If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away---Henry David Thoreau

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Scripture-focused Worship: Nehemiah 8:1-12; Luke 24:13-35

*This is the second in a series of sermons on Common Worship: Themes for Zion's Worship Life preached at Zion Mennonite Church, Hubbard, Oregon on Sunday, August 26, 2012.

Have you ever cried when scripture was read? I have….and on more than one occasion. I remember as a pastor going through some deep struggles with family and congregation. The strain was taking its toll on my spirit.  A friend had come to my congregation to preach. Revelation 21 was read. The text spoke of a coming day when every tear would be dried. That caused my eyes to flow! I was deeply moved by the promise of Scripture.

When Ezra read the words from the law, the people wept. But, then again, they also wept when they saw the foundation of the second temple laid. Maybe they were just a bunch of crybabies! No. They were deeply moved by these events. Anyway, this is how the story goes. After Judah had returned home from exile in Babylon following a decree from Persian Emperor Cyrus, they set out to rebuild the temple and to restore the community around the Law of Moses.  Ezra brought back from Babylon a copy of the Torah or Law of Moses. As a priest and scribe of the Law Ezra was intent on forming the identity of God’s people around the Torah.

It was the month of the autumn festival, known as the Feast of Tabernacles or Booths, also known as Sukkot. Its origin was as an agricultural festival. During Sukkot the people would live in booths made of palm branches to remember their temporary dwelling places after their liberation from Egypt. The people gathered at the Water Gate of Jerusalem to listen to Ezra’s reading from the Torah. Now, when we read scripture it usually takes a minute or two at most. Ezra came to a specially constructed wooden pulpit and read from the Torah from early morning to midday. Even for such a long period, the people remained attentive.  And the people wept at the reading. Not because Ezra read scripture and interpreted it for around 5-6 hours!  They didn’t weep because they had to stand the whole time. The people of Judah wept because they understood the Law and realized they had neglected it. They encountered God in the reading of the holy Word.

Scripture is a primary medium through which we encounter God.  Scripture plays many roles in the life of a congregation; as sacred writings which shape the identity of the believing community, as the church’s common language, as an ethical guidebook, as a history of our spiritual ancestors, and as a standard for our beliefs. But, one of its central roles in the church’s worship life is as a channel through which we meet God.

Last Sunday we emphasized in God-centered worship that encountering God is of primary importance. In this same vein, one of the principal roles of scripture in the church’s worship life is as a medium through which we encounter God.  Encountering God through scripture is reflected in the description of the Bible as “the Word of God.” The Bible becomes a vehicle through which we listen for and hear the voice of God.

At the same time, to conflate or equate “the Bible” with “the Word of God” is a bit misleading.  “The Word of God” is far more than the written text of the Bible. Some early Anabaptists made a clear and important distinction between the Inner Word and the Outer Word, that is, between the Word of God in scripture and the Word of God within the human heart.  This distinction is expressed by Anabaptist Hans Denck when he said, “I value the Holy Scripture above all human treasures, but not as high as the Word of God.”  More broadly speaking, the “Word of God” is God’s self-communication in whatever form that may come.  That occurs through the channels of the incarnate Word, Jesus Christ, the written Word, the Bible, the proclaimed Word in preaching, the witness of the Word in human testimony, the inner Word of the heart and spirit, and creation’s Word, God’s voice in nature. God’s voice speaks in many and diverse ways, says the author of Hebrews, but in these last days has spoken through a Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus is God’s primary Word to the world.  In worship Scripture witnesses to Jesus Christ, God among us, and is primarily a means through which we encounter God. And if we take the view of some early Anabaptists seriously, we will seek to encounter the Word of God not simply as words read from a page, but as God’s Word encountered within our hearts and spirits. The Bible is not to be an object of worship, but a channel through which we encounter God, who alone is worthy of our worship.

