Readings Psalm 19: 1-10 and Hebrews 10:19-25
We have reached the final week of our series on why we do what we do. We have asked why we perform the fundamental and consistent building blocks of our Sunday service each week, and considered the stories in scripture and the tradition that lie behind them. Today we finish with the call to worship – the liturgical call and response that opens our service. As has been the case for several of these weeks, pulling on these threads opens up a bigger question, not only why do we do a call to worship… but, why are we called into worship? Why do we gather together in worship once a week?
Let’s start with our readings.
The author of Hebrews reminds the community that they are called into worship by our great high priest, Jesus, and so enter worship with confidence. We gather in to worship, because Christ has made a way for us to approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith. So our coming together in worship is on the initiative of Christ’s completed work, generated by his ascension to God’s right hand where he – having been given all authority over heaven and earth, advocates mercy for all as our great high priest – one intimately familiar with our struggles and strife.
The author of Hebrews goes on the stress that a primary reason we meet, is to be built up with love and good deeds and encouraged by one another as a community following after Christ and awaiting his return.
So we are called to worship on Christ's authority and invitation, in order to care for and encourage one another toward a life marked by love and good deeds. This implies a community with a level of trust, intimacy, vulnerability, and consistency – where we take responsibility for one another and are ready (to borrow a phrase from another spot in the Bible) to offer an account for the hope that is within us, in order that we might keep the way together. All of this is performed not only on the invitation of Christ, but also in the assurance of the approaching day of the Lord, where every tear will be wiped from our eyes, where wars will cease, and where all of creation will be restored, and we will live in the intimate and unveiled presence of God.
If Hebrews notes the intimacy and neighbourly nature of the community called into worship on the initiative and authority of Christ, our great high priest, then the psalm we heard draws our attention to the cosmic and infinite scope of the eternal worship in which we participate.
The psalmist declares that the heavens themselves tell of the glory of God, while the earth itself proclaims God’s handiwork. The celestial beings of the sun and the moon pour forth speech and knowledge of God – not in words, but in the glory and radiance of a bridegroom on the day of his wedding. Thus in every moment, day or night, from the ground beneath our feet to the furthest reaches of the cosmos, God is proclaimed and glorified and worshiped by the very theatre of creation. So the worship of God does not start up at 9:30am in Frenchs Forest after some announcements, nor does it end as we set out from this building – each time we gather we join in the eternal praise of God, the infinite thanksgiving, the perpetual rejoicing over the works and wonder of God, offered by the earth itself, the celestial beings, and the highest heavens – all the nooks and crannies of God’s beautiful created cosmos proclaiming that they were made, and offering thanksgiving and joy.
So when we are called to worship, we are called into something that is occurring all around us and has from beginningless time, and will continue through the end of this age into the one to come. We are thus not the first, nor the centre, nor the trusted caretakers and stewards of the worship of God (which both takes the pressure of and instils an appropriate humility and flexibility), we are a people called to participate in the significant, uninterrupted, eternal, mysterious, and majestic worship of God that springs forth from the land and radiates down from the furthest reaches of unknown space.
So… we are not called into worship to supplicate God, nor earn blessings, nor remain in God’s favour.
We are not called into worship as if this is the one hour a week we can rightly worship, nor is this the one hour a week that we are the church, or the one chance we have to give glory to God in our words and actions.
We are not called into worship to signal our virtue, our righteousness, or our blessings
And we are not called into worship because this is the sole place that God’s presence might be found
We might say, however that we are called into worship to be taught how to see.
It is a strange experience to walk out into the world after spending a couple of hours in an art gallery. An adjustment needs to be made from the intense looking at these images of the world and its people, to the regular looking at the actual world and its peoples when you walk back outside. A process of adjustment where one’s eyes – having been fed by a dazzling array of colour and line – reacquaint themselves with the world as it appears.
However one doesn’t settle back into the exact same way of seeing as before entering the gallery. New shades of green are noticed in every tree, new details in the landscape, in the face of your companion, new wonder at the detail and diversity of the crowds shuffling by – that red umbrella, that tattered coat, that burst of joy, that averted stare. Having spent time looking at the way others look, one has been taught – often without realising – how to see. Taught how to look at the world and take notice of its beauty and wonder, its colour and light, its distinctiveness and vibrancy. It also teaches us to see the coldness and absurdity; to see the gaps. Teaches us to be struck and disturbed by the way the world falls short of the artist’s vision: to notice the absence of trees where development has triumphed, to notice the sorrow in faces struggling to make connection, to notice the lack of awe in all of us who toil and struggle in an exacting world. To have looked on a portrait of someone so easily missed in our daily too-ing and fro-ing, and to see all the care and attention paid by the artist seeking to capture something true about who they are, serves to makes us more acutely aware and distressed of the way so many people are ignored, forgotten, assumed, and dispensed by a world that moves on with such hurried efficiency.
We are called to worship to be similarly taught. To have our eyes, our hearts, our imaginations shaped, and reshaped, and reshaped again by scripture, song, prayer, proclamation, and fellowship. To be taught how to see the world as Christ saw it, Christ who noticed the burdened and maligned in the crowd, who called as disciples those of no esteem, who affirmed the extravagance of a woman everyone wanted to move quietly and quickly from the room. Taught to see creation in all its beauty and wonder – as its own thing, and not simply a resource for our own flourishing. Taught to see the last as those who will be first, and the threat who would be neighbour. Taught to see as Christ saw, so that we would become aware of the way in which the world lacks resemblance of this vision. Taught to see the gaps, so that when we are sent (which indeed we are each week) we would know where we must go, ready to proclaim that another way is possible.
We are called into worship so that we might be shaped by the Spirit, through the signs, symbols, and stories of our faith, into the image of Christ, in whose name we are made a people and sent to continue his way and work in the world. Everything we have explored in this series, by the grace of God, serves this aim. Serves to make us a people a little more ready to be the church. A little more ready to participate in the work of Christ, proclaim good news, tend wounds, rage against injustice, build each other up in fellowship, and pray fervently that God’s kingdom will come on earth as it is in heaven…. A little more ready to do this in our own small ways in our own small places until we hear, once more, the call to worship, whereby the process begins again. Called once more to rest together in God and be taught to see ourselves, our neighbours, and our world as God sees them. Called once more to worship in spirit and truth, as the body of Christ in this place, awaiting the time when we join the great cloud of witnesses, and participate anew and anon in the worship of the heavens and the earth; bodies (celestial and human) attuned in one voice in praise of our beautiful and righteous God.
Image: People coming out of the Church, Pablo Picasso, 1902, 46×55 cm
Please enjoy a collection of sermons preached in recent months at the Kirk. If you have questions about the sermons, or attending a service reach out using the Contact Page.