Monday, November 28, 2011

What is worship?

“But Amy, that’s not worship!” were the words that came from my congregation member’s mouth.  It was one of those moments where I wish I hadn’t been in such shock that I could have engaged my mouth to say something in reply.  Instead, I just stood there looking at this person with a dumbfounded expression on my face.

A group of us had been talking about different styles of worship.  One person said that a really contemporary style of worship – one with guitars and keyboards and the like – just didn’t satisfy him.  Another person said that different styles of music and worship services appeals to a lot of people and he mentioned a southern gospel group that occasionally stops and performs at my church.  It was at this point when the words above were spoken, suggesting that a concert performed by this group is not a form of worship.

I wonder if there has been a topic argued about more within church walls than this one:  What defines worship. defines worship as “reverent honor and homage paid to God or a sacred personage, or to any object regarded as sacred.”   Webster defines it as “a service or rite showing reverence for a deity.”  But these definitions don’t help solve the problem.

I tend to define worship as “having an experience with God.”  It’s a time for those of us who call ourselves sons and daughters of God to come before the Creator of the universe to give thanks for everything that we have and all that we are.  It’s a time for us to lay our empty vessels before God in order that they can be replenished so that we may go out and share God’s love with the world. It’s a time for us to connect with God.

For some of us, this means having “high church” with clergy, wearing vestments, leading the congregation in liturgies, a choir singing and a pipe organ playing.  For others, this means a more casual atmosphere with the clergy wearing street clothes while a band of guitars, keyboards and drums plays in the background.  Is one of these styles a more right – a more correct – way to worship?  Who am I to say if how a person experiences God is right or wrong?  

What I do believe to be wrong is this:  People who believe that their way of worship is the only way to worship.  Why can we not see that there is a multitude of ways to experience and worship God?  The God I worship is not so minuscule that only one way of worship is acceptable.  If one’s worship is heartfelt, then God is worshipped – no matter what the style or setting.

We can see the results of the insistence of what worship is or isn’t.  “That’s not worship” is seen in the decline of United Methodist – and other mainline denomination – churches for the last 40+ years.  “That’s not worship” has resulted in a smaller number of young people in our pews.  “That’s not worship” will be our downfall!

So while one particular style of worship may not be right for us, it doesn’t mean that style is nullified in the eyes of another person – or in God’s eyes.  We can’t go around defining worship for anybody else except us because in doing so, we could be keeping someone from having an experience with God.  I know I don’t want that hanging over my head.  Do you?

Monday, November 14, 2011


Sermon 11/13/11
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 & Matthew 25:14-15, 19-29

