“THE SIX GREAT ENDS OF THE CHURCH.”
3. The maintenance of divine worship.
We continue our series that takes a look at 6 historic statements of the purpose of the church that were first proposed at the beginning of the last century and have been a part of the Presbyterian Book of order ever since.
The Six Great Ends of the Church (From the Book of Order F-1.0304)
- The proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of humankind
- The shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the children of God
- The maintenance of divine worship
- The preservation of the truth
- The promotion of social righteousness
- The exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the world
Today we are taking a look at the third one on the list. As with our previous session I'll be referencing a book edited by Rev. Joseph D. Small “Proclaiming the Great Ends of the Church” that contains a number of essays on each of the statements.
The maintenance of divine worship
Our first session, about the proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of all humankind, focused on the preaching and teaching ministry of the church. Our second session focused on ways we nurture each other through teaching and service. The third great end draws our attention to another important aspect in our mission. The maintenance of divine worship.
The dove reminds us that it is the same Holy Spirit that enlivens and interprets the Word, who is present in our worship. The Sacraments have been described as 'enacting' the gospel. They bring the Word to life in ways that we touch, handle, smell, taste and see.
The cup, also known as the chalice, is a reminder of the Trinity, and represents the Lord’s Supper. The three drops of water, represent Baptism in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Within the Presbyterian Church, in common with other Reformed denominations we recognize two sacraments; Baptism and Holy Communion.
The raised arms signify our response to God's love, a response of praise and thanksgiving for the freedom we have in Jesus Christ. We gather together to worship and to open our hearts to God's influence and the empowering of God's Holy Spirit. We gather and hold out our hands to God in order that our hands may be used for the building of God's Kingdom in this world.
Let's begin with a reading.
Exodus 3: 7-12
7 The LORD said, "I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. 8 So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey--the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. 9 And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. 10 So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt." 11 But Moses said to God, "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?" 12 And God said, "I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain." ( NIV)
When we were traveling though the Old Testament section of “The Story” we saw on numerous occasions how God intervened on behalf of God's people to set them free. One of the archetypal stories is that of their delivery from Egypt. Moses tells the Pharaoh, “Let my people Go!” But why? So they can become an independent people and establish their own state and develop their own form of government? Was it all a precursor to the “Declaration of Independence?” Freedom from the grasp of a restricting bureaucracy that taxed them beyond their ability to function as productive citizens?
We easily miss out on the commission to Moses at the end of Exodus 3:12. “ When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.” In her essay “House Keeping” Veronica R. Goines writes “Between chapters and 10 of the Book of Exodus, God repeatedly says to Moses: “Tell Pharaoh to let my people go, so they may worship me.” Like a refrain “Let my people go, so they may worship me”. Again and again, “Let my people go, so they may worship me.”
At a later date in Solomon's time, worship is a much funded activity... which brought to the community the presence of God, sometimes in awesome ways. 2 Chronicles 5:12-14.“All the Levites who were musicians--Asaph, Heman, Jeduthun and their sons and relatives--stood on the east side of the altar, dressed in fine linen and playing cymbals, harps and lyres. They were accompanied by 120 priests sounding trumpets. The trumpeters and musicians joined in unison to give praise and thanks to the LORD. Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals and other instruments, the singers raised their voices in praise to the LORD and sang: "He is good; his love endures forever." Then the temple of the LORD was filled with the cloud, 1and the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled the temple of God. (NIV)
A read through the Book of Psalms is a cursory remind that gathering together to worship is not considered an optional extra for the people of God, but at the heart of their experience of redemption. If you travel through to the final Book in Scripture, Revelation, it is a worship saturated book. God's people rejoice and bask in the presence of their God and their redemption by the Lamb of God. The maintenance of Divine worship is an eternal responsibility directly related to our experience of salvation. The raised arms on the banner signify our response of praise and thanksgiving, the worship of the living God.
That doesn't mean things always go well! A second reading. John 2:13-17
13 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15 So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 To those who sold doves he said, "Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father's house into a market!" 17 His disciples remembered that it is written: "Zeal for your house will consume me." ( NIV)
Worship can easily mutate into something it was not meant to be, particularly in times of decline. When there are more pews empty than there are pews that are full, it is incredibly tempting to seek other means of propping up the way we maintain our activity of divine worship. Veronica Goines describes such compromises as being “Fraudulent Sales.”
“There are the Grand Opening Sales that entice folks to the newest trends, but peoples commitment wanes as the newness wears thin.
There are the 50 percent off sales, where the price of discipleship is slashed in exchange for warm bodies in the pews.
Of course the buy-one-get-one-free sale assures church goers that they will always receive more than they give.
Nearly everyone loves a swap meet sale, where the church expends its time haggling over items of little or no value.
There are silent auction sales, where nothing is asked of God's people, and as little as possible is given.
