June 7, 2009
“What Is Worship?”
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Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty
Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee.
Holy, holy, holy! Merciful and mighty,
God in three persons, blessed Trinity!
What is holy to you and where do you find it? Where does it find you? I recall in my childhood, even before I attended church on a regular basis, I saw things that were sacred and recognized certain places as instilling awe and reverence.
But certainly my becoming a follower of Jesus gave me new eyes, new ears, and a new heart to discern God’s presence. Dorothy Hofrichter, whom we remember today, would have agreed with me that every time our beloved trio of women: Carol Mills, Twyla McKee, and Carol Henderson sang in worship, it was a thing of beauty. They were not professional musicians, though they would have been tickled had you mistaken them for such. No, they were simply as sincere as they were good. Watching three strong women, whose individual lives we all knew were filled with joy and sorrow, work together to give glory to God was enough to inspire us all. It did me.
I also remember sitting by Lake Brownwood at the Christian Church Camp on the lake while attending Youth Leadership Seminar in the summers I was chosen to go and represent my area youth. There was a particular tree that had fallen some years before I started attending the camp, and now was rubbed bare by the elements. Sitting on it at morning watch each daybreak I poured out my heart to the divine, confessing every teenage sin I could fathom, singing “Pass It On” and “Have You Seen Jesus, My Lord” to the lapping water at the lakeside.
Many years later, living in New York City, I was reminded what I knew before my baptism, that not every spiritual experience had to be related to my ministry, to a church building, nor to a church-sponsored event. On several occasions, one I remember in particular, I, or Craig and I together, would explore a new section of that vast and intricate metropolis and be filled with wonder and awe at how God-in-humanity had crafted such environments and how, with all their urban problems, nonetheless allowed for joy, beauty, and achievement to occur.
On one Saturday we chose to venture north from our brownstone home deep into East Harlem, known as Spanish Harlem in song and story, but as multi-cultural as my mind could humanly imagine. We gave God the glory for such a rich tapestry of people, foods and smells, languages and music, buildings and activities. So much of what we saw when we explored that magnificent city had the mark of the divine, the stamp of the sacred, upon it.
Now I want to hear from you. What is holy and where do you find it. It might help to review some synonyms for “holy.” They include:
sacred, awesome/awe-inspiring, consecrated, hallowed, religious, blessed, divine, godly, reverential, righteous, spiritual, sublime, venerable, entrancing, ethereal…
What is holy to you, and where do you find it?
I am well aware that while there are many places that we find holy in our world, it is THIS place and THIS time that we have come to expect to feel God’s presence, the divine, holy. It is this expectation that makes our worship hour filled with both such excitement, possibility, and tension, for no one of us experiences the holy in the same way. This conversation about worship will continue in the coming year, but we will explore it very intentionally in worship the next three Sundays. Of course, I will bring encounters from my participation in the “Worship On The Edge Conference” in New York City that was a central part of my Study and Renewal Leave, in addition to my work a year ago on the first part of my Study & Renewal Leave in Minneapolis and Washington, DC.
What is holy and what makes/nurtures/assists each person to feel holy is different for every worshipper, and yet a dynamic effective multi-cultural congregation will seek to offer, as best possible, worship experiences that meets most/more people where they feel holy. I worshipped in many such congregations that were seeking to open up a place, a time, an experience so that all of God’s children might feel the holiness of the divine in some way during their service of worship. It is not accidental that I talk about worship, and the experience of the holy, immediately following Pentecost Sunday, for it is the Pentecost model that defines how the church should worship God following the birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. It is a church that should always be glorifying God in such a way that persons can most fully hear the Good News in their own “language” because we are telling the Good News in many “languages!”
The Rev. Jacqui Lewis calls worship a “rehearsal of the story of God’s reign.” I’ll cover several of her points in upcoming sermons, but let me tell you a little bit about their April 26 service at Middle Church …
It is oft noted that in the history of the Irish people there is a Celtic understanding of “thin places” which is a term for places where one experiences holiness. One spiritual blogger notes:
“In the Celtic tradition such places that give us an opening into the magnificence and wonder of that Presence are called ‘Thin Places.’ There is a Celtic saying that heaven and earth are only three feet apart, but in the thin places that distance is even smaller. A thin place is where the veil that separates heaven and earth is lifted and one is able to receive a glimpse of the glory of God. A contemporary poet Sharlande Sledge gives this description.
‘Thin places,’ the Celts call this space,
Both seen and unseen,
Where the door between the world
And the next is cracked open for a moment
And the light is not all on the other side.
God shaped space. Holy. (1)
Certainly the prophet Isaiah, early on in his epic prophesy, became aware of a “thin place,” when he had his experience of the holy in the Temple.
Worship, for Isaiah:
1. Show up. Woody Allen is famously quoted as saying, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” How often have you been in worship in the past two months? What’s your average for the past year?
2. Recognize God’s glory in the strange and different. Where were you last confronted with God’s glory in a manner or place you least expected it?
3. Confession (both personal and communal) is necessary for worship. What do you need to confess to God, personally, today? What does your family, neighborhood, church, city, nation, race need to confess to God today?
4. Redemption/cleansing will happen and we need to receive it as a gift. Do you leave worship with the same burdens you arrived with? What do you need to give over to God or be cleansed of this day?
5. True worship is never contained in the moment, but always involves a calling out or a sending forth. Where are you sent following this worship? What are you called to today because of this service?
In the confessions of the reformed churches it is stated clearly that the chief end of humankind is to glorify God and enjoy God forever. If this is true, and I think it is, then every moment of every day should be dedicated to seeking out the holy and worshipping God wherever we are. Thus, the time we set aside and call “worship” should be even more intentional and crafted with care. Thus, I will be working with our Worship Team, led by Carrie Culleen, and our New Worship Initiatives Team, led by Colleen Munley, and our worship staff, Jim Robinson and Scott Posey, as well as our Board of Elders to help make our worship experiences at Franklin Circle Christian Church even more clearly a “rehearsal” of the story of the Reign of God. I welcome your prayers and your input.
1. Where Can I Touch The Edge Of Heaven? by Sylvia Maddox at http://www.explorefaith.org/mystery/mysteryThinPlaces.html, Sharlande Sledge, “Thin Places.” Nonpublished
2. Westminster Shorter Catechism, found online at: http://www.shortercatechism.com/resources/beattie/wsc_be_001-003.html
Rev. Allen V. Harris
Franklin Circle Christian Church
Copyright 2009 -- The Rev. Allen V. Harris
Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
1688 Fulton Rd., Cleveland, OH 44113-3096