Sunday’s Sermon: Gathering in the Word

Time for another sermon series! 🙂 We’re going to be spending the next 4 weeks talking about the 4 phases of worship – Gathering, Hearing, Responding, and Sending – as well as the various worship elements that are part of those phases (e.g. – Call to Worship, Offering, etc.) As congregations, we are in the process of rethinking our worship service – possibly adding new things, possibly altering others – and in preparation for that, we’re returning to the roots of worship for a little refresher. So here we go ………………………

  • So we’ve been thinking about worship for the last few months, right?
    • How we can liven things up a bit
    • How we can bring a personal touch to things
    • MINI-ADVERTISEMENT: Still looking for a few people to be part of a worship team à toss around and implement some new ideas
    • So for the next few weeks, we’re going to be talking about how we worship. –> various parts of our service
      • Why do we do them?
      • Where is God in our worship?
      • What do we bring to worship?
    • 4 basic phases to a worship service
      • Gathering
      • Hearing
      • Responding
      • Being sent out
  • Today: talk about gathering in God’s Word
    • So I was thinking about all the different reasons that we gather together.
      • Gather to reconnect – reunions (describe)
      • Gather to learn – conferences (describe)
      • Gather to coordinate a message – debriefing/meeting (describe)
      • When we gather, we come bearing stories to share and at the same time, we have our part to play in a shared story (whatever brought us together) –> Think of all the stories that you share with you oldest and dearest friends. Even if you’re just getting together for a cup of coffee, you still bring your shared history into the conversation with you.
        • Inside jokes, double meanings, backgrounds for current stories that you don’t have to re-explain because they’re already familiar
        • Not so different from what bring us together to worship –> We bring our own stories to this place, but we also come to participate in the shared story of this congregation and the shared story of Christians all around the world.
  • Worship: Scripture for today highlights the “why” before we get into the “how”
    • Paul in Rom: I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.[1]
      • Digging in –> Gr in this passage is really telling
        • “appeal” = so much more than just a polite request à all sorts of connotations: beseech, summon, invite, implore, comfort, encourage
          • Speaks to the personal side of worship –> To me, this sounds like Paul is saying, “Any way you get to worship, do it. Any way you bring yourself – whatever condition you’re in, whatever response you seek, whatever particular hang-ups you might have – come and worship. Present yourself before God. This is your spiritual worship.”
            • Sometimes we need to be summoned
            • Sometimes we need to be beseeched
            • Sometimes we need to be encouraged
            • Scholar: When Paul wants to confront, to comfort, to build up, to worship, his regular way of doing so … is not to offer two or three abstract doctrines. It is to tell the story and invite his readers to make it their own.[2] –> come to worship to both tell and take part in the grand Story
              • Story of creation
              • Story of salvation
              • Story of faith
              • Story of God’s work in the world
              • This is a story that weaves together our own, personal plot lines with that of the community. It gives us a safe place to learn about ourselves and to grow, a place to ask questions of God and one another as brothers and sisters in Christ, and a place to lift up those parts in our lives that we feel are in need of prayer.
              • Leads to another reason for gathering that Paul mentions: to “discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.”[3]
                • Now, the Greek in this part of the passage reveals that Paul isn’t actually expecting perfection of us – not in the way we think of perfection today, anyway. –> not expected to …
                  • Feel confident that we always know what the will of God is (for ourselves or others!)
                  • Feel confident that our endeavors always align with the will of God
                  • In the sense that Paul intended, being “perfect” speaks to a maturity and a completeness to our discernment. Paul is encouraging us to get in the habit of trying to discern God’s will, to make it the norm instead of the exception to the rule. When we come together to worship, we gather with our sisters and our brothers in Christ so that we can all help one another grow and mature in our faith – in the ways in which we listen for and discern the will of God in our lives. à gather to …
                    • Learn from others
                    • Accountable to others
                    • Support from others
  • So we come together to worship so we can present ourselves to God and to discern God’s will in our lives. And when we gather, we join our own personal needs and experiences with those around us to build a genuine and unique community experience … but how do we do that?
    • First part of a worship service = gathering in God’s word –> scholar: Worship begins with God. God takes the initiative, calling us together. Our first act of public worship, therefore, is to heed God’s call and to join with others in praising God.[4]
