Colossians 1.15-20 (NIV)
15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
I forget how we got to talking about it, but during our Summer Study there was a conversation that stuck with me. It had to do the prayer of confession in our worship service, about the words we use, about the things we confess, and someone brought up the idea of a sermon series that would work its way through the different parts of our worship service and think through why we do what we do.
You all know what a creature of habit I am … I would guess many of you could be creatures of habit too. It can be really helpful to have an opportunity to pause, and reflect on what we are doing and why we are doing it.
I have a half sheet of paper with a few questions. Maybe you could take just a minute and respond to those questions. You don’t have to write your name on it. I am hoping your insights and questions can help to shape these sermons.
- Is there a part of the worship service where you feel like you consistently encounter God?
- What makes our time together in this place “sacred” or “holy?”
- What questions do you have about our worship? (What are we doing/Why are we doing it)
- Is there something we do in worship that you would like to understand better?
- Is there something you have done with another congregation in worship you wish we would do?
So, in the big picture of things, why are we here, together, in this place doing what we are doing?
I would bet there are a lot answers to that in this room.
Maybe this is something we really enjoy? Maybe we love Sunday worship and plan our week around it? Maybe going to church is something we have always done, and it just feels weird not to do it? Maybe we have never been part of a worship service before and we are curious what it is all about? Maybe we just like being around this group of people? Maybe there is something specific we are wanting from God? Maybe a question? Maybe pain we want relieved? Maybe a place in our lives we want to find healing?
I titled this sermon series “Grace and Gratitude” because that seems to catch the core of what we are doing when we gather for worship. (And when we really get down to it, grace and gratitude is the foundation of our lives as Christians.)
There is a great paragraph in the Presbyterian Church’s Directory for Worship that emphasizes this, you can see this quote in your bulletin:
Christian worship gives all glory and honor, praise and thanksgiving to the holy, triune God. We are gathered in worship to glorify the God who is present and active among us—particularly through the gifts of Word and Sacrament. We are sent out in service to glorify the same God who is present and active in the world. God acts with grace; we respond with gratitude. God claims us as beloved children; we proclaim God’s saving love. God redeems us from sin and death; we rejoice in the gift of new life. This rhythm of divine action and human response—found throughout Scripture, human history, and everyday events—shapes all of Christian faith, life, and worship (The Directory for Worship, PCUSA Book of Order, p. 75).
God offers grace.
We respond. Offering gratitude and our lives.
We don’t worship God out of anxiety … trying to perform … trying to get things right so we can get God’s attention … hoping God will hear what we are doing and show up …
We don’t worship God out of guilt … like we have to be in this place to make up for something … or to pacify God …
I think when I was in elementary school, I worshiped God out of obedience to my mom … and impatience, I wanted to get it over with so I could get on to something else … like Broncos games!
Gratitude seems like a good place to start from.
Maybe we don’t always feel grateful when we gather for worship … Maybe worship can do something that can move us toward gratitude.
So, if grace and gratitude are the big picture of worship, there are all these smaller parts that work together … things like preludes, calls to worship, songs, prayers of confession, assurances, glorias, anthems, readings from the Bible, sermons, offerings, dedications, doxologies, and benedictions … what is happening in all of those pieces?
I thought we could look at the Call to Worship to start out.
The Call to Worship is one of my favorite parts of the service to prepare. Usually, it comes directly from a Psalm … sometimes I’ll come across a Call to Worship that isn’t a direct quote from the Bible, but reflects themes we see in the Bible.
- When you look at the Call to Worship on the front of your bulletin, what do you notice?
- What does the Call to Worship seem to do?
It sets the stage for grace and gratitude … It reminds us who God is … It points us toward what God does and it calls us to respond. It invites us to express our gratitude.
It doesn’t invite or ask God to be here with us. Christ has promised to be with us, “For where two or three gather in my name, there I am with them” (Matthew 18.20). We know the claim throughout scripture that God is present, everywhere, throughout the world … that points us toward another promise from Jesus, “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
It might sound obvious, or trivial, but I think it is important … when we start our worship … we don’t ring the bell to wake God up … we don’t say some magic words to conjure God’s presence … or to convince God to come by. We begin worship with confidence that God is present and attentive.
The Call to Worship, reminds us who God is, how God interacts with people, and it invites us to respond to God … it should do at least something to point us toward God’s goodness and toward gratitude.
Our Directory for Worship comments that the Call to Worship (or Opening Sentences as some congregations call them) “establishes the context for worship as an encounter with the Holy One who calls all things into being” (p. 88).
I love that … today … together … the first thing we do is get our bearings … we remember who God is, what God does – “God made us … we didn’t make God” … we hear about how God relates to us – “we are God’s people … people God cares for.”
We prepare ourselves … we put ourselves in a mindset to encounter God.
When Sarah read from Colossians, we had an encounter with Christ … we hear how big … how powerful Christ is … we hear the magnitude of what he has done. It stretches out our understanding and perspective of God … The God we meet in Jesus is really big … really good … really beautiful … That is important. There is so much in our lives we encounter that is destructive and painful, so much that has nothing to do with love or beauty or awe, so much that makes us wonder if God is paying attention, or if God cares. When we worship, we encounter God … this God who acts … who is present … who is aware … who gives himself, in Christ, to reconcile all things to himself … whose love brings things together … who grieves pain … whose heart breaks when we divide and hurt one another.
Our Call to Worship orients us … it prepares us and invites us to make a grateful response to God that shapes our worship and our lives.
On your feet now—applaud God! Bring a gift of laughter,
Sing yourselves into God’s presence.Know this: God is God, and God, God.
God made us; we didn’t make God.
We’re God’s people, God’s well-tended sheep.
Enter with the password: “Thank you!” Make yourselves at home, talking praise.
Thank God. Worship God. For God is sheer beauty, All-generous in love, loyal always and ever.