Bread and Bible are two primary places where the church encounters God in worship.  The story of the two disciples who encounter Jesus while walking on the Emmaus road is a story reflecting Bread and Bible, Communion and Scripture in worship. New Testament scholars have noted how Luke’s story of the Emmaus Road is more than a simple historical account of two disciples’ post-resurrection encounter with the risen Jesus. The story is shaped by Luke to reflect two arenas in the early church’s worship life where they encountered the risen Christ: in Bread and Bible or Communion and Scripture .  

Two disciples, one identified as Cleopas, met Jesus in cognito on the road to Emmaus. Their eyes were kept from recognizing him.  When are our eyes kept from recognizing the risen Christ in our midst when we go about our life journeys or worship together? They talked with the stranger about what happened to Jesus, how he was a prophet, was condemned to be crucified, was expected to be the one to redeem Israel. A group of women went to his tomb, saw the body was missing, and had a vision of angels.  And besides….. (a dramatic pause should be inserted here)….besides, it is now the third day since these things took place! The third day, the day of resurrection, Sunday, the Lord’s Day, the day when the church gathers for worship. Basically, the two disciples are the church retelling the Jesus story.  Isn’t this a significant part of what the church does at worship….retell the story of Jesus?  And notice Jesus response….how foolish not to see all of this within the Hebrew Scriptures. And beginning with Moses and the prophets, Jesus interpreted how he is related to the Torah and the Prophets. Isn’t this the church at worship proclaiming and interpreting the Scriptures? And didn’t the two disciples say later, when their eyes were opened to the presence of Christ, “Were not our hearts burning within us…while he was opening the scriptures to us?” Here is the church encountering the living Christ in the reading and proclamation of the Word. The scriptures were not dead history or dry recitation to the early church, but rather a living testimony to the risen Christ that burned in their hearts.

For Mennonites and Protestants in general the Word plays a central role in worship. Catholics and the Reformed Tradition also include Sacrament, Eucharist, Communion, or the Lord’s Table as an equally important element of worship. The centrality of Communion and Scripture is reflected in the Emmaus story.  The sun began to set behind the purple hills. The two disciples invite Jesus to their home, the place where the early church would meet for worship. Together they sat at table. Is this a common meal? Who is the host of their table? You would think it was Cleopas or his friend. No. Jesus is the host at this table, as he is at the church’s communion table. Note Luke’s wording of Jesus actions at the table meal. It sounds like a liturgical script. He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Isn’t this the same wording used of Jesus’ Last Supper and in Paul’s description of the early church’s communion (1 Corinthians 11)? And when the bread was broken and shared….their eyes were opened and they recognized him? Isn’t this a description of the early church’s recognition of Jesus’ presence at Communion? Bread and Bible, Communion and Scripture, the primary places the church encounters the living Christ in worship.

Scripture-shaped worship can enhance the potential for encountering God and Christ in worship.  Since scripture is a medium for encountering God, shaping our liturgy around the scripture is essential for worship.  Let’s survey some ways in which we shape our worship through Scripture.

·        The Christian year and the Lectionary cycle. I grew up in a church tradition that did not celebrate the entire Christian year or utilize a lectionary of scripture readings in its worship planning. We celebrated Easter and Christmas, as did the society around us, and the preacher chose his own favorite texts throughout the year.

Over my years as a pastor I have come to truly appreciate the Christian Year that begins with Advent and culminates with the season after Pentecost and the Reign of Christ Sunday. It serves not only as an alternative to the secular calendar, but is a profound practice for shaping the worship life of a congregation.  The Christian Year sets our lives within liturgical time, the seasons of the life of Christ.

I didn’t notice how much the Christian Year had shaped my life until I was no longer in a pastorate.  Working for our denomination for 7 years I travelled a lot and missed out on participating in the liturgical cycle of the Christian Year.  There were times when I would come upon Easter and feel unprepared or Pentecost would come and go and I had done nothing to celebrate it. And I felt a bit disoriented, out of time, off beat, missing an important rhythm of my life. The Christian Year can shape our lives around scripture.

