The Confirmation teacher was taking her class on a field trip to attend a worship service of a different denomination. As they entered the lobby, she said to them, “Now, we want to try and be quiet once we enter their sanctuary. Does anybody know why?” One of the kids said, “Based on what I’ve seen, is it because people are trying to sleep?”
We are now in our 2nd week of this current sermon series- The 5 Practices of Fruitful Congregations, based on the book by former United Methodist Bishop Robert Schnase. Last week, we began with Radical Hospitality- an active desire to connect people to Jesus and His church. Today, we move on to Passionate Worship as we focus on the notion that fresh encounters with God transform lives.
John 4:21-24-Jesus said, “Believe Me, woman, the time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet, the time is coming and has now come when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is Spirit and His worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”
Notice in that passage what Jesus says about worship? “Often, we worship things or people we don’t even know. And that’s true- us Americans worship all sorts of things- sports stars, movie stars, singers, power, position, wealth…the list goes on. You name it, somebody worships it.
Then, Jesus goes on- true worshipers worship God in spirit and in truth. They’re the kind of worshipers God wants. And I don’t know about you, but /I WANT to be that kind of worshiper!
Jesus also says that God is Spirit and that’s why we should worship Him in spirit and in truth. And that sounds great, but what does it mean? It means we should worship God with all our heart/soul, mind and strength AND…we should do it passionately.
Think about the word for a second- passionate. It seems almost a little risqué, doesn’t it? I mean, “passionate” is supposed to describe a romance novel, NOT a worship service. Right?
Last week we talked about the importance of having these adjectives in front of the nouns in the titles. We said that, without the modifier “radical” in front of it, “hospitality” simply means status quo. Likewise, the word “worship”, unless it is accompanied by a modifier like “passionate”, simply means business as usual.
You know me- I LOVE words. And I love to unpack them. Our word” comes from the Latin word “passio” and the Greek word “pathos”. Both of those ancient words refer to a deep feeling, particularly of a painful or difficult “suffering” variety. OK. Dictionary.com also doesn’t sound very happy about the whole thing-
“any powerful emotion or appetite- such as love, hate, anger, strong desire/lust, boundless enthusiasm…an abandoned display of emotion! And then they give this example- ”He killed her in a fit of passion!” Yikes!
Remember the movie “The Passion of The Christ”? In that context, the word “passion” refers directly to the suffering of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane and especially at the crucifixion. So, we passionately worship because of the passion of the cross! It would be great to focus on something nicer, less demanding and more sanitized and civilized when we worship. But it simply wouldn’t be completely authentic, REAL worship if there was no passion.
Now, the word “worship” comes from the Anglo-Saxon phrase “worth-ship” or “worthy work”. Carry that out- worship means work that is worthy…worthy of God. The question is- do we actually DO it? And the honest answer is- sometimes yes…and sometimes no.
So, how could we be more vitally connected to, deeply centered and vibrantly creative passionate worship? Passionate worship centers around people who are honest before both God and each other. They are more open to God’s presence and His will for their lives. And they are so eager for such worship that they are willing to reorder their lives to achieve it.
Passionate worship, at the end of the day, is a living thing that requires continued care, cultivation and effort to keep fresh. And our motivation to enhance the quality of worship is not only about deepening our faith. It’s also about letting God use us to offer hope, life and love to others. Worship is a sacred trust that requires our utmost for His highest!
So again, why do we worship? Why do we gather together and lift our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service and our service? What’s the point? If it’s simply about acquiring more head knowledge, we could read a book, attend a lecture or take a class. But it’s something else altogether. Why do we keep coming back to church? Why do we worship?
Do we keeping coming because we have to? Is it because Sunday is when “good” people go church, even if they’d rather stay home in bed, drinking coffee and doing the Sunday crossword puzzle? No- there is something deeper going on here. Do we it because we believe it’s the good, right, joyful and necessary thing to do? Do we believe it’s what God wants us to do to help us remember who we are and Whose we are?
I think, deep in our hearts, we worship because we want to be inspired, excited, motivated and passionate. We want to better connect with the passion of The Passion. At its core, worship is not about thinking, so much- it’s not merely an intellectual exercise. Worship is fundamentally a matter of the heart, but not just emotion. It’s NOT just some abstract theological construct. It’s real, radically real.
Maybe you think I get a little carried away with how important worship is- that I make too big deal out of the whole thing. And, if it helps to consider the source, knock yourself out! It’s what I do. It’s what I love. It’s who I am. In our worship, in our “worthy work”, we want to do our best to live up to God’s call to love. We want to let God guide us, teach us, feed us, lead us, empower us and encourage us to be passionate.
One day, while on patrol in the South Pacific, a Navy ship spied smoke on an uncharted island. It was coming from 1 of 3 crudely constructed huts that were visible. When they sent a team ashore to investigate, they discovered a lone shipwreck survivor, “I’m SO glad you’re here! I’ve been alone on this island for 5 years!” The team leader asked him, “If you’re alone, why are there 3 huts?” The man replied, “I live in one and go to church in another. “Well, what about the 3rd hut?” “Oh! That’s where I USED to go to church. But then things changed!”
Raise your hand if you’ve ever been in love. We love using “in love” images, don’t we? Why? Because we love being swept away by something so powerful and passionate. Have you ever been so in love that it caused you to say, “I would die for you”? I have- with my family. And that is precisely the point- God loves us so much that He died for us.
In the Bible, Abram and Sarai get new names- Abraham and Sarah. Simon and Saul get new names- Peter and Paul. Each of us has a new, unique, precious name. And we all have the SAME name: Beloved. It’s your name. It’s my name. It’s everybody’s name. And it’s an honor to remind everybody of that. That’s why we come to worship. That’s why we want it to be joyful, fulfilling, nourishing, energetic and passionate. We WANT to worship because we are God’s beloved!