Let’s begin with some housekeeping issues. Not really related to the Bible study part of this missive, but still important. For example, you won’t hear from me for the next two Saturdays. My (or more properly our) vacation begins after worship on Sunday this week and we’ll be gone for two weeks. So, I don’t plan to poke my nose in here to send you something. Call me selfish, but there you go. Secondly, all the members of the Late Night Bible Study group got an email this morning from one of our members who had been hacked. Hackers get into your address book and send random emails and this bug got the Late Night Bible Study listing. Please don’t send any money. And here’s a tip, if you find yourself in need of financial rescue, don’t send an email!
All of which allows me to put in another reminder. If you want to comment on a post, please do! I’d love to start conversations with those who might want to. But be aware that if you hit reply to the Late Night Bible Study email it goes to everyone in the group. Which is fine if you want to do that. But if you are not intending a group email, it can catch you by surprise.
OK, what else? I’m sure there are other issues we can deal with here. There always are. Little things, niggling things, stuff you’ve just got to stop and deal with before you can get to the issue at hand. They seem like distractions, diversions before you can get to the real topic, the real issue before you and yet you may find that it is in the details that the real issue becomes more real. They seem like irritations that you simply have to handle before you can get to the stuff you really want to do. And yet you may find that it is in how you handle the distractions, the irritations that you learn and live and grow. Life is lived in the trenches, not just on the mountaintops. Life is lived in the daily routines, not just on vacation. (Sorry, had to slip that in!)
Take worship. Wait, what? I know, quick shift, sorry. But take worship. That center of our existence as followers of Jesus. We were made for worship. We are most ourselves when we worship. Worship is essential to the human spirit. It helps us keep a proper perspective on life and self and God. We know what worship is about. A favorite worship song speaks to our longing for right worship.
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'll bring you more than a song / For a song in itself / Is not what you have required / You search much deeper within / Through the way things appear / You're looking into my heart / I'm coming back to the heart of worship / And it's all about you, / It's all about you, Jesus / I'm sorry, Lord, for the thing I've made it / When it's all about you, / It's all about you, Jesus
You’re singing along, aren’t you? That Matt Redman, he knows how to get a tune in your head. But there is a truth that is here in this song. The heart of worship. It’s all about you, Jesus. We know that. Jesus, for we who claim the name of Christ, is the heart of worship.
Yes, Jesus is the heart, but liturgy is the bones. The structure of what it is that we do when we gather together. The skeleton of our worship, what enables us to hold the heart in its proper place. We need the bones or our worship will collapse into a gelatinous pile of mush – emotion and feelings and flesh and tears and shame and wordless crawling approach to a God we aren’t worthy of. Um, too much? Maybe we need a different metaphor.
Hebrews 8:1-6 Now the main point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, 2 a minister in the sanctuary and the true tent that the Lord, and not any mortal, has set up. 3 For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; hence it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer. 4 Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law. 5 They offer worship in a sanctuary that is a sketch and shadow of the heavenly one; for Moses, when he was about to erect the tent, was warned, "See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain." 6 But Jesus has now obtained a more excellent ministry, and to that degree he is the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted through better promises.
We’re coming back to the heart of worship. That’s what the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews says. Not really a letter, more like a sermon. More like an act of worship. An exhortation to put Jesus back in His proper place, the center of our worship. There is none like Him. There is none who can do what He can do, what He has done. There is none who can bring us life, bring us salvation, none but Him.
But we forget that. We stray from that knowledge, that truth. We think we can do it on our own. We’re smart and capable and creative, we can deal with our own stuff, our own issues. Until we can’t. Until we are lost in our own brokenness. Until we are drowning in our own lostness. And we need to remember the Heart of Worship. We need to reach out to the One who can rescue us, who can transform us, who can inspire us.
So we come back. Back to the community of faith, back to the body of Christ, who will gather us up and help us stand in the Presence of the One true God. And we sing praise. And we pray prayers, alone and together, words we form and words that have been given to us by others, to put words to our need and our hope. And we hear the Word. No, we see the Word. We feel the Word. We bring the Word into the depths of our being and we are renewed. In ways we barely comprehend, we are given a taste of the spark of life that is a gift of the God we worship.
Our worship is a sketch and a shadow of the worship we will enjoy in God’s Presence. It isn’t the real thing, but it is as real as it gets in this life. It is the pattern that Moses saw when he basked in God’s Presence on the mountain and learned about the law. The law is also a sketch and a shadow. It isn’t necessary for God’s people. Except that it is necessary, because without it we lose track of who and what we are. It is the form into which we pour ourselves so that we can be reshaped into what we were created to be. We are most ourselves when we worship. We are most ourselves when we are obedient to the law of God, to the will of the One who loves us like a father, and nurtures us like a mother.
And so we worship. We live the patterns, we draw the sketch. Knowing that our worship isn’t perfect, but it points to perfection. It gathers us up into the rhythms of living in the Kingdom. We create these patterns for our own growth and benefit. We build a structure around which we find our way into the Presence. There is both an internal and an external structure. The internal is the shape of each worship experience. It begins with gathering, calls upon the God who made us, offers praise and celebration in that Presence, gathers around the Word that defines us and shapes us, and then allows for our response to this Word in prayer and sacrament before sending us out into the world reminded that we belong to the One who redeemed us and enlivens us and called to share the Word made flesh with everyone we meet.
The external is the rhythm of the year around which we order our lives, from Advent to Christmastide, and Epiphany to Lent and Easter, Eastertide to Pentecost and then the implications of Pentecost called Ordinary Time and once called Kingdomtide. Called the Liturgical Calendar, it is essentially a reminder of the dance of life, where we partner with Jesus, the Son of God and walk through His life, remembering His birth, His life and ministry, and His tragic death and glorious resurrection. And then in part two, we receive His gift of Spirit and become the Church, the living presence of the Risen Christ, engaged in His mission of bringing the whole world to the mountain of the Lord where we will beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks. And thus rehearse our life in the Kingdom. This life is indeed glorious, but it is but a sketch and shadow of the life to come. Thanks be to God.