And if nothing else gets them through the door, there's always the going out of business sale, where anything and everything goes.” (p.69)
When Jesus cleansed the temple, it was a redemptive act. It was an act of restoring the temple back to what it was meant to be, a place of prayer for all nations. A place where God's presence could be known and people could be set free and empowered for service. The temple was, as Jesus explained when still a young one, “His Father's House.” His action of cleansing the temple reveals that maintaining divine worship is a cause closely aligned with God's intentions for our lives.
In his essay on “Justice and Worship” Mark Labberton uses the prophet Amos to illustrate how worship was not an end in and of itself, but something to empower us for service. That we can easily be consumed by the “How” of worship rather than the “Why” of worship.
8 Woe to you who long for the day of the LORD! Why do you long for the day of the LORD? That day will be darkness, not light. 19 It will be as though a man fled from a lion only to meet a bear, as though he entered his house and rested his hand on the wall only to have a snake bite him. 20 Will not the day of the LORD be darkness, not light-- pitch-dark, without a ray of brightness? 21 "I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me. 22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. 23 Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. 24 But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream! ( NIV)
As a teenager my spiritual journey was informed a lot by the music of the bands I listened to. Their uncompromising sound was often linked to a stark message about searching for freedom and not finding it in a world full of injustice and corruption. As I became involved in a church, the message of Jesus worked it's way into my consciousness. Jesus took things further and I felt here was somebody who offered a liberation that was real. Being raised from the dead seemed to be the ultimate protest against all that cheapened and destroyed life! So I heard the call and became a disciple.
And one of the first things I did was pick up a guitar (plugged in and played louder than was needed) and started expressing my thoughts about how awesome Jesus was, about how people shouldn't be allowed to die of hunger while others had more than they needed, about how materialism was an empty and corrupting influence. I wasn't that surprised when some of my band mates, who didn't share my beliefs, told me to cool it and stop being so pushy about that Jesus stuff.
What did surprise me, was the church folk, who informed me, in no uncertain terms, that a service of worship was not a place where my sort of music was welcome. The message... about Jesus... sure. But that music? Forget it. As Amos said “Away with the noise of your songs!”
In his essay Mark writes “The American Church, for at least the last decade, if not longer, has been involved in what some have called “worship wars”. Worship wars have to do with ferocious topics like whether drums will be permitted in sanctuaries, whether drama will be allowed in a service, if video can be used, or if candles are appropriate.... Believers might think that debates about aesthetics matter with unquestioned ultimacy. If they do, they sit under the judgment of God's word in Amos 5.”
“Worship Wars” are about the “how” of worship, not the “Why” of worship. My early teenage experience's of “What music was acceptable in the house of God?” and “Who get's to decide that?” were certainly a prelude to an ongoing discussion that has continued and been expressed in different ways and to different degrees in every congregation I have ever served. But the “What” and “How” and “Who” questions I have discovered … are not the important question. The “Why?” of worship is the important question. Why do we consider the maintenance of divine worship a significant end to pursue? Or to simplify it, “Why do we worship?”
We worship God in order that our lives may be changed, in order that the values of God's Kingdom percolate into our personalities and we become agents for positive change in this world. That was Amos's problems with the Hebrews of his day. They turned up for worship. In their droves. And they sang just great and read the scriptures so beautifully and they were ever so generous with their offerings.
But none of it affected the way that they lived. There was such a disconnect between what they professed and what they did that Amos tells them they are being held accountable. That God was not pleased. That the “Day of the Lord” for them was not anything to look forward to, because it would be a day of severe judgment. In God's eyes their “aesthetic, refined” worship stank, their offerings were unacceptable filth, and their music was a cacophony in God's ears.
Mark writes, “What God longs for is the worship of our lives that shows up in righteousness and justice. So forget all the aesthetics; God wants an aesthetic of the heart, not an aesthetic of form.”
When we worship we are called to imagine how things could be and should be as God's Kingdom is established “on earth as it is in heaven.” That's why maintaining divine worship is so important. We need a place for God to root God's visions in our hearts. But having imagined it, and envisioned it, we then need to work towards towards it.
Mark talks about William Wilberforce, the late eighteenth century abolitionist, who over a period of fifty-eight years worked at eradicating the slave trade. It seemed impossible. But by imagining what could be done, he managed to do something, that although it reflected the values of God's Kingdom, seemed like it could never be done. “Could that one person who was enslaved, who has a name, who was created and is loved by God, be treated righteously and find life in a world of justice?” And so the movement moved forward.
He closes his essay with the thought that ... “True worship is going to call us to places of tears, not just places of comfort. True worship is going to engage us in something that transforms the world, not just something that resembles our inner psyches.” I recall a visiting preacher beginning his sermon with the words, “Are you sitting comfortably? Then that, fellow Christians, is the whole problem!”
Another reading: Exodus 25:1-2, 8-9. The LORD said to Moses, 2 "Tell the Israelites to bring me an offering. You are to receive the offering for me from everyone whose heart prompts them to give.8 "Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them. 9 Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you. (NIV)
The idea of worship originates with God's Word. I recall reading an article, obviously not by somebody who thought much of religion, that wondered what God's problem was. What was with this almighty being who could only be satisfied by folk grovelling and bowing down to it? What kind of gross insecurity was being manifest? How is “Worship me and only me or you die!” an incentive to love?
