of the world in everyday life; people who will live according to our own mission statement:
Living God’s mission
as disciples of Jesus
united in the Spirit.