I�d like to begin with a questionthis morning.� How important is worship?� There are so many other practicalthings to talk about, why take a full month to talk about such an arcanesubject? And not just any month, but the month before Christmas!� Doesn�t paceof life, for instance, seem more applicable?� Or maybe the value of family andfriends?� Or, with Thanksgiving gatherings just past and Christmas just ahead,maybe the value of forgiveness? What is the big deal with worship, anyway?
How important is worship?� Ibelieve it is the single most important thing we do, and I hope in the weeks tocome to help us all better see why.� For now, just let me suggest that whenpeople miss what worship is all about, people begin to forget who God reallyis.� And when people forget who God is, it is only a matter of time until theyforget who they are as well.� It is only a matter of time until their heartsgrow hard, their spirits turn cold, and community itself begins to break down.
That is why, over the next fourweeks leading right up to Christmas, we are going to devote ourselves to notonly understanding, but also offering, true Biblical worship.� We are going tostart this morning by focusing one essential truth.� We want to be clear as clearcan be on this one, friends, because this is the very heart of worship�thatworship at its very center is all about God.�
Said another way, worship is notabout me.� And frankly, that is a good thing.� Life from my perspective doesn�talways look that great.� My good friend Big Al sent me a �cheerful� e-mail thisweek entitled �What a difference 30 years makes�.� Here are some of thehighlights.
1972: Long hair
2002: Longing for hair
1972: Acid rock
2002: Acid reflux
1972: Being called into the principal's office
2002: Calling the principal's office
1972: Moving to California because it's cool
2002: Moving to California because it's warm
1972: Rolling Stones
2002: Kidney Stones
Oh,thanks, Big.� If that is not bad enough, it goes on.
Just incase you weren't feeling too old today, this will certainly changethings. Each year the staff at
Beloit College in Wisconsin putstogether a list to try to give the faculty a sense of the mindset ofthis
year's incoming freshmen.�
Again, some highlights.
�Here's this year's list:
The people who are starting college this fall across the nationwere born in 1983.
They are too young to remember the spaceshuttle blowing up�
They cannot fathom not having a remote control. (Istill don�t know how to use most of my remotes!)
They never took a swim and thought about Jaws.
They don't know who Mork was or where he was from.
They never heard: "Where's the Beef?", "I'd walk a milefor a Camel", or "de plane Boss, de plane".
They do not care who shot J.R. and have no idea who J.R. even is.
McDonald's never came in Styrofoam containers.
They don't have a clue how to use a typewriter.
You see, it is a good thing thatworship is not about me.� Our worlds are quite limited, ever subject to change,and in the process of passing away. But God reins high above all these things,and so worshipping Him raises us above them as well.
Worship takes me out of my ownpettiness.� It lifts me above my flaws and failings.� It carries me beyond theups and downs of my moods.� It does so precisely because it focuses on who Godis, not who I am.�
With that in mind, I want to lookat four things that can derail our worship.� Each succeeds to the degree thatit distracts us from centering our minds on God, disengaging our hearts anddisconnecting our souls from the One Who is Life itself.� As we look at each ofthese, let�s commit ourselves to saying, "This is not going to happen tous."
The first way that worship getsderailed is when worship becomes casual. Casual worship is always offtrack.
Consider the picture of Godpainted in today�s scripture readings.� Today�s Gospel, for instance, portraysthe power of God displayed in mighty and dramatic works with the coming ofJesus.� In Isaiah, He is the God who causes the mountains to quake andtremble.� In the Psalm, He sits enthroned among the cherubim and seraphim,grand and glorious angelic creatures.� In other words, He is not the kind ofGod that one approaches casually.
And yet, this is precisely whatwe are tempted to do.� We are so used to going to rooms and sitting throughmovies or games or concerts that it becomes all too easy simply to think ofthis as just one more event in a long list of things that we may or may not dodepending on whether or not it fits ours schedule.� It becomes just one moreplace where we gather with our friends and shoot the breeze while God stands inthe wings waiting.
