The Scripture for this morning’s message is comprised of selected verses from our Psalm of the Day, Psalm 98: O sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things...  The Lord has made known his victory...  He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness…. All the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.  Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises.  Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody.  With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord.  Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who live in it.  Let the floods clap their hands; let the hills sing together for joy at the presence of the Lord...  Thus far our text.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Years ago, someone in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod came up with a clever way of summarizing three major areas of contention in that church body… we had problems with “wine, women, and song.”  “Wine” had to do with the controversies connected to communion practices, such as who should or should not be welcomed to the table.  “Women”, of course, related to the arguments as to what roles females ought to be allowed to have in the church.  And “song” was all about worship styles, and whether certain styles were superior to others.

As you might be able to guess given the text I just read, this morning we are going to talk about worship.  According to the Psalmist we are to “sing to the Lord a new song” and “Make a joyful noise to the Lord.”  I would like us to consider why we worship and how well we worship.

A couple of weeks ago I urged us all to give prayerful consideration to this question: Why are we here?  I sought to make the point that the core reason for gathering here on Sunday mornings is not because of religious duty, but because of our need to strengthen relationships… first, our relationship with God, and secondly, our relationships with one another. 

If we’re here merely to do our religious duty, then we are missing the point.  It probably isn’t a total waste of time, because we can’t rule out the working of the Holy Spirit through Word and Sacrament, but it’s important we gather with the right mindset for worship.  The Holy Spirit works most powerfully upon hearts and minds that are open and seeking, not so much on those who are simply going through the motions or just sitting mostly passively, hoping things just might keep their interest.

I must admit that sometimes I wonder if Lutherans are very good at worship.  I say this because I sense that those who participate often seem to evaluate whether or not it was worth their while based on if they heard something interesting, or learned something new about the Bible or about the theology or teachings of the Christian faith, or liked the music.  I guess I’m wondering if our experiences here are powerful enough… powerful enough to contribute to stronger relationships with God and each other, and powerful enough to lead to true transformation of our lives. 

How about you?  Are you here for information, or for transformation?  Do you evaluate what happens here… the liturgy, the music, the preaching, etc., based on whether you enjoyed it, or based on whether you have experienced growth in faith and in relationships?  If we’re not being inspired and empowered to more and more fully live our lives with a sense of purpose, and for a common mission, then we are doing something wrong, or at least something is missing.  If so, we better fix it!

Lutherans have traditionally been focused on education.  I think we do a fairly decent job of teaching people information about God and faith and other related matters.  If our goal is to help people get smarter, then okay.  But if our goal is also transformation, if our goal is growing faith and relationships, and inspiring a personal and corporate sense of mission, then getting smart is not enough.  It’s good to get smarter, but it’s much more important to get stronger.

If that is not happening here on a regular basis, then perhaps we need to make some changes.  Maybe Clinton and I need to sit down with a group of you and go back to square one, giving prayerful thought as to what we can do differently, or what we can do better.  If we really need to make significant changes, then that is what we will do.  Please share your thoughts with me.

Having said that… I would also like you to think about your responsibility in regards to the quality and effectiveness of your worship.  Maybe there’s something you’re doing, or not doing, that’s keeping you from experiencing God more powerfully in the context of our worship.  Back to the original question: why are you here?

The Psalmist wrote that we are to “sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things.” Do you give thought to how marvelous the things are that the Lord has done for you, especially His amazing grace that has covered your sin and brought you into God’s family as one of His infinitely loved children?  That’s why we prepare for worship each Sunday with Confession and Absolution.  I urge you to not just go through the motions, but to contemplate deeply the reality of your sinful brokenness, being brutally honest with yourself and with God regarding your sin, so that when the words of Absolution are spoken, you are ready to “sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things” indeed.  Grace is truly marvelous!!

Could it be that one of the common missing ingredients for many or most of us in our worship is that we are simply too passive?  I know for me that I need to work at worship.  I know that I personally need to pray for the Spirit and I need to pay attention.  There are so many truly awesome prayers, praises, and petitions that are part of our liturgy.  When those words come not only from my mouth, but also from my head and my heart, then that is true worship.

I believe that God is with us every time we gather.  Jesus promised that He would be present whenever two or more have gathered in His name.  We are gathered here in His name.  He is present.  Open your heart and your mind and your spirit to His Holy Spirit, asking that you might experience His true and awesome power at work through His word, and through His Sacrament, and through the fellowship of His family gathered around you.

   November 2018   
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