Sending and gathering, and the choices we make in both, reflect our relationship with God, our life of worship in community, and our neighborly love and compassion.
Worship IS praise and glorification of God
God’s purpose, according to Revelation, is that people of all nations would come to love, obey, worship and glorify the living God for all of eternity…When Revelation pictures every creature in the whole of creation bringing honor and glory to God (Rev 5: 13), we see the ultimate goal of the Missio Dei in which the church is caught up.
—Dean Flemming, Rediscovering the Full Mission of God: A Biblical Perspective on Being, Doing, and Telling, Kindle location 244.
Brent D. Peterson rightly notes that “God’s creation of people to become one by the Spirit as the body of Christ has one goal, one end, one purpose—doxology, the praise and glory of God” [Created to Worship, 17]The purpose of worship is not for participants to “feel something” or even to leave with a feeling of having “been fed.” In contrast, the kenosis (emptying, surrender) modeled by Jesus becomes our posture of worship; that we empty ourselves as living sacrifices (Rom 12:1) before God. In worship we seek more of God and less of ourselves.
Worship IS gathering of family
Heal us and we shall be healed, help us and we shall be helped, for you are our joy…All by myself I was praying these ancient lines that were exclusively framed in terms of “we” and “us” and “our people” (as is the Lord’s Prayer, of course). A few days later I attended a large Christian worship service. There, the focus of every song was on God and me: “I love you, Lord, and I lift my voice” … “Just as I am, without one plea” … “Here I come to worship, here I come to bow down.” Hundreds of us were worshiping side by side, a sea of voices resounding together, and every one of us was pretending to be all alone.
–Lois Tverberg, Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus: How the Jewish Words of Jesus Can Change Your Life, Kindle location 828.
The individualization of worship plays out in many ways, one of which is the songs that are sung. The shift from hymns to praise music brought with it a shift from singing about God to singing to God. At the same time lyrics on slides removed the musical notes from view and with it congregations that sang in parts. Last Sunday I sat in a service where at least half of the people in the room didn’t sing at all. None of these things in an of themselves are the problem, but rather reflect “Jesus and me” form of Christian practice.
“The process of being a Christian,” writes Peterson, “must be learned in community” [Created to Worship, 28] He is right, but I would go even a bit further. One of the things I appreciate most about Asia, is the way in which church is viewed as even more than community—it is family. The sharing of the gospel, writes Dean Flemming, “leads to establishing transformed, worshiping and obedient communities of faith. It is a call to belong and behave, as well as to believe. God’s people are to live their life together “in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Phil 1:27) [Rediscovering the Full Mission of God, Kindle location 2705.] The community that lives life together is, in a very real way, a spiritual family. As family, when it comes to “indigenous expressions of worship and community,” writes Leonard Sweet, “participation trumps excellence: all geese are swans” [So Beautiful, Kindle location 4310.] Active participation in the family is to be valued above performance excellence.
Worship IS a transforming process
…this transformation is not so much about going to church every Sunday or reading our Bibles daily. It is not about saying prayers a certain way or singing the right songs. All these things can be important parts of worship if we allow them to shape us and focus us into the type of people who then go into our world and make choices that bring life and love rather than death and hatred. This is where McManus’s words ring so true. The acts we traditionally attribute to being worship prepare us for the spiritual act of making choices!
–Rob A. Fringer and Jeff K. Lane, Theology of luck : Fate, Chaos, and Faith, Kindle location1551.
Our lives are defined by the choices we make, and the choices we make are very much determined by the kind of people we are, and the kind of people we are is very much shaped by the family or community of which we are a part. Walter Brueggemann wrote that “Sabbath is a bodily act of testimony to alternative and resistance to pervading values and the assumptions behind those values” [Sabbath as Resistance, Kindle location 394]. The choice of true worship—Sabbath—is to a choice to resist the values and assumptions that bear down on us in every other part of our lives. Peterson writes that in worship we become more “fully human…to have one’s will and desires aligned with what God wills and desires for creation” Rediscovering the Full Mission of God, Kindle location 394]. In other words, worship transform humanity into people who reflect the image of God.
For Peterson the entirety of worship, but particularly the sacraments are divine-human events and encounters in which God heals individuals to become more fully human… gift to the church for communal worship that serves as a command and promise” [Created to Worship. 151]. The sacraments serve as symbols and reminders of what God has done, what God is doing, and what God will do in the life of the Church, the Body of Christ. Of importance is a reminder to all the Church that God has, is, and will send out his people into the world. “God breathed in the church [and] the church is sent empowered by the Holy Spirit to be doxologically (in praise) broken and poured out before the world” [Created to Worship. 151]. Sending and gathering, and the choices we make in both, reflect our relationship with God, our life of worship in community, and our neighborly love and compassion.