Sunday 29th July – 9am Worship
Sermon Series: Passionate Worship
Title: Passionate Worship
Bible Reading: 1 Corinthians 14:23-25
Preacher: Rev Phil Swain
During the mission planning process at the beginning of the year we were introduced to a model of being church called the 5 fruitful practices.
Last term we had a 4 week sermon series on the first of these practices “radical hospitality” as a way of not only raising awareness of this practice but also as a way of encouraging us to do something about it – to be known as a church to be people who practice radical hospitality.
Today we are starting 3 weeks on “passionate worship”. In the same way, it is my hope that at the end of these three weeks we will not only have a greater understanding of passionate worship but also have a desire and a commitment to see that played out in our lives and in this church. That by the end of this sermon series we as a church might be known as people who passionately worship.
Although … some people might argue that “passionate worship” is an oxy-moron – two words that just don’t belong together? I once asked my primary school scripture class the question what was the first word that came to mind when they think of church (as in a church service). What do you think they said? BORING. Boring? Seriously?
On our website, we have this statement about desire about our corporate worship…
We desire to create an openness to God presence through different, warm, authentic, alive, creative, relevant, connecting, and life- changing worship experiences. We gather together as the body of Christ with eagerness and expectancy, worshipping God and encountering the risen Jesus through singing, prayer, scripture, preaching and Holy Communion, and being shaped by the spirit to continue to daily live the way of Jesus. Through passionate worship God draws people to Christ, deepens understanding and relationship with Christ and over time transforms lives as disciples grow in the image of Christ.
I love that statement … but how do we hold this together. We desire our community gathering for worship to be passionate, alive, connecting, life-changing and yet for some reason people outside of the church have this impression that a church service is boring. Why the disconnect?
Actually, if we are honest we might find that we are not completely hitting the mark in terms of worship for us within the church either. We might not say that worship is boring … would we … but If I asked you to put up your hand if you found worship to be “be passionate, alive, connecting and life-changing” every week … how many hands go up?
Why it that? Why isn’t every Sunday worship something that all people find warm, authentic, alive, creative, relevant, connecting, and life- changing?
Some of it comes down to personality. If we did a worship survey on what we all find MOST helpful in our Sunday worship service – what answers would we get. Actually, let’s see right now. Out of all the different aspects of the worship service do you love or find helpful? The songs? The prayer? The liturgy? Communion? The reading of the Bible? Kids Talk? Sermons?
Sixty seconds to talk to the people around you…
What I find interesting is that what is helpful to people is nearly as varied as the number of people who responded. I have done worship surveys in other congregations and all they show is that we are varied. Some people love it when we split into small groups, others don’t like it at all. Some people find the new songs draw them into the presence of God whereas for others it is the hymns. Some people love meaty content sermons and other like relational story based preaching. Some people say that services such as the combined services or the Turratots services are the highlight for them where as other honestly wrote that they choose not to come on those Sundays.
So … when how do we even begin to explore what warm, authentic, alive, creative, relevant, connecting, and life- changing worship experiences might be for us here at TUC when there is so much variety in what people find helpful when it comes to style, content, creativity and song choice.
But what is worship? Is worship actually about what style and content that we find helpful? For me worship is not actually about us. It is about God. Worship is not about what we like or enjoy but it is about us coming into the presence of the living God, acknowledging God’s place in our lives, and giving God our praise, thanks, love and focus. Worship is about God!
That is not to say that worship does not have a benefit or purpose for us. It does. Psalm 1 talks about how a person who walks in the ways of God is like “a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither”. I think worship is like that river. When we draw close to God, when we pause in God’s presence, when listen to God’s word to us …
it is like we are sinking our roots into the river which gives life. After worship we should feel refreshed, nourished, connected with the source of life.
This is why the Psalmist in Psalm 63 wrote (and I read this from the message translation)
God—you’re my God!
I can’t get enough of you!
I’ve worked up such hunger and thirst for God,
traveling across dry and weary deserts.
So here I am in the place of worship, eyes open,
drinking in your strength and glory.
In your generous love I am really living at last!
My lips brim praises like fountains.
I bless you every time I take a breath;
My arms wave like banners of praise to you.
Do you like that picture of worship?
So how do we create that sense of passionate worship here at Turramurra? How do we create our communal worship in such a way that we cultivate a deep desire to be with God, that our eyes are wide open and we drink in God’s strength and glory? And where in response we overflow with praise.
