Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Christian Believer: Week Twenty Three {Worship}

O worship the King, all glorious above,
O gratefully sing His power and His love;
Our Shield and Defender, the Ancient of Days,
Pavilioned in splendor, and girded with praise.

O tell of His might, O sing of His grace,
Whose robe is the light, whose canopy space,
His chariots of wrath the deep thunderclouds form,
And dark is His path on the wings of the storm.

The earth with its store of wonders untold,
Almighty, Thy power hath founded of old;
Established it fast by a changeless decree,
And round it hath cast, like a mantle, the sea.

Thy bountiful care, what tongue can recite?
It breathes in the air, it shines in the light;
It streams from the hills, it descends to the plain,
And sweetly distills in the dew and the rain.

Frail children of dust, and feeble as frail,
In Thee do we trust, nor find Thee to fail;
Thy mercies how tender, how firm to the end,
Our Maker, Defender, Redeemer, and Friend.
("O Worship the King," Robert Grant)

Well, I'm back to doing these posts, even though the study is over! Week twenty three was "Worship" (In Spirit and In Truth) and it turned out to be one of my favorites. I don't typically think of worship as a "doctrine", so it was neat to get that perspective.

We started with the video. The presenter was Don E. Saliers, who is a Professor of Theology and Worship at Candler School of Theology. He was one of my favorite presenters and I liked a lot of what he had to say. The first thing he said was that "docrtine flows from worship"; we think that we get doctrine from Bible study, theological investigation, and controversy and we do, but the most important force to shape doctrine through the centuries has been worship. For example, the church was singing and praising the Father, Son and Holy Spirit long before the doctrine of the Trinity was established. That said, the opposite is also true-where doctrine is taken seriously, it is reflected in worship. Worship is the church's primary way of remembering who God is, what God has done, and how God in Christ is present in the world today.

He then gave two definitions of worship. First, worship is "the glorification of God and the sanctification of all that is human". This tells us that worship is God-centered, and not about how we feel. Acknowledging who God is as witnessed in the Scriptures and the living tradition of the church's faith is the primary point. At the same time, worship opens us to the grace of God so his will and holiness and kingdom may be made real in us. Worship is a double journey into the mystery and glory of God as well as into the depth or our humanity in relation to God and neighbor.

Secondly, a more distinctly Christian definition says that worship is "the ongoing prayer and word and action of Jesus Christ in and through his body in the world, empowered by the Holy Spirit". The liturgy is Christ's before it is ours. To worship in Christ's name is to gather with the expectation of His active presence.

Saliers then talked about important elements of worship held by the first Christians at the church in Jerusalem. These included:
1. the teaching of the apostles
2. fellowship and mutual care
3. breaking of bread
4. prayers, psalms, and intercessions

He then listed five structures of worship through the ages and in our own time that he thought were essential:
1. rights of Christian initiation (baptism, confirmation, ect.)
2. the Lord's supper
3. cycles of time (seasons and feasts)
4. patterns of daily prayer
5. rites of passage (wedding, funerals, ect.)

He talked about holiness some and said something I liked- "there is no holiness that is not social holiness; we must seek love and justice and mercy in our world. He went on to say that the worship of God forms us:
- in a particular hope
- in compassion
- in repentance and humility
- in passion for the rule and reign of God

He then stated that to worship God is to "touch on those things essential to our humanity- memory, praise and thanksgiving, telling the truth before God and neighbor, forgiving and being forgiven, feeding and being fed, being healed and reaching out toward others, and interceding for others. In worship the ordinary becomes the extraordinary (for example the sacraments become means of grace). Worship is a rehearsal for who we are to become one day in the presence of God. And finally, "worship is a theological act shaping our humanity in the triune life of God- we praise the Creator of heaven and Earth, through Jesus Christ, in the power and communion of the Holy Spirit."

The workbook was full of valuable insight, as well. First it said that while most believers agree that worship "in spirit and in truth" is the goal of worship, most confess they rarely attain that. Often because worship is channeled through human emotions, we confuse the spiritual with attitudes and feelings that have nothing to do with God.

The book then discussed how, because worship involves the whole person, every sense can comeinto play. We hear beautiful music, (in some traditions) smell the incense, see the different symbols of the faith, touch oil or water, and taste the communion bread and wine. Worship is quite varied, though, ranging from silent Quaker services to Pentecostal ones where speaking in tongues is common.

