This week’s sermon is by Rev. Becky Schofield Motter, Associate Pastor for Discipleship.

Coming into Focus

Psalm 95:1-7a

Have you ever noticed that when we are in the midst of our daily routine we can do things without really focusing on them?

Get ready in the morning, drive to work and home, do some daily tasks, prepare dinner, and we get ready for bed; at times without very much focus.

Do you ever have that moment where you can’t remember if you brushed your teeth? Or you drive to work and you’re so deep in thought you don’t remember seeing things you pass every day, or you are so unfocused you don’t hear what your child, friend or parent said to you?

We do sometimes go through our days without focusing or thinking much about certain parts of our routine and sometimes we even forget why we do things.

Unfortunately, this can also happen in our approach to worship. Our praise and worship on Sunday morning should not be part of a routine. Our worship should be loving, honoring, glorifying and praising God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength just as we are encouraged by Jesus to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength.

Psalm 95, which we have heard in a couple of different versions of this morning, encourages us to worship and bow down, kneel before the Lord, our Maker; for we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.

This Psalm encourages us to fill our worship with singing, joyful noise, praise and adoration, (in spite of our ability to carry a tune) which means that worship is not humdrum, it is not something to check off our things to do for the weekend. Worship is a joyous occasion and opportunity for all of us together to approach the creator of the universe and to sing, rejoice, and praise. When we come for worship we offer ourselves, our prayers, our joys, our sorrows, our brokenness, our hopes, our dreams; we come to encounter the Creator of the world with our brothers and sisters in Christ. This should fill us with awe and honor. God wants to hear from us, longs for relationship and our reverence, and uses this time to form and transform us.

But all of this requires that we come in the right frame of mind and with a heart filled with joy, even when or especially when we may not feel that way.

I have a very distinctive memory of a couple in my home church when I was in my teen years. They were very faithful in coming to church when their health allowed them. The husband was very devoted to his wife. His deep love for her was without question by everyone in the congregation. Especially on the days when she could not remember who he was. She was in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s but he made sure she was in church as often as he could get her there. She was always well dressed and he had fixed her hair in ways that probably few husband would ever imagine they could. He helped her interact with fellow church members as much as she could on her better days.

I always loved sitting near them on Sunday morning because she had the most beautiful whistle I have ever heard. When the piano or organ began to play the congregational hymn, she was fully engaged in worship. She was always on pitch and always kept time with the song. The disease might have prevented her from knowing me or her husband, but it could not keep her soul from worshiping.

That experience has formed part of my belief and theology that we are all made to worship, our souls long to worship and all of us have the capacity to worship. Whether we are 1 day old or 111 years old our spirits long to connect with and worship the God who created us. And it’s why I believe that all people, of all ages, of all abilities should be in worship. We might not think it is necessary for someone with advanced dementia to be in worship because they are unaware and might be disruptive or it’s not necessary for young child to be in worship because they are unaware and might be disruptive, but that thinking prevents their spirit from connecting with God in the midst of the gathered community.

In 1 Chronicles 16 we hear these words.

Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice,
   and let them say among the nations, ‘The Lord is king!’ 
Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
   let the field exult, and everything in it. 
Then shall the trees of the forest sing for joy
   before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth. 
O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
   for his steadfast love endures for ever. 

If creation is so joyfully in lifting praises to God, we should join their chorus.

Some of you may be familiar with the song we will sing in a few minutes entitled, “The Heart of Worship.” It was written by an artist named Matt Redman, who in the 90’s was a worship leader at a church in Watford, England. Redman describes that their congregation was missing a dynamic in worship so their pastor did a brave thing: for a season took out the sound system and all instruments. They were down to their voices and prayers. The pastor was encouraging them not to be consumers in worship, but producers. He asked them, “When you come through the doors on a Sunday, what are you bringing as your offering to God?”

Redman describes that at first worship was awkward, but it led the congregation to encounter God in a fresh way. The words of the song are powerful when you understand that context.

When the music fades, all is stripped away, and I simply come

Longing just to bring something that’s of worth that will bless your heart

I’m coming back to the heart of worship, and it’s all about You, Jesus.

When we come to worship, we will get the most out of it when we don’t make it about us, about our preference, about us being inspired, because worship is not about us. When we focus exclusively on God we can hear God’s voice and be inspired in ways we never could have imagined.

This is emphasized in parables found in Luke 18:  [Jesus] also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax-collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax-collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.” But the tax-collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.’

For the Pharisee the worship was about himself. For the tax collector the worship was all about God because he was willing to humble himself.

I have heard individuals refer to the congregation as the audience. But in worship there is an audience of One. We are all here together to offer our worship to the One Great King, the One Great Lord.

The Psalmist said: For the Lord is a great God,
   and a great King above all gods. 
In his hand are the depths of the earth;
   the heights of the mountains are his also. 
The sea is his, for he made it,
   and the dry land, which his hands have formed. 

We are in the presence of the Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer, who was and is and is to come. We are loved, forgiven, granted mercy and in the presence of the Great God our Lord. That should fill us and our worship with awe, with reverence, with a joy that overflows in spite of the circumstances of our lives.

Come, let’s shout praises to God,
    raise the roof for the Rock who saved us!
Let’s march into his presence singing praises,
    lifting the rafters with our hymns!

May it be so, may it be so. Amen!

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