Gracious God, may we rest in your loving Spirit in this time of worship and Sabbath. And may we listen for your guidance, trust in your presence, and find renewal in this shared time together. Amen.
Our annual fall stewardship season has begun as we look forward to, plan, and budget for our various church ministries in 2023. And so today we are continuing our stewardship sermon series entitled, “Why Bay Shore Church?” as we reflect upon some of the things that are special about our church: the ministries, values, and sense of community that touch our hearts – some of the reasons why we choose to be a part of this community of faith. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). Investing our time, talent, and resources in causes and ministries that are meaningful to us, including our beloved church, in part of that.
And so, for today’s online service, we are exploring how vital worship makes a difference in our lives. How do we worship? Why do we worship? How does gathering for corporate worship each week inform, influence, and sustain our ongoing journeys of life and faith?
There are, of course, forms of worship and prayer that we practice on our own as individuals, in our families, in our various smaller groups. But today we’re focusing on what we do together on Sunday mornings. And yes, even though we are worshipping online from home today, worship is still something we do together. Even when we can’t make it on Sunday morning and watch later on in the week (which I know some of you do) worship is still something we do together because we are choosing to connect with the worship life of this particular community of faith.
Worshipping together (in whatever form) is at the heart of our faith tradition. And our practice of corporate worship is rooted in our history. The Jewish tradition in which Jesus was born and raised practiced their worship in both local synagogues and in the temple in Jerusalem. Early followers of Jesus worshipped in synagogues too and many (like the apostle Paul) formed house churches and new kinds of local communities that gathered for worship and the celebration of communion (which was often a full meal that included more than just the elements of bread and wine). And, of course, as time went on, churches and liturgies became more elaborate and took on various distinctive forms in cultures across the world.
When we hear the word, liturgy, we usually think of the structure and order of a worship service, but the Greek root of the word liturgy means “the work of the people.”
Worship is our collective work.
We create worship together. We practice worship together. You, the worshipping community, are vital participants and contributors to this collective work of worship – even if you just prefer to be a participant in the congregation and don’t really want to be up here on the chancel doing anything in front of a crowd (which is absolutely ok, by the way).
And our worship leaders at Bay Shore Church include not only the eleven paid staff members whose duties include various aspects of worship leadership, but also our guest musicians, and our many volunteers including our worship commission members; scripture readers; chancel, handbell, and children’s choir members; youth musicians; ushers and greeters; communion servers; and more. Sunday morning worship at Bay Shore Church is not something any of us could do by ourselves.
And so, I want to take a moment to say thank you! Thank you for your participation, leadership, and support of our collective worship life. We need you; we appreciate your very presence (in person or online) as well as your talents and various contributions to our worship experiences. Sunday worship would not be the same without you! And Sunday worship is the ministry of our church that the most of us participate in on a regular basis. Many of us have our other church activities, committees, classes, and groups, but Sunday morning is what brings us all together as one intergenerational community of faith.
And so, I’d like to reflect for a moment on why we worship.
The central purpose of worship is to offer our praise and thanksgiving to God.
Each week we set aside this time to offer our collective praise to God, to give God thanks for this life, this creation, and for God’s love. This time of worship gives us an opportunity to connect with God (our creator, the source of life and love) and focus on what is most important in our lives. Worship also invites us to connect with one another and take notice of how God’s love and light shine through the presence of others. And, in doing so, we also have the opportunity to consider how we might best support, serve, and care for one another as well as our neighbors near and far.
This connection piece is important. It’s what makes corporate worship a communal experience, rather than an individual one. And, in connecting with God and with others, we re-charge our spiritual batteries, we hit the re-set button for another week, and clear out some of the clutter in our souls in order to make a little more room for God’s Spirit to move in. Pick the metaphor that works for you! The point is to find connection so we might be refilled and renewed to carry on.
And if all we do in worship is rest in God’s presence, then we’ve done it right. After the Israelite’s escape from enslavement in Egypt, the commandment to observe the Sabbath was a gift. The opportunity to rest with God is still a gift. We receive that gift in worship and have an opportunity to give God thanks for it.
A little while ago we heard many members of our church community recite Psalm 150 in that wonderful video Julie Ramsey created for our online worship in 2020. Psalm 150 celebrates many voices, places, and modes of praise to God. Bring on all the musical instruments and make some beautiful noise, says the psalmist! Praise God in the sanctuary and out in the street! Dance your praise! Let every living thing with breath in its lungs praise God!
Worship is an act of praise not because God demands it. Instead, our praise is an expression of our joy, our love, our gratitude, and our desire to be in relationship with God and with all God’s beloved world. Even in times of struggle, when we aren’t feeling particularly joyful or grateful, perhaps that desire to be in relationship with God is enough to draw us into a spirit of worship.
