What Is Worship (Parts 1 & 2)
PART 1: What is Worship? Think about that for a moment…
I asked this question recently to a bible study group who in turn responded with a variety of answers. The first of which was “Praising God!” followed by “Reading of the Word”, “Music”, and “A time where I can shed the old negative ways and renew myself in a new way of thinking and feeling”. These are all beautiful and thoughtful responses and I am sure that many of you could add some of your own that would be equally valuable. And yet, still there are some of us who wonder, ” What is worship all about?”. What is it that we do on Sunday mornings (and Wednesday nights) and why do we do this thing when there are so many other choices and options that beg for our time and attention? And so, I write today to unpack the what and why of worship.
I thought a great place to start is to offer what the greater church has to say. A message from the ELCA:
For Lutherans, worship stands at the center of our life of faith. Through God’s word, water, bread and prayer we are nurtured in faith and sent out into the world. Connected with and central to everything else we do worship unites us in celebration, engages us in thoughtful dialogue and helps us grow in our faith. It grounds us in our Christian and Lutheran roots, while demonstrating practical relevance for today’s world.
Ahh that explains everything right?
Well yes. It is helpful because at its core, worship is the place and space that we hear the word proclaimed and where we receive the sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion. These are called the “means of grace”, that is, the way in which we receive God’s grace given for us through the hearing of the Word of God (Bible readings and sermon messages) and receiving it through water, wine and bread. Where else in the world can you get these means of grace that remind us, reassure us and empower us to live fully into the promises of God? Where else and how else are we equipped to make disciples making a difference in a world so desperate for love and light? Worship is not only praising God, but it is the way in which we receive the grace of God and carry that gift out into the world. This is how transformation happens and you get to be part of God’s mission for the sake of the world!
PART 2: What is Worship
Luke 2:18-20 … and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.
You see from the verses above that Mary pondered worship herself. The shepherds heard from a messenger from God “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news.” And they also “they spread the word concerning what had been told” and “the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God” v.17 and v.20. In these few verses at the heart of our Christmas story, we see both Mary and the shepherds worshiping God and pondering the Word of God.
Now I ask the question again: What is worship? Now before you immediately think about the place that you go to on Sunday morning or another day of the week, I am going to stop you. Worship is not the church building or even the service that we call Sunday worship. But wait! Before you think that you are off the hook and don’t need to come on Sunday morning, I want you to hear me out.
We as Americans have been prone to think of worship as an event and our living in response to God’s good grace sent down for us. When we think of worship as an event to attend we spiral downward into looking for more entertaining methods on Sunday morning or worse yet, we are exhausted from our busy week and want to sleep in but then feel guilty about missing church and thus avoid future Sunday gatherings, leading to eventual drop out.
Worship goes beyond a service; it isn’t just a weekly event. At its heart worship gives shape to our life of faith on Monday and beyond. Through God’s Word, the Holy Meal and prayer we are nurtured in faith and sent out into the world. Worship has us treasure the Word of God and like Mary, ponder it in our hearts. Like the shepherds we hear the Word, spread the Word and go out into the world glorifying God. Worship then is not a thing reserved for a manager or an altar.
Worship is a way of life, a thing pondered in our hearts, something that we can’t keep to ourselves and freely share. St. Paul, in Romans 12:1-2 says it like this:
Therefore I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God-this is your true and proper worship. Don’t be conformed to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind so that you may discern what is the will of God.
Paul is telling us that to have true and proper worship we have to offer our entire lives to God and ponder these things. His words are “renew your minds so that you may discern”.
This is the definition of ponder: to think deeply about so as to discern. Sunday morning is just one part of something much bigger. Worship is a way of living and a way to thinking. This Holy season, I invite you to listen to the Word brought to you by messengers of God. I invite you to participate in the Holy Meal. I invite you to relive your baptism and participate in prayers. And I invite you to go beyond Sunday morning or Wednesday night and ponder these things in your heart.
~ Pr. Kimberly