Isaiah 6:1-8; 1 Corinthians 14:26-33a, 37-40
August 16, 2020 — Maintenance of Divine Worship
Back when I was in college, I gave a brief thought to being a professional temple and cathedral tour guide. Yes, it would have been a pretty lousy living, but it would have also been magnificent to always be visiting these historic sites around the world where people have shared in religious practice through the ages. I loved the cathedral and temple architecture that I studied in my History of Fine Arts class. It is still fascinating to me the ways people tried to create sacred space. For instance, in old cathedrals, the main sanctuaries often, if not always, had vaulted ceilings.
Those ceilings aren’t flat like our ceiling here but are a great, long, intricate arch. Maybe you have seen a church like that at some point. Not only are they beautiful architecturally and draw your eyes up, but they literally look like the hull of a ship, like a giant ship upside down. The congregation is then like a great collection of travelers through life in their great boat. It is no accident then, that the main sanctuary part of the church is called the nave, which is from the same root as our word navy. It comes from the Latin word for ship. There is so much care and attention to the space, the items, and the process of our religious observances. We love our worship. Just think how much we have invested in our worship here, says the man standing before beautiful, expensive organ.
We do love our worship. The people of God through the ages have long loved worship, but do we love TO worship? There is a difference, and that is the question. We can love the idea of worship, the things of worship, the act of worship, the appearance of holy worship, the ways we dress it and ourselves up, but do we love even more sharing in the actual holy worship, giving ourselves in worship, and offering worship to our Holy and Heavenly Father? This is what I want to talk about today.
Isaiah was stuck in that very spot in the reading from Isaiah 6. He had no doubt shared in worship many times in his life, but he had never found himself standing before the very presence of God in God’s holy temple, surrounded by the full appearance of God’s holiness and heavenly beings. It was so overwhelming that he was undone with his unworthiness to even be there – but he was there, actually there, frozen in his sinfulness and brokenness, so much so that it took God’s grace to heal him in a striking way. This encounter between God and Isaiah is Isaiah’s call to ministry, his call to service. You heard Isaiah’s response, “I’ll go. Send me.” To hear God was to respond; to respond to God was to go; to go in the Spirit was to take God’s word out into the world to all people. Here we find worship itself take hold of Isaiah’s life and transform him into God’s willing prophet. This is what worship can do. It takes us as we are and makes us more what God would have us be when we allow ourselves to truly worship.
That is, of course, until we get in the way.
Worship is not about us. It is about God. This is the beauty of worship and why it is so important to take care of worship. One of our great purposes as a church is to make sure our authentic worship of God is supported and encouraged and maintained. The problem in Corinth was people making worship about them. It was not even worship of God, anymore, but an excuse for people to try to show how special and spiritual they were. They were using gifts of the spirit as a mark of distinction. Look at how great my gifts in the spirit are. I can prophecy at the drop of a hat. I can speak in tongues very loudly. I can understand mysteries of God that other people cannot. They were doing this right over top of each other to be the loudest voice. People have done this for a long time.
There was a group of people in one of our American Great Awakenings that was known as the Barkers. They were known for doing exactly what it sounds. When they were “in the spirit,” they got down on all fours and ran around the congregation barking like dogs. But don’t get any ideas here. That was frowned upon even by the church back then.
So we are left looking for decent and orderly worship. We love the expression “decently and in order.” It is quite nearly our Presbyterian mantra. We want to do all things decently and in order, especially our worship. It is reasonable and neater that way, but Paul is not worried about Presbyterian feelings here. In fact, our desire to do things our way can get in the way. Instead, Paul is so wonderfully and beautifully clear that the standard for all worship is that it is for building up the body of Christ, the family of God. His idea of decent and orderly worship is worship that lifts up all of God’s children and blesses them all, not just a few. True worship is not suited to only a select or the people who have always done things a certain way but seeks to invite all of God’s people to share.
The other evening I was gathered with Matthew Emerson and Taylor Pickett as they were joined in marriage. It happened in their backyard in a light rain. Was that worship? It was not in a church, and it did not look anything like what we are doing today. They even had bug spray. Of course, that was worship – just as much as if were here for the simple reason that that gathering was about building up the people of God in the uniting of those two lives. Everyone there was seeking God’s blessing on Matthew and Taylor in their desire to become husband and wife. That’s worship. We can worship anywhere and anytime: the hospital, in traffic, at WalMart, at school or work, in jail, in city hall, and of course, in spaces that we call sanctuaries or churches. We can worship anywhere the children of God look to share in blessing God.
Brother Lawrence, a layman in a French monastery in the 17th century, was known for his amazing peace and presence. He once noted that even the act of picking up a piece of straw off the ground could itself be an act of worship if you are doing it for the service of God and God’s people. That is an extreme example of simple service, but someone has to do the simple jobs that help everyone else. He finished out his life in the very basic work of sandal repair, but it filled him and those whom he met with awe for God.
When we begin to approach true worship of God, we are filled with awe – wonder – amazement – glory – just like Isaiah. God has invited us all into God’s presence today to hear something, to do something, to share something, to become something full of awe. The American religious tragedy is our making church a show where we come to be entertained. That is awful in the way we think of awful. My awful today is literally being full of awe. It may be strange to think of it that way, but our worship is so very important and at the center of who we are and why we are here. We are here to be confronted by the grace and glory of God, to know without the shadow of a doubt that we are chosen and precious and loved, and to be sent out as God’s servants into the world to do God’s love throughout the week. This is the worship that we need to guard and provide and maintain. May all of us have this kind of awe-full worship every Sunday.
To God be the glory. Amen.