    • Main parts in includes:
      • Call to Worship
      • Hymn of praise
      • Confession (call to, prayer of, & declaration of forgiveness)
    • Call to Worship –> gives us the chance to remind one another why we’ve gathered together to worship in the first place – speaks of …
      • Goodness and mercy of God
      • Blessing of faith
      • Power of God’s presence with us
      • Hear the call in Ps 100: Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come into his presence with singing.[5] –> Now, I know not everyone is comfortable with the singing part, but the Hebrew in this passage reveals that the psalmist isn’t just talking to those who are confident in their own melodic abilities.
        • Heb. “make a noise” = shout triumphantly and loudly (connotations of a war-cry)
        • Heb. “singing” = ringing cry
        • When we put these two together, we see that the psalmist is encouraging people to make whatever noise they can before God. And why do we do that?
          • Scholar: We are not our own! This is a difficult lesson to hear and to get across in a culture that encourages us to be “self-made” men and women. … [But] in biblical terms, to live is to praise God and to praise God is to live.[6] –> So the first thing we do is we call one another to come … to worship … to praise the God who led us here in the first place – the God who got us through another week and can renew us for the week to come! That’s also the reason we all participate in the Call to Worship. It’s important that we all call one another here. It’s not just me summoning you to come to worship because I think you need it. It’s not the [PTCA and PC(USA)/MN Conference and UCC] calling you to come because they think you need to be a member. It’s all of us as members of this community of faith calling one another together to once again both tell and take part in our Grand Story of faith. And once we’ve reminded one another why we are here, we celebrate that call and our ensuing worship with a hymn of praise.
            • Today’s = perfect e.g.: [lyrics – “We Gather Together”]
    • Other major part of gathering as a community to worship = confession –> I know this part can feel uncomfortable for some people, but it truly is an integral part of our worship service.
      • Chance to come before God as one body and confess
        • Confess our own sins
        • Confess our sins as a community
        • Scholar: Why offer a prayer of confession? To remember all that God has done for us in Christ is to be confronted with the fact of God’s astonishing love and our own unworthiness. … In the Prayer of Confession, we trust God’s mercy enough to lay before God not only those sins which may belong to us individually and personally, but also the sins and brokenness of our human condition, in which, even without intending to, we are constantly running away from God and our neighbors.[7] –> Think about getting together with your friends or family. If there’s something that’s happened – something that hurt someone or offended someone – you  need to clear the air before you get on with your relationship.
          • Can’t grow in uncertainty
          • Can’t learn when distracted by dishonesty
          • As the supervisor for my chaplaincy internship used to say, you have to name it, claim it, and tame it. We join together in a prayer of confession to name our sins before God, claim our part in them, and release them to God so they can be tamed by our Savior, Jesus Christ.
      • This is where both Words of Assurance/Declaration of Forgiveness and Passing the Peace come in à our opportunity to remind one another of God’s grace and mercy and forgiveness
        • As with the Call to Worship, the Words of Assurance aren’t me doling out forgiveness to you because it’s my lofty role as pastor to do so. My role is simply to remind you of God’s forgiveness every week – to give voice to the reconciliation that we all experience with God so that in turn, we can pass that reconciliation on as we share handshakes, hugs, and greetings of peace with one another.
  • Gathering in the Word = more than just an intro to the service
    • Heartfelt invitation
    • Genuine praise
    • Honest confession
    • When we are able to gather as a community to worship God – when we feel comfortable enough and inspired enough to invite each other into this worship, to share a song of praise, to confess our shortcomings in one another’s presence and remind each other of God’s love and forgiveness as we share Christ’s peace – when we are able to gather as that kind of community to worship God as one, that is truly a gift. It’s a gift from us to God, and it’s a gift from God to us. So as the popular contemporary worship song proclaims, “Come … now is the time to worship!”[8] Amen.

[1] Rom 12:1-2.

[2] N.T. Wright. “The Letter to the Romans: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 10. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2002), 699.

[3] Rom 12:2.

[4] Peter C. Bower, ed. The Companion to the Book of Common Worship. (Louisville, KY: Geneva Press, 2003), 19.

[5] Ps 100:1-2.

[6] J. Clinton McCann, Jr. “The Book of Psalms: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 4. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996), 1079.

[7] Bower, 22-23.

[8] Brian Doerkson. “Come, Now is the Time to Worship.” © 1998.

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