It then talked about private worship, specifically prayer. Some people that do not even believe in God pray, simply because although logically they may not be able to reconcile a divine being, a "longing for communion with the eternal insists on ignoring logic". The definition of prayer is "to entreat", but of course prayer includes more than entreating- it includes giving thanks and adoration and confessing our sins. One poet said that "Prayer is the soul's sincere desire, uttered or unexpressed", but the book took issue with such an understanding, saying that some desires (even sincere ones) are utterly wicked and also that for prayer to be Biblical, it must be directed toward God. Prayer must be more than aimless meditation and certainly more than talking to oneself.

It made the interesting distinction between prayer and normal conversation with other humans. Typically, our conversations do not include adoration, confession or petitionary requests, but that is a large part of our prayer life. I thought that was interesting.

We learn a great deal about prayer from Jesus. Obviously, it was very important to him as he chose to withdraw and spend time in prayer. While some base their views of prayer on fear, others see it as only a petition, and still others are simply communing withe their own soul, Christ pointed to prayer as an intimate relationship. His addressing God as Father clearly points to a relational aspect that is a very important part of prayer. Finally, the book said this, which I loved- "Through prayer, we participate in bringing the will of God to pass. This idea is not surprising, since by our deeds we also hope to assist in bringing God's will to pass. But because of our inadequate view of prayer- our spiritualizing it- we hesitate to approach prayer as we approach our service to God. Jesus made no such distinction". I really liked that because I struggle with prayer and how it works.

Finally, the book made two really good points. First, worship MUST focus on God. Human pleasure and fulfillment almost always follow, but they are not the point of worship. Second, ritual is helpful, but it in not the final criterion for worship. The last paragraph was really good, too- "Most earnest believers...will conclude that while God receives the humble and contrite heart, whether that heart comes crudely or elegantly, the heart that loves God best will want to approach God with as much excellence and beauty as possible, knowing always, however, that the greatest beauty in worship and in prayer is the worship characterized by sincerity and love."

And here are my favorite passages from the Scripture and textbook readings:
"...Though your sins are like scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are as red as crimson, they shall be like wool." -Isaiah 1:18

"You are worth to take the scroll to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God and they will reign on earth." -Revelation 5:9

"If your faith and trust are right, then your God is the true God. On the other hand, if your trust is false and wrong, then you have not the true God. For these two belong together, faith and God. That to which your heart clings and entrusts itself is, I say really your God." -Martin Luther

"We have said that the symbols by which the Church is discerned are the preaching of the word and the observance of the sacraments, for these cannot anywhere exist without producing fruit an prospering by the blessing of God." -John Calvin

"The true worship of God is to God in itself acceptable, who respects not so much in what place as with what affection he is served; and therefore Moses in the midst of the sea, Job on the dunghill, Ezekiel in bed, Jeremiah in mire, Jonah in the whale, Daniel in the den, the children in the furnace, the thief on the cross, Peter and Paul in prison, calling unto God were heard..." -Richard Hooker

"Worship is the submission of all our nature to God. It is the quickening of conscience by his holiness; the nourishment of mind with his truth; the purifying of the imagination by his beauty; the opening of the heart to his love; the surrender of will to his purpose- and all of this gathered up in adoration, the most selfless emotion of which our nature is capable and therefore the chief remedy of that self-centeredness which is our original sin and the source of all actual sin." -William Temple

"Authentic praise of God acknowledges what is true about God; it respond to qualities that are "there" and not simply "there for me". This is true generically of praise, not just of God-oriented praise. The person who praises an athlete's achievement, a work of art, the manifestation of a person's virtue, affirms that these are indeed praiseworthy, and that something would be wrong with a beholder who did not acknowledge them. In other words, God is to be praised because God is God, because of what God is and does, quite apart from what God is and does for me...Gratitude is indeed often expressed as praise, and rightly. But that does not make praise and gratitude identical. Or does God cease to be praiseworthy when gratitude has fled because the Lord seems to withhold blessing, when the divine face appears to be set against us, and when agony drives out peace? If God is indeed praiseworthy, must God earn our praise? If this Reality is the Creator to whom we trace our existence but who doe not trace its existence to us, then it has an integrity of its own, an integrity whose ways are not our ways, and whose ends cannot be conflated with ours. Only such a Reality is worthy of praise, inherently. -Leander E. Keck

Because we the church believe God desires our worship and prayer, I will seek God earnestly, in spirit and truth.

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