The Christian Year fits into the wider framework of a three year liturgical cycle of scripture readings, known as the lectionary.  Years A, B, and C include readings from the four gospels, the Old Testament, the Psalms, and the Epistles.  By following the three year cycle and reading each of the assigned scripture texts a congregation will have heard a good portion of the Bible.  The lectionary has its limitations though. The combination of texts on any given Sunday is supposed to fit a common theme, but often the choices are arbitrary and the texts don’t fit together. The Old Testament is not appreciated for its own light, but serves primarily as illumination of the New Testament. Much of the OT is ignored and good portions of the NT left out.  But, abandoning the lectionary and relying on the preacher’s arbitrary choice of favorite texts is far less helpful. The lectionary is a significant liturgical tool for shaping the church’s worship life around scripture.

·        The Liturgy. Scripture can become used in the diverse elements of worship; prayer, praise, preaching, and blessing. Appropriate biblical texts can be used to call the people to worship, introduce the offering, or as a benediction.  The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face shine upon you. The various elements of the Sunday order of worship itself can be shaped by scriptural language. As we share these first fruits of our offerings, Lord, we seek to be cheerful givers. Prayers can reflect biblical language or allude to specific scriptures. 

In a post-Christendom culture that is becoming more and more biblically illiterate, the need to share in the stories, language, and images of the Bible becomes even greater. An important part of being a Christian is to know and understand the language of our Christian faith, which is drawn from the Bible. The world around us speaks a different language. We spend most of our time bombarded in the magazines, on TV, on the internet by the world’s language of success, power, happiness, self-help, individual rights, cyberspace, networking, and bootstrap philosophy. If the church doesn’t practice speaking its own language, it can lose or fail to understand its rhetoric of creation, redemption, sin, salvation, forgiveness, reconciliation, faith, the body of Christ, and judgment. The church needs to immerse itself in its own language not only to understand its own faith, but to understand the world around it.

Various religious and ethnic groups have their own “holy language.” For Muslims it’s Arabic, the true language of the Koran. For Catholics it used to be Latin as heard in the mass.  At one time German Mennonites feared that losing their language was tantamount to losing their faith, which was not the case. But, there is a real sense in which if the church loses its language to some degree it loses its faith. I say this knowing that we can to some extent translate Christian language into the language of the world and knowing that translation of biblical and Christian language is an important task of the church, particularly in mission and evangelism. But, as anyone who speaks another language than English knows, many words lose a great deal of their meaning in the translation. The liturgy of worship is one place where we can hear, learn, speak, and practice our own language; the language of the church shaped by scripture.

·        Scripture reading.  It made me sigh when I recently read this statement: More time is spent in most congregational worship services making announcements than in reading scripture. What does that say about the role of scripture in worship? I’m afraid that within the Free Church or non-liturgical traditions scripture reading has not played a significant role in the church’s worship life. In the congregation I grew up in, I don’t remember scripture ever being read aloud in the service. Oh, there were references and allusions to scripture throughout the service and occasionally read during the sermon, but the public reading of scripture on its own was not a part of our worship practices. Was public reading of scripture part of traditional Mennonite worship service?

Scripture reading is a most important liturgical practice. The early church did not have printed Bibles or personal scrolls to read in private. Christianity emerged in an oral culture. Sacred stories, texts and traditions were passed down orally. Most Christians were illiterate. What we have as books and epistles of the Bible were read aloud in the house churches by the few literate members. Reading sacred texts in worship gatherings was a most significant practice in forming the church’s identity within the world.