     Do you remember the song “Fly Like an Eagle” by the Steve Miller Band?  Remember how it starts out?  “Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’ into the future.”  Boy, doesn’t it?
When we’re kids, time doesn’t seem to pass fast enough.  When we’re grown, we can’t seem to hold on to it hard enough.
     Time is something that we all relate to.  And what seems to be our most common complaint?  We don’t have enough time.  We need more of it to complete everything we need and want to do.  And, through some of you in this congregation, I’ve learned that for many years I’ve lived under the delusion that once I retire, I’ll have all the time necessary to do all of those things.  You have informed me that I’ll be just as busy in my retirement years as I am right now!  Lord, help me!
     Paul reminds us today that we don’t get limitless time.  We don’t have an endless supply of our own time – or an endless supply of God’s time.  Therefore, we need to make good use of the time we have.
     He tells us that this isn’t a surprise.  As verse 4 says, we are not in darkness, to be surprised.  We are children of the light.  We know that Christ is going to return once again!  We aren’t going to be able to stand back and say, “What’s going on here?!”  Paul was very specifically talking about the return of Christ but we can apply it another way.  We all know what waits for us at the end of our life:  Death does not pass any of us by.
     Paul warns us in today’s text not to fall asleep and to remain sober.  This means more than just being aware that Jesus is returning.  Let me show you what I mean.
     Jump over with me to Matthew 25 – the gospel lesson for today.  It’s a parable that you might be familiar with but we going to look at it a little bit differently today.
[Please read MATTHEW 25:14-15. 19-29]
     Many people interpret this parable in one way and that’s money.  But they don’t stop to consider that a “talent” can also mean a literal talent – gifts and graces given by God to be used for God.
     Now, I can hear you all now.  “I don’t have any talents, Amy!”  YES, YOU DO!  You have at least one.  But we can’t limit what we think of as a talent to something like musical ability or artistic ability.  We need to look at 1 Corinthians 12:4-11 
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in EVERYONE. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.  To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith, to another gifts of healing, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.
     There are more than just listed here.  What are you good at?  Chances are that is your talent – your spiritual gift.
     When we look at this two Scriptures together, we find an important message that we should not and cannot ignore.  Paul tells us that our time is limited – both ours and the world’s.  Christ tells us that we have been given talents that we should be using for God and his kingdom.  We are called to occupy our time by doing God’s work – to live our lives ready to receive him at any moment while serving him every moment.  Paul is telling us to engage in two activities: 1) to encourage each other – comfort and affirm one another and 2) to build each other up – to push each other toward spiritual maturity.  So the question becomes have you fallen asleep?  Here’s how you can tell.  Answer these three questions.
     How much of your time is spent doing things for God?  Now hear me!  I’m not saying that we don’t have the right to do things we enjoy doing.  I’m not saying that you need to turn in your golf clubs for a daily shift at the food pantry.  But you should try to find time to do both.  That’s what we are called to do.  And I’m not just talking about here at church but in the community as well.
     Now, I hate to be the bearer of bad news but this time right now – the time you are spending in church – that doesn’t really count.  Worship is provided for our benefit, not God’s – although he does sit enthroned upon our praises.  Worship is a chance for us to refill our pitcher – to replenish it – so that we can go and pour ourselves out for others.
    Question 2.  Do you find reasons (excuses) for why you can no longer serve?  “I’m too busy.”  “I’m too old.”  “I’ve done my time.  It’s someone else’s turn.”  Well, if you’re too busy, perhaps you need to reevaluate some priorities.  And, as Adam Hamilton told those of us at Annual Conference last year, there is no such thing as Christian retirement.  You’re retired when you die.
     I won’t mention a name because I don’t want to embarrass this person.  But we have someone in this congregation who is no longer able to drive and get out as much as they used to.  That doesn’t stop this person from serving our church.  This person makes phone calls to people who are ill or are shut in.  This person sends cards.  This person remains a vital part of our congregation and a vital part of God’s kingdom.
     There is a job that everyone can do.  Sure, we need people to work at the soup kitchen.  We need people to help teach.  We need people to serve on committees.  But we need people to pray for this church.  We need people to make phone calls.  You name it, we probably need it.  What could you be doing?
     Question 3.  Can you no longer see and get excited about possibilities?  I know I’ve shared with you a number of times how this church came into existence.  None of that would have been able to be accomplished if people hadn’t seen and been excited about the possibilities:  the possibility of having a United Methodist Church in southern Utah.  Well, we have one.  Now what?  Does the existence of this campus mean that there are no more possibilities?  Hardly!
     As Michael and I have been dreaming and visioning about SHUMC, we’ve discovered – actually I’ve discovered more so than he has – that there is tremendous possibility here.  We have a music program that could expand.  We have an education program that can grow and is growing! We have a worship schedule that will have to grow (judging from the crowd here this morning).  There are mission possibilities that abound.
     Now, I will admit that as we were discussing all of this, I got a little overwhelmed.  I thought, “How are we going to do all of this?  How can I possibly take on more?”  Well, the answer is Michael and I can’t – nor are he and I called to.  Ephesians 4:11-13 says in part – The gifts he gave were that some would be pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the word of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God.  It’s all of our responsibility!  In these next weeks, you will be learning how you can assume your role in this task.
     So will you use your talent to encourage and build others up?  Or are you going to fall asleep?  I encourage you, brothers and sisters, do not be like the wicked slave who was thrown into prison for wasting his talent.  Use yours to the fullest so that one day you will hear, “well done, good and faithful servant.”  Amen.