Worship and Purpose-Part 5

(Message given at Newberg Friends Church on July 6, 2014)

At the beginning of June, we started this series on the purpose of the church and the purpose of worship.

We’ve been trying to set out some of the foundational beliefs we have about church. We began looking at the unique history of our church, the beautiful unity that came from a quiet conservative Quaker named William Hobson and a revivalist preacher named John Henry Douglas. We then started working through Ephesians, seeing in chapter 1 verse 10 God’s purpose to bring all things in creation in right relationship with Jesus. If God’s purpose is unity, then love is the dominant force.

Then we moved to Ephesians 2, looking at the way non-Jews had been excluded from God’s presence until Jesus tore down the walls and made us all one. We looked at ways we exclude others in the church, and ways we were welcomed in. In Ephesians 4, we focused on maturity being the way we obey Christ and learn to work together and live in unity with each other. And last week, in Ephesians 5, we tried to find ways to balance God’s grace and the movement to unity with the strong expectations for our behavior found in many places in the bible. We committed ourselves to finding out what pleases the Lord.

Throughout these big picture discussions, we’ve been keeping in mind the transition we’re going through as a church after Mauri’s retirement. We’re committing to be gracious with each other’s differences, like Hobson was with Douglas. Obviously Ephesians is written to do more than just give us instructions on how to worship on a Sunday morning. It’s about all of life, including the couple of verses we are looking at today.

But today, in our last one in this series, we want to focus in a little tighter on how these principles apply to our gathered worship. We’ll keep in mind that they apply to more than just that, but allow ourselves to focus in for a little bit.

The elders and the staff worked on a one sheet reminder of some of the convictions we have about gathered worship on Sunday morning.

We distributed it a couple of months ago, used it in the process that led to hiring Nolan Staples as our interim worship pastor, and put copies on the welcome center and emailed it out on the church list a couple of weeks ago. The first section on that piece of paper has a theme that comes right out of these verses we are looking at today: “Be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord…”

It has a simple, circular motion, doesn’t it? The Spirit fills us, prompting us to sing and make music to the Lord. From the Spirit, through us, to the Lord. It’s a circular pattern that describes our goal for Sunday morning, all culminating in thanks for everything God has done through Jesus Christ.

When we worked on the convictions about gathered worship, we were trying to name the underlying goals and philosophies that we’ve had and don’t want to lose as a community. This one is so important!

Worship is God-centered and God-prompted.

That might seem obvious and unnecessary to say…but the obvious things sometimes are the best things to say. I’ve been at worship gatherings where other priorities seem to have been the goal. Sometimes the goal seems to have been to fire me up and get me excited, focusing on me and how I feel. Sometimes the goal seems to have been to challenge me and bring me to a place of guilt and conviction.

We can think of other ways the purpose of worship gets distorted. It can become something to build up the speaker. It can become a bible study. At times in history, worship gatherings were used to spread government propaganda, to bring people in line with a country’s nationalistic goals.

So we want to make sure and hold onto the obvious. Worship is centered on and directed to God! God is who we worship. We are definitely a part of the picture, but our emotional state or our behavior is not the ultimate goal. God is the center and object of our worship! And just like Ephesians says, our worship is God-prompted. It comes from the filling of the Spirit. God’s gifts and presence and words and leading are what make what we do. Look with me at the next paragraph of our convictions.

Worship is God-centered and God-prompted…

…so we have spaciousness in worship to allow God to lead. Silence is a practice and a value. We don’t rush from activity to activity. Because God fills each moment, we don’t have to fill it with background music, activity, or talking at all times.  When we gather, we celebrate God’s presence in our lives and look to God for guidance. The Psalms teach us that we can bring all of who we are to God: our joy, our grief, our pain, our praise, our struggle, our strength…everything!

There’s a lot here, but I want to draw our attention to the last sentence.

When we say, “worship is Spirit prompted”, sometimes that can give a negative affect. Sometimes it makes us feel hesitant and a little paralyzed, like we have to make sure we get it just right…just the right words, just the right attitude, just the right everything.

But this reminds us that it’s US that is to be filled. The real US. The real you and me. It’s US that worships together, in all our frail and creaky and vulnerable reality. We can bring who we are in honesty to worship. Joy and grief, pain and praise…everything! God’s Spirit fills and inhabits the real us, reminding us of truth, shaping us into who we were meant to be.

You don’t need to put on a good face and impress us! In fact, being real and honest allows God’s work in us to show that much more clearly. God has already showed a wonderful ability to incarnate…to come live in this world as it is. May we let the Spirit have the real us when we gather!

Now…here’s one of the challenges I have with these verses in Ephesians.

