A number of years ago I attended a United Church Worship & Music Symposium entitled Worship Matters!
Hence my sermon title this week.
I have to tell you that it was amazing… uplifting worship in a variety of styles, stimulating keynote speakers and captivating workshops.
The workshops I took were:
• Leaving the lectionary
• You gotta move when the Spirit says move
• All ages, all the time
• Authenticity in worship
All of these have had an impact on my preaching and worship leadership over the next year.
A couple of weeks ago, I got to experience different styles of worship at the Annual Meeting of Maritime Conference.
There were very different styles, from a Celtic communion service to high energy dancing of Youth Forum and Intermediates.
Why does worship matter to you?
Invite folks to talk to one or two others about why worship matters to them.
Comments from congregation:
• To be with other people of faith
• To get perspective on what is important
• The church family together
• Feelings of peace, friendship and love
• Opportunity to discuss faith
• Learn something every week
• Be become centred
Cheri DiNovo was one of the speakers at that symposium.
Cheri is a United Church minister who is now an MP and I think has just said she will seek the NDP leadership.
She told a story about a dying church… this church had a sanctuary that could seat 1000, they were getting about 50 in worship on a Sunday morning.
Cheri figured that the only reason they called her to ministry in that place was that they figured that they had enough money to keep the door open for another two years and they figured she couldn’t do much damage in that time.
During the first year she continually preached about God’s inclusive love… love for all God’s people, not just the middle and upper class people who had traditionally formed the membership of this church.
They tried a variety of things, contemporary worship, Taizé, coffee house and so on.
At the end of the year, they evaluated how they were doing and while they had picked up a family here and there, there had also been a couple of deaths of the original members and so there attendance and participation would remain about the same…
After prayer and discernment, they decided to look at the community in which they lived and see who needed the message of God’s unending and unfailing love.
And in her community of downtown Toronto, it was the homeless community that was living on her doorstep… often battling addictions and mental illness. There were also many gay/lesbian/transgendered people….
And they decided if they only had enough money to survive another year, they would do it in style, to live out their faith, which said Love God, Love your neighbour as yourself.
On a Wednesday evening they put up a sign saying ‘Come join us for supper.”
They bought President’s Choice Lasagna, some Caesar salad and garlic bread and opened the doors.
The first Wednesday a few folks wandered in, the next a few more and of course the word spread… most of these folks who never have darkened the door of the church on Sunday morning… and many of them needed to know that God loved them…
And more came, and more came…
And then, something happened… word got around in the community that this is what the church was doing and you know what happened?
The middle and upper class people who can contribute financially started coming to church… and let’s face it, ministry cannot take place without financial support.
And you know why they started to come?
Because they saw the church as a powerful example of the kinds of values that they wanted their children to have.
They saw the church as a community of people who cared
They experienced the church as a place in which all were accepted, all were valued, all were loved.
Powerful message there…
And when Cheri left that church, to enter politics, the sanctuary was full most Sundays.
And it started with worship… a community that heard God’s call to be hospitable and welcoming, not just to those like them… but to the community in which they lived. (Story heard from Cheri at Worship Matters, any errors are mine)
Worship matters because it is the one time of the week in which we all gather together… where we hear the stories of our faith… where we can be renewed in mind, body and Spirit.
Worship matters because it reminds us while many things are expected of us… that we are encouraged and challenged to be the hands and feet of Christ… we are not God…
That God is bigger and more powerful and more ‘other’ than we can possible imagine… and we can rest in God in worship, knowing that God loves us and cares for us…
And we can go out restored, renewed and reenergized to do the work that we are called to do.
We go out, not the same people who came in…
Just as that passage from Ezekiel says: When the people of the land come before the Lord at the appointed festivals, whoever enters by the north gate to worship shall go out by the south gate; and whoever enters by the south gate shall go out by the north gate: they shall not return by way of the gate by which they entered, but shall go out straight ahead.
The people go out differently from the way they came in…
We go out of worship, different than the way we come in…
We experience God and love and community…
We go out, equipped once more to live out our discipleship in the world we live in… whether that is your workplace, your home, your community…
You have a much better idea of what the needs are in our community…
The places that need us to be the hands and feet and heart of Jesus.
And there are people in this community who have never been invited to come and experience worship and encounter God… and find out how that helps equip us beyond Sunday morning.
The kinds of things we support because that is what God calls us to do!
Like the money we send to the Mission & Service Fund to support ministry with people around the country and around the world.
Like the food bank donations.
Like the calls I get from individuals in need.
Church is odd sort of organization… it is one of the few organizations that exists to serve those outside its membership.
What are the needs of this community that aren’t being addressed?
How can we raise out visibility in the community as a church who is concerned about those beyond our four walls?
Who in this community is in desperate need of the message of God’s love and acceptance?
Many of you shared ideas in a Listening Circle… and I am looking forward to writing that report… and gathering for more conversation about moving forward.
One of the things I have learned over the years is this: Everything we need to accomplish the work that God has for us is right here.
I’ll say that again: Everything we need to accomplish the work that God has for us is right here.
God doesn’t set us up for failure… we have everything we need to make a difference in our world.
We are richly blessed with resources of all kinds… time, talent and treasure…
You may have heard me that it is the preacher’s role to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable…
I am going to leave you with a challenge:
To talk to just one person this summer, outside of the church, about why Worship Matters to you.
About why you are a disciple of Jesus… and I bet you just using that phrase my some of you very uncomfortable! (smile)
And to invite them to come worship with you, to have them experience the good News of God’s love, because it is GOOD NEWS.
Thanks be to God, amen.
Ezekiel 46: 1-15
June 12, 2016
EPC – Off Lectionary