We have come to approach the public reading of scripture with the casualness of a stroll through the park on a sunny day. Some approach the public reading of scripture like they were reading a newspaper ad…written in Chinese! On occasion, I have heard scripture texts read in Sunday worship that made tears well up in my eyes….not like the reading I mentioned when Revelation 21 was read, but from a fumbled, weak voiced, apologetic, unpracticed, nonchalance in the reading the church’s sacred texts! The public reading of scripture is a sacred task to be soaked in prayer and practice. Remember, this is a major channel through which the church encounters God.

·        Proclamation of the Word. Preaching is an essential practice of the church’s worship life, particularly among Protestants and Mennonites. If I had time, I would love to have a conversation with you about why I am convinced that since preaching is a ministry of the church and not just the pastor, preaching needs to become more of a communal and conversational practice, a subject about which I wrote my doctoral dissertation.  

Preaching occupies a central place in our worship services. There are different and legitimate approaches to preaching; topical, pastoral, doctrinal, ethical, and biblical. I want to focus on biblical preaching, since it clearly reflects one of the different roles of Scripture in worship.

Biblical preaching takes the ancient Word and makes it the Modern Word. It translates then to now with a focus upon applying God’s Word to our own context today.  After Ezra read for 5 or 6 hours from the Torah, there was interpretation. They explained the meaning of the words that were read from the Torah “so that the people understood the reading.” Preaching is an act of interpretation, so that we can understand the meaning of our sacred texts.  When the people of Judah heard the words and their interpretation, “all the people wept.” There was an inner experience, a touching of the heart, and encounter with God through the written Word.  Preaching strives to become that kind of channel through which the people hear the voice of God speaking to them, they encounter the Spirit of the risen Christ, and their hearts are touched.

Shaping our worship through scripture is not an end in itself. We don’t do it simply so we   can say “we are a people of the Bible.” Rather, we shape worship by scripture because scripture is a primary means of God’s self-revelation to us.  When Ezra read the Torah and the people wept, they were encountering God. When the two disciples on the road to Emmaus had the Scriptures opened to them and they broke bread together, they encountered the risen Christ. We seek to shape our worship through Scripture because it is a most significant means for encountering God.

And all the people answered, “Amen, Amen.”

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

God-Centered Worship: Psalm 95:1-7; John 4:21-24

*This sermon is the first in a series entitled "Common Worship: Themes for Zion's Worship Life" and was preached at Zion Mennonite Church, Hubbard, Oregon on Sunday, August 19,2012.
Worship is God-centered. Of course it is! Duhhh! What else would it be? Well, it could be about the people who come to worship, socializing, following the order of worship in the bulletin, a particular style of music, finishing on time, meeting human needs, evangelism, keeping a liturgical tradition, or any number of things besides God.
I remember a very formal, high church worship service I once attended at the Washington Cathedral as a delegate for Mennonite Church USA. The high arched ceiling, sculptures of the apostles, elaborate clerical garb, colorful drapes, and stained glass windows were visually overwhelming for this low-church Mennonite. Every tiny detail of the liturgy was carefully scripted and led by professional clergy. It all fit into an ancient pattern including processional, waving of an incense contraption, antiphonal responses to the reading of Holy Scripture, recitation of the Apostle’s creed, and recessional; just to name of few of the worship elements. Was this worship? It was for many people gathered that evening. But, for me, I was so caught up in the externals of worship that encountering God in that space was far from my mind. I was more concerned about what was happening next in the bulletin! It was probably my own subjective experience that kept me from focusing on God, which was not the intent of the worship service itself. Nevertheless, worship had become about something other than God.  

Worship is all about God. “Let us sing to the Lord!” says the psalmist.  Psalm 95 is a hymn of praise that was used in Israel’s worship life. The word worship is an Old English word worthscipe meaning to create worthiness or worth-ship. Of course, we don’t create God’s worthiness, but we do create liturgy, which literally means “people’s work,” as a means of ascribing worth to God.