So how do we avoid casual worshipand come reverently into the presence of Almighty God who holds our very livesin the palm of His hand?
I suggest we come prepared toworship.� I know that is not easy�it is hard enough just getting our bodieshere --and the bodies of our kids for those of us who have them.� But I�m askingus to get our hearts, our spirits here as well�and that takes preparation.
Such preparation in itself honorsGod, because the truth is we always prepare for what is important to us.�Business people prepare for the big meeting.� Athletes prepare for the biggame.� I know I prepared for the Thanksgiving meal, eating slightly bigger andbigger meals everyday for weeks to stretch my stomach so I could get all theThanksgiving goodies in.� We prepare for what is important to us.
I'm asking us to come preparedfor worship. Typically, in an Episcopal church, this would entail arriving afew minutes early, entering the church in silence, pulling out the kneeler, andspending some time in prayer.� It becomes a time to begin to let thedistractions of the world fall away and to focus on the presence of God.
When we do this, we are thenbetter to fully enter into the worship of the day.� Have any of you ever beento a church where people were just going through the motions?� How did you feelwhen you left that place?� How do you think God felt?
When we prepare our heartsappropriately, we are able to avoid that kind of worship. We are fully presentin the words that we say, enthusiastic�a word which simply means, �in God�whenwe sing, humbly contrite in the words we confess, bold in the faith we profess,and attentive to the words God would speak to us.� In short, in worship wesincerely offer God our hearts, and minds, and souls.
When we come for worship, wedon�t want to hang back waiting for something to wow us.� We don�t want tocoast on through, brains on autopilot as we think about other things.� God ishere�the Almighty God of the Universe who holds our lives in His hands.�"Make his praise glorious," the Psalmist says in Psalm 66:2.� That�sour job, friends, to make His praise glorious.
So let�s just commit ourselvesright now, as individuals and as a congregation that we will not engage incasual worship here at St. Matthews.� We can do better, friends�and Goddeserves the very best we have to offer.� Casual worship always misses itsmark.
Another way that worship missesits mark is what we are going to call consumer-oriented worship.�� Thisis a particularly difficult one, because we live in a consumer orientedsociety.
Think about it.� Pretty muchwherever I am, I know that if I am hungry there will be a fast foodfranchise�Wendy�s, lets say.� I know I drive up, and the person behind thewindow will provide me a service�in this case, a nice hot hamburger.� My partin the deal�after paying for it, of course�is simply to consume the product inhand.
In much the same way, it is alltoo possible to come to a town looking for a religious franchise�the EpiscopalChurch, let say.� We drive on up and the person who stands behind the altarprovides me a service which I simply sit back and consume. This is particularlydangerous in a liturgical church.� It is all too easy to believe that theperson saying the liturgy is doing our work for us.� We just sit back, muchlike at a movie, and take it in.
Let me take just a moment to saya word about liturgy.� Liturgy comes from two Greek words�laos, which meanspeople, and ergos, which means work or energy.�� It means, �work of the people�and it is meant at heart to involve everyone�to take worship away from the soledomain of the priest.� The form of our services is meant to be a tool intowhich all of the people gathered pour their energy.� That is literally whatliturgy is meant to be.
That is why we have a Book ofCommon Prayer�so that we can all pray in common, not just one personrunning the show.��� The priest may give voice to the prayers, but because theyare written out in front of us, you follow along, saying them with all yourheart, and mind, and soul as well. Very often you will also have key words tosay that work in harmony with mine.� We become a team, or in Biblical language,a body. You have a part to do that is every bit as crucial, every bit asimportant as mine.
So lets agree right now thatsomething we will not do is come here as consumers. You are not here as aconsumer of a worship service. This is not a movie. It is not a play. It is nota game. It is not a show.
