Here is Rev Lorna's third talk called "Worship that renews and inspires" which she gave at Potterhanworth last week. From now on these talks are going to be posted on the All Saints Blog if you would like to continue to read them. I hope you have enjoyed reading the first three here on the Nocton Blog.
Sermon – Sunday June 19th 2016 – Worship that renews and inspires
Readings: Isaiah 65:1-9, Galatians 2:23-29 and Luke 8:26-39
James turned up at church one Sunday morning. At St Mary’s, Queniborough. No-one recognised him. He’d not been there before, or at least, not for a very long time.
They were a little worried. He looked like what he was, a middle-aged, well-educated, articulate, business man. And he’d turned up on the Sunday when it was the free4ALL – the family service!
So there was no prayer book and no traditional hymns, but modern songs, words projected on the overhead screen. It wasn’t quiet and peaceful – there was all the noise and restlessness you’d expect when there are babies, toddlers, children, and distracted parents. And the vicar wasn’t even there – she was at another church taking communion.
The free4ALL team did their best to make him welcome – but were afraid he wouldn’t like the service.
At the end, over a cup of coffee, someone talked to James. And he said: I’m so glad I came to church today, it was just what I needed.
Sunday worship. Just what I needed. I don’t think he meant that particular family service, but worship. Worship in church. Worship with other people. It was just what he needed. It is just what we all need.
God doesn’t need it. We need it. The Almighty isn’t like some elderly grandad, lonely and crotchety, wanting our company, but then finding us a bit of a nuisance if we make too much noise. He’s not like Father Christmas, wanting to give us nice things, but only if we’re good. And he’s not like some ancient despot, needing us to grovel in order to make him feel more important or more secure.
- God doesn’t need our worship.
- We’re not doing him a favour by turning up to pay our respects.
- We’re not here to keep an institution going.
- We’re not here because we’re on duty.
- We’re here because in the end we need to worship. Because worship does us good.
- Firstly we need to worship – it does us good - because it restores our sense of proportion. Worship is a way of saying that I believe there is a God, and - I know it’s not me. That’s very liberating. There is a God – and it’s not me. I’m a creature, of his making. In the very best sense of the words, I know my place in creation. More than that, I know myself to be loved, cherished, valued … all those things. I enjoy the full dignity of being a child of God. I don’t need to grovel, because God invites me to stand on my own two feet in his presence. But in order to do that - he first invites me to put down all the worries and vexations that weigh on my mind, all the guilt, shame, all the other distractions. Of course there is also a proper sense of awe and reverence, of ‘fear’ in the old sense of the word, but that too is liberating, because it’s reverence freely offered, not demanded.
- And then secondly – we need to worship, worship is good for us, because it gives us a sense of perspective. Worship invites us to take the long view. We know ourselves ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven. And we know that we’re being changed – our characters becoming more Christ-like. But change take time. We can look back into our past and see how far we’ve come, but we don’t need to let that past control us - because we are being re-clothed with Christ, who is far more interested in our future. And that future has an extraordinarily trajectory – because it extends beyond death and into our heavenly and imperishable inheritance with Christ.
- Thirdly – worship connects us not only with God, but also with the community of his people. And it is a truly extraordinary community – there’s nothing else like it the world over. It’s not a club for like-minded people who enjoy a sort of religious hobby. It’s a community called together by God – a small part of it gathering here in this place, but extending around the world and throughout time. It includes people of every colour, language, sexual orientation, every race and nationality. As Paul wrote to the Galatians: we are all one in Christ Jesus. And that community can – should – offer us a safe place in which to ask our questions, express our doubts, wrestle with the issues that perplex us, to learn and to grow.
But I’m going to include just one more. That worship recalls and renews our sense of purpose. We are sent out, in the words of the Eucharist, to live and work to God’s praise and glory. Sent out – not invited to stay in where it’s easy and secure. Sent out.
It reminds me of a poster I once saw, at a confirmation service. It said: A ship is safe in harbour – but that’s not what ships are for. So we’re sent out, to fulfil the purpose of our lives. Individually and collectively, sent to build the kingdom of God, with whoever is alongside us, in whatever place we find ourselves.
By now you might have noticed how closely this list mirror the events of today’s gospel.A man out of his mind, tormented, spending his days and nights among the dead instead of the living - desperate, ranting and raving. And then he meets Jesus - comes to Jesus. And Jesus sets him free from what troubles him, re-clothes him in his rightful mind, restores him to his community, and sends him into his future with a job to do. Or to put it another way, renews and inspires him. Breathes new life into him.
Of course, fragile and feeble as we generally are, we need this renewal and inspiration more than once. That restoration of our sense of proportion and perspective, we need it week by week. We need those other people, week by week. We need to be reminded of God’s good purposes for our lives, week by week.
So the question is this: does what we do at the moment in our worship renew and inspire us? Or might we do things differently? If so, what?
Research on what makes churches flourish and grow shows that it’s not necessarily the particular style of worship that matters. In some places it might be formal sung evensong, in others it might be a praise party.
For some people it might be something very quiet and gentle, for others it might be more of a rave in the nave.
There’s a wide range of possibilities, and they can all work – in the right place. But what might renew and inspire in this place? And not just for us – what about the people we are called to serve?