Worship is about attributing worthiness to God, pure and simple. The psalmist describes God as worthy of our praise in titles like Lord, rock of our salvation, great, King, above all gods, Creator and Sustainer of the mountains, of earth’s depths, the sea and dry land, and humanity.  In response we offer worship through singing, making a joyful noise, coming into God’s presence, and kneeling before God. These are means to an end. Each of these forms is secondary to worship itself, which is ascribing “worthiness” to God. The psalmist makes clear what worship is all about. When we gather for worship it is not about style or harmony or perfectly crafted liturgies or performing for an audience. Worship is about attributing worth and praise to the Lord.

The psalmist invites us to sing praise to the Lord! Singing is about praising God. It is not about vocal skill or technical performance or musical preferences. For us Mennonites, we translate “sing” as four part harmony. As a newer Mennonite of 25 years, I can appreciate four part harmony. It is a beautiful sound.  When I first heard the old hymn 606 after a conference in Kansas, I was amazed by this classical sounding music sung in parts and that a congregation could immediately turn into a choir without rehearsal! I can appreciate the beauty of harmony in acapella singing.

But, the psalmist doesn’t appear to be too concerned with the aesthetics of sound in worship when he goes on to say, “Make a joyful noise to the Lord.” The Hebrew word can be translated as “a joyful shout, cry, blast, or battle yell.” Yaaahoo! Praise God! Not much harmony in a shout of praise! And yet, it is a means of praising God.

I take seriously the implications of making a joyful noise as praise to God. Though some of us here at Zion may not agree, drumming is means of praising God. Last Sunday I was praising God! Someone might say, “Drums are not for praising God. They’re just a bunch of noise.” Admittedly, there is more noise than harmony in drumming. But, the psalmist says, “make a joyful noise to the Lord.” Noise can be a form of praise to God, a method of worship. I even call my drumming program for churches, “A Joyful Noise.” My point is, the psalmist says that even noise, a loud shout of joy, like Hallelujah!, is a way of worshipping God.  Worshiping God can be done with melody and harmony, but also rhythm and noise, if it is done in praise to God. The means of worship is secondary to the subject of worship; God.

First, God-centered worship means that worship is focused upon our encounter with God. More than getting to sing our favorite hymns, more than seeing old friends, more than fulfilling a Christian duty, more than promoting church events, worship is first and foremost about experiencing God. That may graciously happen through the channel of liturgy, hymns, proclaimed word, broken bread, and blessing. But, those outward, human words and events are the means to an end and not the end in and of themselves. Preaching professor Thomas Long reminds us: People are not hungry for more worship services, for more hymns, sermons, and anthems. They are hungry for experiences of God, which can come through worship; in the primal sense, this hunger is what beckons people to worship.

Granted, we cannot control or arrange people’s encounter with God, even with the most beautiful singing and powerful proclamation. The pastor, worship leaders, and song leaders at Zion will only encounter futility if we think we can plan for ultimate Mystery to erupt within our order of service. And yet, we do seek to evoke the Spirit and to enhance the possibility of our encounter with God through the liturgy.

Second, God-centered worship means that God is the subject of our worship. Our liturgy, our singing, our proclamation, our elements of worship should have God at the center. If God is the subject of our worship, then we may need to re-evaluate some elements of our order of worship. For some time I have wondered about the intrusion that announcements seem to make within a worship service, even when they are framed as opportunities of service to God. In other congregational settings I have advocated for announcements to be placed before or after the worship service itself. Announcements are mostly about reminders of events and the housekeeping chores of the church and less directed toward worship of God. In God-centered worship every element of worship is directed toward God in some form or fashion.

Questions we might ask of our own worship life: Do we direct most of the elements of our worship service toward the worshippers or the one we worship? Are our offerings more for church maintenance than in praise and thanks to God?  Is our focus in singing upon the notes, the melody, the harmony, or God to whom we sing? Does the sermon point us to the preacher or to God? In God-centered worship the elements of the liturgy point us to God.

