Thursday, January 17, 2013

Simple Church Series, Sermon 2, "Staying Connected" Hebrews 10:23-25

I love worship. It’s my favorite thing to lead as a pastor, especially the sacraments. I have always enjoyed worship. The music, the scriptures, the voices and in some cases the smells, tastes and feelings of worship seem to capture the most intimate moments with God, at lest for me. As you can tell by my brief illustration of worship environments, i.e. sights, sounds and smells, I love various forms of worship. From the most high and liturgical forms of worship found in the Eastern rite churches of Greece, Russia and the Middle-East to the most modern or post modern churches of Sub-Urban America. I have found meaning, purpose and sacredness in each expression of worship that I have encountered.

Growing up there was one expression of worship I had experience with and as far as the leadership of my church, as well as myself, was concerned it was the right expression. It was a fairly typical form of contemporary worship found in most growing evangelical or Pentecostal churches and it was done well. I truly did experience God every Sunday morning as the praise team of Northville Christian Assembly played it’s drums, guitars, bass guitars, trumpets, flutes, saxophones and piano’s and sang with it’s 5+ voices. When the music stopped the preaching began and it was powerful, energetic, encouraging and convicting (a quality many UMC preachers lack). Then we sang some more, prayed and went home. It was beautiful and it was meaningful, but it wasn’t the only way to express worship.

While at college, to become a Pentecostal preacher nonetheless, I was expose to new and very different expressions of worship. I went to Episcopal, Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, Disciples of Christ and even Baptist worship services. The ones I found myself most interested in where the more liturgical forms, such as Episcopalianism and Catholicism. I was so interested and moved by the sacredness and mysticism of those two particular worship expressions that I invited my wife to attend them and she did and she’s has been an Episcopalian ever since.  Either way, whether you’re a high church Episcopalian or a good ole’ southern gospel Baptist, your expression of worship is authentic and it’s significant too. Each form has its place, each expression appeals to different kinds of people and helps them to do what’s most important and that’s WORSHIP God with others.

Christian worship has it’s roots in the Synagogue form of worship practiced by 1st century Jews and founded as a result of the destruction of the first Temple and the exile. In this form men would gather in buildings to hear scripture read and to hear a particular teaching or reflection on the scripture often given be a layperson, but also often given by a Rabbi, each Synagogue would be conducted by a Ruler, like an Elder who was chosen to be the first among equal Elders as a leader. Every Jewish community had a Synagogue and it was always open during the Sabbath. The similarity to our own worship makes sense being that the first Christians were Jews.  Like the in Synagogues the first Christians met together, but instead of in designated building they met in homes, and it wasn’t just men it was women and children Women  were also invited to lead and host the meetings. There would be scripture, songs, a reflection on the scriptures and it would all culminate with the Feast of Thanksgiving, known in Greek as the Eucharist. This was a special meal that commemorated the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and was overseen by the Elders of the faith community. Whenever a new person wanted to join their community they would baptize them because Jesus told them to and it would be done always in the presence of the faith community by the Elders and unlike in the Synagogues these people gathered on the first day of the week instead of the 7th.

Our passage speaks to the significance of these meetings. The author of Hebrews speaks of the encouragement and admonishes the meetings. He addresses the importance of these meetings to the overall health of the individuals and community. So significant are these meetings to the author that he writes and instructs them, an Apostolic directive if you will, to not to stop, to not forsake meeting together, because by doing so you are spurring and provoking each other onto doing good works.

Our founder, John Wesley, felt the same way about going to church. He felt so strongly about it that he called it a means of grace and said the without it we can never experience true holiness, “There is not holiness, except social holiness.”, that is Holiness together.

Our first step in addressing making disciples is worship. Why? Because it’s community and it is through community that we love God and love others, it is the main way that we connect, and connecting is the first step in our discipleship process. When people think of church, they think of Sunday morning worship and it’s this Sunday morning worship event that gets all the press. It really is people’s first impression of whom and what a church is all about and it also serves as the main way we fellowship together. Most of you don’t see each other anymore often than every Sunday at church and so worship serves as the main way that we connect with each other as well. The truth is, if we want to reach the lost, if we want to provoke each other onto reaching the lost we need to be well connected and that connection is worship. Being connected to God, each other and our community, that’s where discipleship starts. For that to happen we need to invite people to join us. People are not going to attend church because of a website or commercial, they will however attend because of you. Invite your neighbors, friends, and family to connect with us.

Through this process we are endeavoring to move people from the foyer of our home (church) into the kitchen, where all the real work is done. If you can’t get them in the door and into the foyer, you’ll never get them to the kitchen.

There is a story about a beautiful Lutheran Church in Northern Wisconsin. In it there is a beautiful stain glass window in the nave as you walk into the sanctuary. It was Jesus standing in an array of colors with his arms wide open. One morning a visitor said to the pastor, “Pastor it is as if He is welcoming us all into worship.” The pastor replied, “Yes, indeed it is.” After worship was over as the congregation was leaving the same visitor stopped to shake the pastor’s hand and this time he said, “Pastor, it’s as if he’s welcoming us out into the street.” And the pastor said, “Indeed he is.” Worship, and connecting doesn’t stop when we leave, it only really begins. This week invite a friend to church, tell a friend about Jesus, start connecting today.

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