I was reading a sermon by Dr Bud Reeves of the First United Methodist church where he have three suggestions which I found really helpful. I have adapted them a bit, but I wanted to share them with you. Firstly Dr Bud suggested that if we wanted do develop passionate worship we needed to pray. He acknowledged that most of the time when he finds worship unhelpful it is less about the style or content but often more about that he is just not in a good place with God.
I don’t know if you noticed but when some people arrives for worship, they send a few moments in their seat in prayer. They say it helps them centre themselves and become more focused on worshiping God. I am usually running around trying get ready … but maybe there is something in that idea of stopping and being still for a moment.
I also think that it is not just the act of prayer that helps, but the sense of expectation that comes with the prayer.
I remember when I was about 17 and the Toronto blessing was all the rage. That is where people who be prayed upon for the Holy Spirit to come and sometimes that included people laughing or falling down. I went to a rally where people from Toronto had come to lead the worship … and yes, the Holy Spirit came to that rally in a big way. Later as I thought about I wondered why God was so visible at that rally and not at our church on a normal Sunday service? I wondered whether it was that everyone came to the Toronto blessing rally expecting God to do something and that expectation or openness allowed the Spirit to move. Do we come to worship here at TUC and expect to experience God in real and meaningful way? Maybe we should pray and be more expectant when we come to worship?
Secondly, Dr Bud suggested that we have a better understanding of the audience when it comes to worship.
I found these pictures a few years ago. They also ask the question … who is the audience in worship. Are we the audience and the minister, worship leaders, musicians, readers and prayers are all there to bring worship to us …
Or is God the audience and we are all participants in giving worship to God, and the role of the minister or worship leader is to prompt or guide us in that process?
Dr Bud suggests that many churches have got themselves so caught up in presenting great worship that congregations have become passive – or even worse, they become reviews or worship critiques on whether the worship was good or not for them. But as I said at the beginning … ultimately worship is not about us – it is about God.
Lastly … and I think this is a great point – Dr Bud suggests that if we want passionate worship we need to engage our hearts. Every worship service should connect with our intellect, our emotions and our actions. Good worship service intrigues the mind, inspires the heart and invites us to do something in response.
Dr Bud was suggesting that Methodists (which is his denomination) have made worship very intellectual … people want solid teaching, well-crafted prayers, non-repetitive songs … after all they are well educated, biblically literate people who want to be stretched. And they are pretty good at living out the sermon in their daily lives, in their acts of service and compassion. What, he said, Methodist are not good at are engaging their heart – allowing worship to connect with them on an emotional level.
I wonder … does that sound a bit like us? Not that I think we need to be all clapping, raising hands, dancing in the aisle and shouting Hallelujah – but if we are talking about passionate worship … then isn’t the emotional aspect the passionate part?
Bishop Schnase, the author of the Five Practices for Fruitful Congregations adds, “the word Passionate speaks of an emotional connection that goes beyond intellectual consent. Passionate worship is about an eagerness, anticipation, expectancy, deep commitment, and belief that we are able to come into the very presence of the almighty God”
How can we here at TUC not only have worship that is intellectually stimulating and inspires us into action for God’s glory … but also allows people to deeply, passionately experience God.
You may be wondering why I chose the passage from 1 Corinthians 14 as our bible reading. It is a funny passage and if you read the verses around it (the bits about speaking in tongues and women not speaking at all), it can be unhelpful, hurtful and may make people feel excluded.
However, verse 25 has always been a key verse in my understanding of worship and in particular my goal whenever I am involved in the leadership of worship. You see for me, my deep desire in not that you will love my sermon, or enjoy the music, or find the prayers inspiring … but rather I want you to go away from this time of worship and feeling that the real issues in your life have been helped or addressed, that you were able to (metaphorically) fall to your knees and worshipped deeply and passionately and most of all that you leave this place declaring … ““God was truly here among us.”
That is what worship is … to come together as a church family and discover that God is also here …
Over the next few weeks we are going to look at things like worship as a lifestyle, at things that are helpful and not helpful, and some new innovations in alternative worship … but for now let’s just sit with the simple ideas that I have tried to express.
- That worship is about God, not us.
- To prepare for worship with prayer and be expectant
- To maybe let down our guards a bit and not just engage our minds but also our hearts and emotions in worship
But in particular, to have that desire that our worship here would be one where the people in our community, where the kids in my scripture class – would not say is boring but rather declare … the worship down at the Turra Uniting … it is amazing because God is truly there among them.
So be it. So be it.