Third, God-centered worship means there must be preparation and engagement in worship. By focusing upon the magnificence of the Washington Cathedral, the elaborate liturgy, and my place in the processional and recessional, I directed my spirit away from God, the true subject of worship.  It’s so easy to enter the worship service with our minds focused on talking to friends, thinking about what I have to do after the service, will I miss my seat at the restaurant if the service runs late, concerned about what the young people are wearing to church, or any number of things besides preparing my spirit to be open to an encounter with God through the word, song, visuals, or prayer.

Do we pray before we come to worship? God, speak to me through this worship service today? Do we reflect on the proclaimed word? God, how can I apply your word to my life?  Do we sing our hymns to God or to ourselves? God, I sing praise to you! Do we join our hearts together in the corporate prayers? God, I too pray for those who are grieving. Worship can easily slip into an unconscious routine in which our hearts, minds, and spirits are disengaged and we go through the motions of the order of worship like putting parts together on an assembly line or washing the laundry.  Didn’t we do the same thing last week? Sing, pray, hear a children’s story, listen to a sermon, receive a blessing? Been there done that. We can walk through worship like a sleepwalker moving through the house at night.

Worship is more than sitting through a weekly routine of repeated elements we have done for years. If it is primarily about encountering God, then we must prepare ourselves for worship and be open to engaging ourselves in the worship experience with an openness and attentiveness to meeting God.

Not only is worship about God, it is about how we worship God. We see this in Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. She tried to sidetrack him from discussing the moral issue of having numerous husbands and living with one without being married. She switched the subject to worship. “So, you’re having this relationship problem, eh?” “Uh…. uh, what are your views on contemporary praise songs.” She noticed that Jesus is a prophet. I guess she figured this out because he asked her an uncomfortable question. Prophets have a habit of doing that.  

Samaritans claimed their worship was the true religion of the ancient Israelites. They had some different means for worshipping God from the Jews. Their sacred text was their own version of the Pentateuch, the Five Books of Moses, with a significantly different version of the 10 Commandments. They rejected the post-Torah books of the Bible and the Talmud or rabbinical writings. Mt. Gerazim, not Jerusalem, was for them the true place of worship.

The Samaritan woman wanted to debate worship with Jesus, “Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” And debates over worship have continued to this day.

The Samaritan woman was focusing upon the differences in the location of their worship places; Mt. Gerizim vs. Mt. Moriah. The Samaritan woman’s attempt to put worship spaces is conflict serves as a fitting symbol for our contemporary “worship wars,” or should I say “worship skirmishes,” with our focus turning toward our differences in preferred outward forms of worship.

You say worship should be in Jerusalem, but we say it is in Mt. Gerizim. You say worship should be in a sacred cathedral, but I say it should be in a plain old meetinghouse? You say worship should be traditional, but I think it should be contemporary? You say worship should be with organs and pianos, but I say it should be with guitars and drums?  You say worship should follow old worship traditions, but I say it should be creative and experimental? You say worship should be formal and serious, but I say it should be informal and joyful.  And so the debate about worship that the Samaritan woman wanted to start with Jesus has been passed down through the ages. So, today we have what we unfortunately refer to as “worship wars.”

We will discuss “worship wars” more when we come to my sermon on blended worship. But, let me just say that “worship wars” usually occur when take our focus off God as the subject of worship, get caught up in the different, outward forms of worship, and insist that our preferred style dominate.

Jesus’ responds to the Samaritan woman’s attempt to sidetrack him with a worship debate. He appears to start off his response by reinforcing the differences in worship among the Samaritans and the Jews. Jesus said, “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.” His comments don’t seem like the best way to talk about someone else’s religion! Whatever you make of Jesus’ response, he seems to suggest that worship has a concreteness, a historical, cultural, and traditional situatedness about it one does not easily transcend. Jesus ties worship to a particular chosen people, the Jews. He doesn’t seem to be able to transcend the “Jewishness” of worship in his response to the Samaritan woman, Jesus Christ, why can’t you think more ecumenically, more interfaith, more universal! Jesus, you’re just too…too… Jewish!

