Loving God, we thank you for this time to join together in worship as a community. Let our worship express our praise to you. May we rest in your loving presence during this time of Sabbath. And may we remember that you are with us here in this place on this day, and in every place on every day. Amen.
Today, we continue our sermon series on growing closer to God. And our focus today is building worship into our everyday life. What is worship and what is the intention and focus with which we worship? And how can this be a part of the rest of our week, in addition to our Sunday mornings?
And this is basically the first day of a two-part worship experience. Today we’re spending some time thinking about and reflecting on this idea. And next week we’re going to put some of this into practice because our time of worship will include an extended time of prayer and the opportunity to visit different prayer stations that will invite us to pray in varied ways. And prayer is, of course, a form of worship that can be done anywhere and anytime.
So, perhaps today’s sermon is the worship lecture and next week is the worship lab.
So, what is worship? What is at the heart of this thing we gather to do every Sunday? And how do we bring this into our everyday life?
At a most basic level, when we gather to worship, we gather to give God our praise and gratitude. We intentionally set apart time, as a community, to thank God for this very precious gift of life, for God’s faithfulness and steadfast love, and for the opportunity to share that love.
And really everything we do in a worship service is an expression of this praise to God. We sing. We ring. We pray. We read and reflect on scripture and, in doing so, we offer a public testament to God’s love. We listen for God’s call to us to serve and we share time in caring fellowship with each other. And, as I said last week, loving and serving others is absolutely a way we love and serve God.
And it is important, I think, to center our acts of praise and devotion, our acts of worship to our God, in gratitude. When we do that, we approach worship with joy in our hearts because we want to worship, because we are moved to express our gratitude and give voice to our deep joy.
By the way, this doesn’t mean we always have to be particularly cheerful or that we can’t express our troubles or sadness in worship. God knows us and accepts us as we are. And there is absolutely a place for lament and expression of all of our feelings in worship. And the kind of joy and gratitude I’m talking about is deep enough to still be found in the tough times.
But, in centering ourselves in gratitude, I do think we need to get rid of any notion that we worship either out of fear or blind obedience and obligation because God demandsit. That makes God seem kind of narcissistic.
I don’t think that God demands our worship. But God does rejoicein our worship because God rejoices in our desire to enter into relationship, to connect, to go a little deeper, to intentionally take the time to open ourselves up to the movement of the Holy Spirit.
When we set apart time and space to worship, we seek intimate connection with our Creator, with the very source of life and love, with the one who knows us fully, with the one who accepts us and loves us, flaws and all, with the one who won’t abandon us in tough times. At its most basic level, the act of worship is spending quality time with God.
And there are so many ways to do this and places to do this. Community worship at a church is one way, but it isn’t the only way. I suppose it is a happy Holy Spirit moment that we ended up having to worship here in our fellowship hall today. We all love our beautiful sanctuary (and we’ll be back in there soon!), but a brief change of venue can help us remember that sacred space can be created anywhere we are. And sacred time can be created anytime too.
Part of the challenge of building worship into our everyday life is creating the time and space for it. I think we all know that. We all know that we sometimes can get too busy, too distracted, too focused on other things.
And yet, worship really doesn’t have to take that much time and space, does it? We can simply light a candle and watching its flame flicker for a moment (and, as we do, remember the perpetual fire of the Holy Spirit that has burned for so long and still burns on). We can simply talk to God throughout the day. Prayer can be spontaneous and intentional at the same time. We can simply take a moment to say thanks when we experience something that moves us to wonder and gratitude.
There are so many ways to worship, so many ways to pray. And no wrong way! The opportunities are endless, really. And we can worship alone or in the company of others. Both are great ways to connect with God!
At one of our after worship discussions someone mentioned that they pray while driving and when stuck in traffic (with their eyes open, of course!) – that can transform a commute from mundane to meaningful.
Maybe you like to garden. Or knit. Or walk. Or cook. Or paint. Or sing in the shower. All of these activities can be times of worship and acts of prayer. The only thing that separates the so-called profane from the sacred is our intention. If we intend for an activity to be worshipful, if we intend for a space to be sacred, they can become so.
Our faith tradition affirms that the earth and its inhabitants belong to God and that this very creation is full of God’s glory. Anything we do that is centered in this affirmation can be a form of worship – worship that nurtures our relationship with God, worship that gives expression to our gratitude and joy, worship that helps us focus and listen, worship that helps us discern God’s call to us.
What it takes, I think, to transform the ordinary to the worshipful is mindfulness. When we approach all of life with awareness and intention, when we look for and take notice of the divine in our midst, our daily living can become worship.