I think it is important for us to remember that the mechanics of worship aren’t actually as important as our intention and our purpose. Having said that, however, the reason we do certain things in worship is because they help give expression and voice to our intentions. We pray together in silence and aloud, with both words we know and those that are new. We sing together and listen to the musical offerings of others because music is prayer too. We listen to scripture, the stories of our ancestors in faith. And, in doing so, we hear the big story of God’s relationship with God’s beloved children and we reflect on how our own story fits in. We hear words of comfort, hope, and encouragement. We wrestle with challenging texts and difficult lessons. And we learn how to live, how to be faithful, how to continue our walk with God.
Worshipping together is a spiritual discipline.
Discipline and disciple have the same Latin root, meaning student. Like any other discipline we might study, our spiritual disciplines are something we learn to do over time. We learn from the ministry and witness of Jesus by revisiting the stories and lessons in scripture. We learn from those people of faith who have gone before us by studying our own history. We learn from others around us as we listen to their experiences and perspectives. We learn from the school of our life’s experiences.
All of the spiritual disciplines we practice have something to teach us. And hopefully each time we gather for worship, we learn something. It might not always be something original or new. It doesn’t have to be. But hopefully we learn something about God, about ourselves, about our world, about our practice of faith.
We also learn how to worship by worshipping. This is true for both kids and adults. It’s one reason why it is so important for our kids to know that they are welcome here in this place and are important members of our worshipping community. That message alone teaches them something important and opens the door to further learning.
Kids learn to sing hymns, and pray, and to read and listen to scripture by doing so. This work continues in Sunday School where they get to learn, understand, and apply the stories of our faith to their lives in ways that fit their age and stage. But much of this education begins in worship.
Sunday morning worship is a community-centered intergenerational space. It’s sometimes hard to find that in our culture. And so, I would invite us to continue to value and honor the various gifts, abilities, and presence of people of all ages here in this worship time and space. This is an important part of our church’s identity and purpose.
As I was thinking about all of this and reflecting on my own faith development and how I learned to worship, I was remembering some of my childhood experiences. The welcome I received at church, and worship in particular, as a child was an important part of that.
Our Sunday School classes were after worship. So, as a grade school kid, was I bored at times, was the sermon over my head at times? Probably. I do remember that I often kept my hands busy by folding and tearing my worship bulletin into various new “origami-esque” creations (the sound of which must have irritated people around me sometimes – though they never said a word). But, despite my need to fidget, something stuck, something sunk in. And over time, as I grew up, grew into my faith, and claimed this path as my own, I learned how to worship and I learned to love worship. And, obviously, I not only stuck with church and Christian faith, but I answered a call to pastoral ministry. Maybe the bulletin origami helped, I don’t know – I do have some kinesthetic learning tendencies.
Part of our call as a worshipping community is to nurture the faith development of people of all ages and stages who gather here. We gather to praise God and to encourage one another on our spiritual journeys. That uplifting anthem. That beloved hymn. That needed word of comfort or challenging call to love we hear in scripture. That connection to God in prayer. It’s all part of it.
This is a collaborative effort and there is a mutuality in this experience we create together every Sunday. Sometimes we come to worship feeling like our batteries are drained and the contributions of others may help us recharge. Sometimes it’s the other way around. And probably sometimes it’s both.
The great civil rights leader, theologian, and mystic, Howard Thurman once wrote, “we keep a troubled vigil at the bedside of the world… thus we clutch the moment of intimacy in worship when we become momentarily a part of a larger whole, a fleeting strength, which we pit against the darkness and the dread of our times.” (Thurman, The Inward Journey)
Sometimes the work of being human is too hard and life is overwhelming. At times like that, worship, prayer, that connection with God, that connection with others that we find becomes not only a nice way to spend a Sunday morning, but life-saving. I think this is something that Black churches in America have often understood.
In easier times and challenging times, we can find in worship that fuel, that charge, that inspiration, that hope, to keep us going. Faith is a life-long journey, after all (a marathon, if you will) and we need the spiritual nourishment to journey on.
And your participation in this worshipping community matters a great deal to all of us. Whoever you are, wherever you are, and however you choose to show up and participate in worship – online or in person, whether you’re a self-proclaimed “balconite” (balcony-sitter) or a choir member, a third grader or a 96 year old – your presence is what makes our worship life a collective spiritual experience. And your willingness to show up in your own unique way, time and again, whenever you are able, is a symbol of your commitment to this journey, to this worshipping community, and to your fellow spiritual travelers.
Thank you for your collective work, people of Bay Shore Church!
Let’s keep at it into 2023 and beyond!