There are some things we can’t transcend in our religious lives. Religion is always situated within some particular history, culture, and tradition. That’s why I get frustrated with Mennonites who, when I emphasize the importance of our Anabaptist tradition, I often hear something like, “Why emphasize being Anabaptists? We should just be Christians!” My response? Please, show me this generic or universal Christian that you want us rather to be. There is no such creature.

My hunch is that most often what the person who says these kinds of things means by “Christian” is “Evangelical Christian.” I don’t imagine that their idea of a generic or universal “Christian” means Russian Orthodox, Pentecostal snakehandlers, or Weaverland Amish! Every Christian is formed by a particular history, tradition, culture, forms and practices.  There is no such thing as a generic Christian, any more than Jesus was some amorphous New Age, universalist, transcendental, Spirit-person. The early church rejected this kind of Gnostic, unearthly, spiritualized Jesus. Jesus was an orthodox, and sometime unorthodox, Jew whose understanding of religion and worship was tied particularly to the Jewish tradition and its practices. Only with this in mind can we understand his very Jewish response to the Samaritan woman about true religion and worship.

Jesus pointed the Samaritan woman to a coming time, which had already arrived, when the location or outward forms of worship would no longer be important. Where you worship must be transcended by higher principles or realities, whether worship is done on Mt.Gerazim, at the temple in Jerusalem, in a local synagogue, in a cathedral, or in the woods. There are some things that must be considered secondary to true worship. Place, forms, and style are among those things, particularly if we understand that God is the subject of our worship.  

Jesus envisioned a coming form of worship that would focus upon God as Spirit and with true worship being in spirit and truth. To speak of God as Spirit is to recognize that God is other than human. God transcends all material existence. God transcends even our images of God, like Father, Lord, King. As Spirit God is not tied to a particular worship place, national or ethnic identity. God is not bound by my worship style or preferences. God’s Spirit is not hindered by sour notes, fumbled liturgy, or typos in the bulletin. God is not locked up in some sacred building. There is no particular land where alone God treads the earth. There is no “one nation under God,” but a Spirit that permeates all of reality.

If we end up worshipping our own musical preferences, our own historical worship tradition, a god of our national identity, a god of my racial or ethnic group, or a god of my denomination, then we have not worshipped God in Spirit and in Truth.  Spirit and truth are interconnected. They point us back to Jesus’ reference to the living water, the Spirit within. To worship God in spirit does not mean to worship God internally as opposed to worshipping God with external forms. It means that it is the indwelling Spirit, the well of water that is within us, that connects us to the Spirit of God in worship.  To worship in truth is to worship in the Spirit of Jesus, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

To strive toward God-centered worship at Zion will not just be a matter of the Worship Commission diligently planning meaningful worship services, worship leaders conducting services with skill, or song leaders choosing appropriate hymns. God-centered worship requires a community of worship open to the Spirit, engaged in the liturgy with hearts open to encountering God, ears open to hearing the voice of God amid human words, and voices ready to give praise to God, who alone is worthy of our worship.  

A day is coming when

            We will worship God

                        as universal Spirit

            Worship will not be bound by

                        national identity

                                    race or ethnicity

                                                physical or mental ability  

                                                            gender or sexual orientation                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           
A day is coming when     

            We will worship God

                        In spirit and truth

            Worship will not be limited

                        to sacred buildings and holy places

                                    to formal or informal liturgical traditions

            We will worship God

                        with our hearts open

                        with minds focused

                        with our spirits engaged 

            We will worship God

                        in the Spirit

                                    not simply internally without external forms

not off in the woods as an isolated individual

but through the indwelling Spirit

within the transnational, multicultural

gathered community of believers

and in the Spirit of Christ

                        who is the Truth

A day is coming when

we will worship God

            in spirit and truth