Such thoughts really do grab the wrong end of the stick. God cannot be impoverished either by our worship or lack of worship. Worship does not change God. It changes us. God has no problem being God. We have a problem being God's people. That's why worship has to be a corporate experience. We are invited to love each other. Which means communicating with each other and opening up to one other and sharing experiences together. We are invited to love God. Which requires communicating with God and opening up to God and sharing experiences together with God.
In his essay “A Rendezvous with God” K.C. Ptomey Jr. speaks of how chapter after chapter in the Old Testament talks about the construction and details of the tabernacle and the temple. Why was this meeting place so important? Because that was how God dwelt among the people. God is not far away. God is with us. God has entered into history to interact with God's people who are spiritual, emotional and physical beings. So in worship we touch and taste and listen and sing. We see and we smell and we hear. In some traditions we may even dance and laugh or we may fall down and weep.
Ptomey talks of an idea culled from the Eastern Orthodox church that speaks of how when the church truly worships, heaven comes crashing down to earth. He writes of how the Celtic church had a description of certain holy places, as being “thin places” where eternity seemed to touch daily life and the reality of God's presence became tangible.
At the top of the banner is the Dove, the image of the Holy Spirit, hovering over outstretched hands and bringing light to shine upon the cup that represents the sacraments and life of our church. I think of the words of a hymn written way back in 1434 “Come down O love divine, Seek out this soul of mine, and visit it with thine own ardor glowing; O Comforter draw near, within my heart appear, and kindle it, Your holy flame bestowing”
We gather together in the presence of God in order that we may be empowered to do God's work in the world. We need each other because part of that work is demonstrating to the world what loving relationships look like. We need each other because we cannot do this work alone. It's meant to be hard work. “Take up your cross and follow me” is not an invitation to a stroll in the park. We need to be empowered because it is not a work we can do in our own strength but only through the power given to us through the Holy Spirit and with each others mutual support.
Ptomey concludes his essay with this thought “Worship is not a seminar about God; it is an opportunity for a rendezvous with God.”
Our final reading focuses us on the cup. Mark 14: 17-26
17 When evening came, Jesus arrived with the Twelve. 18 While they were reclining at the table eating, he said, "Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me--one who is eating with me." 19 They were saddened, and one by one they said to him, "Surely you don't mean me?" 20 "It is one of the Twelve," he replied, "one who dips bread into the bowl with me. 21 The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born."
22 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, "Take it; this is my body." 23 Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it. 24 "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many," he said to them. 25 "Truly I tell you, I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God." 26 When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. (NIV)
In her essay “At this table” Deborah Block speaks of how life happens around tables. “As children we eat at tables where we are corrected in our table manners, coached to say grace, told to eat with our mouth closed, taught to say 'Please' and 'Thank you.” As children we play at tables; we learn at tables. As adults we work at tables, we meet at tables; we communicate and negotiate and commit at tables. At tables we break bread and share it and pour out our hearts. We make deals and decisions, sign contracts, lift a glass to commiserate or celebrate our fortune, all at tables. Faith happens around tables... as children of God we eat at the Lord's table.”
Taking a glance at our visual aid:- the cup, also known as the chalice, is a reminder of the Trinity, and represents the Lord’s Supper. The three drops of water, represent Baptism in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Within the Presbyterian Church, in common with other Reformed denominations we recognize two sacraments; Baptism and Holy Communion. We meet for worship around the table and around the font.
Jesus invites us to the table, together. Jesus invites us to baptize people, all people, in His name and to teach them all He has been teaching us. “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Mat 28:19-20 NIV).
If there were no other incentive as to why the church should be committed to the maintenance of divine worship, the invitation of our Savior, that we remember Him around a table, and baptize others in His name would be reason enough. But as we've seen there is more to it than that.
We gather together in worship to celebrate that we are set free by the love of Jesus Christ. When something awesome happens the right response is to celebrate! The focal point of our sanctuary is a Cross. We gather to celebrate Christ's death and resurrection as life changing events
We saw how Moses was commanded to let God's people go in order that they could worship. The Westminster confession, a foundation confession of the Presbyterian Church declares humankind's chief end is to “Glorify God, and to enjoy God for ever.”
The tabernacle and temple came into being as a sign that God dwelt with God's people. Our places of worship and times of worship perform a similar function. Worship does not change God. It changes us. We argue about “How” to worship while God invites us to consider “Why” we worship.
Worship can become something it was never meant to be. Jesus cast out the money-changers. Amos reminded that people that worship was designed to move them towards justice. When it failed to do that... it was unacceptable to God.
Worship is designed to be a needed rendezvous with God. A time where heaven is allowed to crash down on earth. A “thin place” where eternity impacts daily life. A place where we are changed by the presence of God's Holy Spirit. A place where in the company of angels and the companionship of saints, we can learn to walk together in the presence of God and bring glory to our Lord Jesus Christ.
All this is encompassed in this third great end of the church “The maintenance of divine worship.”