When I think of the total freedom to sing and make music from my heart to the Lord…I’ll be honest, it’s a lot easier thinking of doing that completely by myself. Driving in my car with the music turned up loud. Out on a solo time in the woods when I know no one else is around. How do I bring that freedom, that Spirit-filled, God-prompted freedom to do whatever God is wanting to do…how do I bring that to our gathered times of worship?

The next section of our convictions names that as a goal.

…and we trust that Jesus is in charge and present. We resist just “talking about God” but want to interact with God.  We show respect and honor and vibrant thanks for what the Spirit is doing among us.  We want to be sensitive to God’s Spirit and respond in obedience to Jesus, the present teacher. We long to be more free in our expression of thanks and praise.

I want to focus on that last sentence: “We long to be more free in our expression of thanks and praise.”

I don’t think I could count how many times someone has said that to me over the last decade, talking about our worship here at Newberg Friends. So many have said they wished they felt free to raise hands or to stand or to kneel, but something inhibits it. Many people talk about…and they use a sort of hand motion when they do this…many people talk about something that sort of stifles us, puts a lid on us. It’s an attitude or a presence or social expectation or something that just keeps us from busting out with joy or pain or celebration or reverence or whatever we’re feeling.

Have any of you felt that?

We wanted to get in writing, we wanted to name, that we want to grow as a community in our ability to have freedom in our worship. But that doesn’t mean we have figured out how to do it!

Notice we have it in an important context here. We’re not aiming for celebration for celebration’s sake, emotion for emotion’s sake, freedom for freedom’s sake. This longing for freedom is within the context of God prompting our worship and God being the center of our worship.

When God prompts it, we want it to be ok to shout! Or clap. Or become reverently silent, or be moved to say we are sorry when we recognize our wrong or our rebellion before God. We’re naming that we hope this occurs in our community.

I think it will require several things for us to change our patterns together and have more of a sense of freedom. Naming it is only one of the steps. I hope we’ll also have many of us asking God, praying that whatever constraints are here, God will remove them. I also hope introverts will have the freedom to NOT have to be loud and demonstrative if they don’t feel like it.

I think some people will need to take risks, to do something out of the norm, and give us the chance to practice accepting and celebrating a different mood of worship. I remember years and years ago, Roy Hiebert (Grandpa Roy over at George Fox) telling me about the time he was in a worship gathering and felt God prompting him to stand. He took the risk and did it, the only person in the room. Then he talked about how great it felt when someone up front saw him and invited everyone to stand. Roy felt like his obedient freedom was honored!

I like when someone suggests we sing something not in the order of worship, like Ralph Beebe did a little while ago. I like when someone interrupts the sermon when God prompts something. I like when one of our kids dances in the aisle as we sing! May God prompt more steps of freedom in our gathered worship as we offer thanks and celebrate God’s activity among us!

All right, last thing for today.

“Speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit.” In 1 Corinthians Paul also implies that each person who comes to worship brings a song or hymn or psalm. When we gather for worship, we sing each other’s songs.

We’ve used the phrase over the years here to remind ourselves that whenever you aren’t just singing in your house or your car by yourself, whenever you aren’t choosing absolutely everything, chances are you’re going to worship by singing songs that aren’t familiar to you. Our goal is always to try and choose music that is familiar…but that isn’t an easy task with the group we have in our two services and the diverse music in our world today.

I remember when I was in seminary in the early 1990’s, and also a part time youth pastor in southern California. We went to a pastor’s conference down there and I was so excited because Mauri was the one who had come to be the worship leader. After four years worshipping here at NFC in college, that conference was like a splash of familiar home. I totally entered into worship in ways I hadn’t since we had moved.

I remember just celebrating that, and being shocked into realizing it wasn’t the same for everyone. One other pastor said, “It was good stuff…but…I only knew a couple of the songs.” What was so familiar to me, what was so easy to enter into, was not experienced the same way by everyone.

I know for certain that if Paul himself came back to life and walked in this morning, he would not know a single song we sing. I hope that even so, he would find some way to try and enter in! We want to try that for each other, too, recognizing that when we are together for worship, it isn’t just the familiar songs that God prompts in me that can be experiences of worship. We want to sing ones that God prompts through other people.

We might even enjoy it!

We might find a richness to the lyric, or even find ourselves moved emotionally by a new (to us) melody or rhythm.

That’s what we are going to try today in a simple way. We’ve already written notes to Tween camp people, we’re thinking about camp and the worship that can come in that environment. Today’s songs are ones that were and are sung at camps in different “eras”. Some might be new to you-we’ll try to learn them together and see how God might prompt us toward thanks and praise.

Paul Shelton and two of his sons are graciously leading us today. The Sheltons have been part of VBS here and have been part of our five o’clock gathering. Let’s enter in together, singing each other’s camp songs from different eras.

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