In the twelfth chapter of his letter to the church in Rome, the Apostle Paul wrote:
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. (Romans 12:1, NRSV)
I also like Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of this passage in The Message: Here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for [God]. (Romans 12:1-2, The Message)
All our living can be an offering to God. All our living can be worship.
And the very good news is that we don’t have to do this perfectly. We simply need to try. And if we stumble, try again. Worship is about intention, not perfection.
Last week my mom sent me a link to a YouTube channel called Seven Plumsthat features a modern Chinese woman demonstrating the ancient Chinese arts of… just about everything. Each video is beautifully shot with soothing background music and sometimes just a little bit of commentary in Mandarin (sometimes with subtitles, sometimes without – but it doesn’t matter). This woman calmly makes things she can use like making paper from scratch which involves harvesting, boiling, and preparing the plant fiber pulp for days in order to pull individual sheets, and building furniture out of stalks of bamboo, and making makeup out of flower petals, and sewing a quilt stuffed with the silk she harvested from silk worms she raised herself.
These videos are captivating and beautiful. And part of their beauty is the slow, intentional process she goes through as she creates. And, though I know nothing about her spiritual life, there is an undeniable joy and curiosity that radiates from her as she caringly and mindfully handcrafts her creations. There is clearly a reverence in her process.
I think that creative process has something to teach us about worship too. It can teach us about mindfulness, reverence, joy, and curiosity. And sometimes we might need to slow down a bit in order to find ourselves in a worshipful attitude. In placing so much value on productivity and efficiency, our modern culture has sometimes made it difficult for us to embrace the value of a slow process. We tend to think we’re wasting time, but maybe we’re making the most of it.
I think I resonated with these videos so much because I see myself as a contemplative who sometimes has a hard time slowing down, and sitting still, and quieting my mind. I want to live, worship, and pray with mindfulness. But sometimes I struggle. And sometimes I forget. I know I’m not the only one.
As I’ve said many times before, creative expression and art making in various forms and yoga have helped me immensely. These practices bring my body, mind, and spirit into union and harmony. They help me be present and mindful. And they absolutely have become forms of worship and prayer for me.
These ways work for me. And if you are looking for a prayer practice, a way to integrate worship into your daily life, find something that works for you. Your way doesn’t have to be someone else’s way. It may or may not be and that’s ok. And don’t be afraid to try out something new if that’s what you need right now.
In your worship bulletin today is an article that I found interesting and helpful entitled “Fumbling my way into prayer” (great title). The author, Debie Thomas, writes about her journey into a contemplative prayer practice. I encourage you to read the whole thing, but what I especially loved is her reflection on the invitation to surrender.
She writes: Fumbling my way into silent, contemplative prayer has necessitated a series of surrenders. A surrender, first of all, of my striving, worker-bee mentality. When I pray now, I don’t accomplish anything I can tick off a checklist. I’m not precise, efficient, or tidy. If anything, I waste valuable time, sitting and doing nothing. But increasingly, I don’t mind, because I’m doing that wasteful nothing with God.
Second, I’ve had to surrender my need to comprehend the spiritual life before I trust it. Silent prayer asks me to believe that God’s work has little to do with my consciousness or emotional experience and that what happens in the silence is meant to be mysterious—even to me… In silence, my spirit somehow communes with God’s. Communication happens. Intimacy happens. Love happens. I have no proof of this—just a hunch, the testimony of contemplative pray-ers far more experienced than I, and a growing faith in a God who likes to show up.
Finally, contemplative prayer has prompted me to surrender a controllable God for a wilder, more magnificent one. During those fleeting microseconds when distraction falls away and I rest in silent prayer, the divine presence I perceive is one I can’t possibly describe with words. The God whose first language is silence is vast. I never have to find such a God; he simply is. I’ll never find words to hold such a God; she holds me. I can’t earn this God’s love; love is the ground I stand on. In truth, this God always is, always holds, and always loves. But silence allows me to abide for a little while in that exquisite always. (Christian Century, November 21, 2018)
We can find that “exquisite always” too. And if you’ve struggled to find it sometimes, keep at it, don’t give up.
There are so many ways to worship, so many ways to pray, so many ways to approach all of our living as an offering to God – an offering in gratitude for God’s faithfulness, in trust of God’s enduring love and grace, and in openness to God’s call.
So worship in a sanctuary, worship in a fellowship hall, worship in the streets, worship in your home, at work and at play; worship by yourself, with family, with friends, and with a community.
And, as you do, may you experience the sacred and holy; may you take notice of God’s presence and grow closer to God who abides, holds, and loves, and whose glory fills this blessed, beloved creation, including your blessed and beloved life.