Worship is a gift we offer toGod, and we are here primarily as a giver of worship to God Almighty.�
Another way worship misses itsmark is with what might be called a narrow approach to worship.�� InJohn 4 Jesus is talking to a Samaritan woman.� She asks him how God should beworshipped�on a local mountain, according to the local custom of her people, orin Jerusalem according to the custom of the Jews.
Jesus answers that both arewrong�that God is bigger than that.� The time will come, Jesus says, whenpeople realize that worship also must be bigger than that, and so will worshipGod in spirit and in truth.
The sad truth is that many peopletoday make the same mistake that this woman makes �and to be fair, that many ofthe religious people of her day made as well.� Too many people think the onlypeople who get worship right are the people in my little group who do it in ourlittle style on our little mountain.� And when that is not the case, theywithhold their hearts from worship.
This is so very important.� Lindaand I just watched a church with a tremendously healthy family ministry�over100 kids on any given Sunday in Sunday school blow itself up because it wouldnot even consider contemporary service options.� Now there aren�t even ten kidsin the entire Sunday school.� It breaks our heart.
The great tragedy of this is thatprecisely because worship draws us out of ourselves into the very presence ofGod, it also lifts us out of all that separates and divides.�� In a beautifuland powerful way, it makes us one.
That is very different than theworld around us which tends to separate and divide.� The other day I was drivingwith my oldest daughter and one of her friends when they commented on the radiostation I was listening to�94.7.� They play the only real music, classic rockand roll. Timeless stuff.� Apparently, however, my daughter and her friend didnot share my opinion as I heard them talking about how their parents listen tothe �oldies station�.� Ouch!
We live in a world that separatesand divides.� It does so by generations, by musical taste, by the clothes wewear and such. The church, however, knows a better way.� It is called worship.Because worship is all about God, it has the power to deliver us fromgenerational power struggles and make us one.� That is an incredible gift,friends.
And here I simply want to say this is something that you,St. Matthew�s, do so very well. You realize that worship is too good for us tokeep to ourselves.� We offer three different services with three distinctstyles so we can keep saying to those who are around us, �You can come intoo.�� I could not be more proud of you.� More importantly, I believe God ispleased and delighted.
OK, this brings us to the lastway that worship misses the mark.� When worship is disconnected from yourlife, it is always off track. And I have to think this is the mostdevastating mistake of all.� When our hearts get separated from our words,worship simply cease to exist.� This is so important, in fact, that we aregoing to devote an entire sermon to this alone.�
For now, let�s just read a versetogether.� Look at the fourth point on your sermon notes, and you�ll findIsaiah 29:13.� Let�s read this together.� "The Lord says, �These peoplecome near to me with their mouths and honor me with their lips, but theirhearts are far from me, and their worship of me is made up only of rules taughtby men� "
On Tuesday night, Linda and Imade a last minute decision to do a banzai run down to North Carolina to see myparents.� We�d leave Wednesday night, stay Thursday and Friday, and then headback early Saturday.
Now you probably realize that myfamily and I live in something of a fishbowl.� We feel a certain amount ofpressure to be on our best behavior.� Sometimes, then, when we go away and thatpressure is gone, well�all that repressed �bad� behavior has a way of pouringout.� This was one of those times.� Linda and I got in a huge fight, one of ourworst in years.�
When we got to my parents, ofcourse we smiled and acted as if everything was fine.� Maybe it even was finefor a couple days, and we had a great time.� But it wasn�t long after we got inthe car to go home that we were back at.� When we finally got home, nothing wasresolved.� Finally, in the middle of a particularly heated moment, Linda askedme, �Rob, how are you going to stand up and preach tomorrow?��
Is that a fair question, friends?�
You�re right. It most certainlyis.� Linda was dead on.� Of all the ways worship gets off track, this is themost devastating.
May that not be true of us,friends.� As we go through this series together, may we find ever increasingways to make this time of worship not just the words of our mouths, but thesincere meditations of our hearts as well, and in so doing, to keep our worshipvitally connected to our lives.� AMEN.