March 21, 2021 - Fifth Sunday in Lent
How do we begin to look at worship as not confined to a particular experience but central to our everyday lives?
If you’ve been with us over the past four weeks, you’ll know that during this Lenten season, we are exploring some of the spiritual practices, or spiritual disciplines, that can help us focus on our humanity, devote some time to self-reflection, and practice turning towards Jesus, who waits for us on the cross on Good Friday. On the first Sunday in Lent, I talked about self-examination and prayer based upon the lectionary readings from Psalm 51 and Psalm 29. On the second Sunday in Lent, I talked about scripture based upon Romans 4:13 and Psalm 22. On the third Sunday in Lent, I discussed forgiveness and repentance supported by Psalm 19. Last week, I talked about our personal need to fast.
The pandemic has altered our church patterns in ways that we could never have imagined. But we have not stopped worshiping. The spiritual discipline of worship isn’t just about showing up for church on Sunday… even if it is in your slippers and bathrobe in front of your computer. It’s really about weaving worship through our everyday lives in different ways.
We experiment with different forms of worship throughout the church year. Sometimes we use Rite I (with the old Elizabethan-inspired language), sometimes we use alternative texts published by the Episcopal Church, sometimes we look to the Church of England (like I have for Lent) or New Zealand, but most of the time we use Rite II (open your prayer books to page 355). There are times that I choose texts that are uncomfortable and unfamiliar because I feel like there is a time to make you think about the words that are being said. But there is also a time for familiarity and comfort in the words and actions that we do. (We’ve been removed from this comfort since October, and so I’ve really tried to keep most of worship as consistent as possible!)
How does it make you feel when worship is uncomfortable? I recall a time when I was first exposed to the new wording of the Nicene Creed and I just couldn’t spit it out to save myself. I had to read this sentence three times before I got it:
“We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, … For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven, was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became truly human.” [compare with “We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, … For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man.”] As much as I hated that change, it made me think about what the difference was between the two. How do changes like this affect your understanding of worship?
We have all experienced moments like this when we weren’t sure if what we were doing was “really” worship or wondered about what worship “truly” was. Perhaps we’ve felt that we’ve been worshipping when we were doing something outside the church -- standing at the ocean, hiking in the forest, climbing a mountain, gathered around a table eating a meal with friends and family. Scripture tells us that everything we do is worship - from our breathing to our eating, as long as it is done with the intent of praising God.
Truth be told, there are no real standards for “how” to worship. We have guidelines that are in place for the Episcopal Church, but we don’t actually have Jesus on record as saying that 14 prayers must be said, or that all the verses of the hymns we choose must be sung. Worship starts with intent -- the intent that everything that is done in a day is done to give glory to God. It is important to remember that God does not require a specific bulletin or order of worship, but that our worship should be done with the intention to bring glory to God. It is NOT about perfection -- which Carol Weekley will attest to learning on my first Sunday at St. Michael and All Angels -- although recording the service makes it look much closer to perfection. It is about living our lives as disciples.
All this talk makes me think about what exactly the Greeks who were going up to worship in our Gospel today were going to do. It’s intentionally not revealed in this story. We should not have rigid ways of thinking about how to live out our faith. Early Christian communities, like the community in Corinth, often believed that it was not lawful to eat and drink with people of other religions, but Paul began teaching that it was permissible to do so, and because of the freedom we have in Jesus, these acts should become acts of worship. Kindness and openness to the hospitality of others even turn these regular moments into opportunities to bear witness to our faith in God.
Today’s action questions:
- How do you worship and where do you feel most connected to God?
- What element in our weekly worship service connects you with God and what disconnects you?
- How can knowing the answers to these questions help you to create opportunities for worship in your daily life?
- Is our community a safe place to explore different ways of worship? How can we use the different gifts and interests each of us has to express worship in a new community way?
- How do we begin to look at worship as not confined to a particular experience but central to our everyday lives?