On the Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost...
Sunday, October 4, 2009
From the Book of Psalms, Psalm 100:
3Know that the Lord is God.
4Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
5For the Lord is good;
From Paul's Letter to the Christians in Romans, Chapters 12:
1I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
"From Self-Consciousness to God-Consciousness"
Communion Meditation Preached by
at the First Congregational Church of Stoughton
United Church of Christ
I live less than four miles from Gillette Stadium in Foxboro. That is far enough away to be spared Route 1 traffic tie-ups, but still close enough to hear the fireworks after a Patriots touchdown.
Most football games are on Sundays, and even as I am speaking right now, fans are gathering from all parts of New England for the one o’clock game against the Baltimore Ravens. And for many of these people, the football game will be a kind of worship, probably the only kind they will experience today. Think about it – as you enter the Gillette Stadium parking lot, there is the image of what is being worshipped – those three giant Super Bowl championship banners. The worshipers come dressed for the occasion – in face paint and team jerseys. There is the fellowship meal of a tailgate party. When the Patriots score a touchdown, the worshipers raise their arms in celebration and sing their praises through their cheering.
It would be wonderful if God were the recipient of the same passion, enthusiasm and commitment that the Patriots receive. But what goes on this afternoon at Gillette Stadium will not be worship.
Worship is the opportunity for us to praise and give thanks to our God. In the familiar words of Psalm 100: “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come into his presence with singing…”
Worship is an acknowledgement of God’s supremacy in our lives, that there is something bigger, more powerful and more deserving of our worship than ourselves. Know that the LORD is God. It is he that made us, and we are his…”
And when we acknowledge God’s supremacy, when we stop putting the focus on ourselves and instead put the focus on God, when we give ourselves over to God – that is worship.
Soren Kierkegaard was a 19th century Danish philosopher and theologian, and he wrote about worship in the context of a dramatic presentation, calling it the “theater of worship.” Kierkegaard wrote that most people view the “drama” of worship in this way: the pastor is the central actor or actress, the musicians are the supporting cast, and the congregation is the audience. In other words, most people view the drama of worship as the pastors, Lizzie and me, and the choir performing to please you, the audience. But this is entirely the wrong image.
In worship, the central actors in the drama are you, the congregation. The pastors and musicians assist you, the congregation, in your worship. And the audience is…God.
One of the questions that people often ask themselves upon leaving church, whether we realize it or not, is, “What did I get out of worship this morning?” But that is the wrong question to ask. Rather, the question should be, “What did God get out of my worship this morning?” Not did I enjoy worship, but did God enjoy my worship.
In worship, we are to move from self-consciousness to God-consciousness. When I use the term “self-consciousness,” it is not in the sense of being excessively aware of being observed by others. What it means is being pre-occupied with ourselves. In our worship, we are to move from self-consciousness to God-consciousness, move our focus from ourselves to God.
But it’s hard to do, isn’t it? Hard to stop being pre-occupied with ourselves, hard to give up control, hard to offer ourselves to an unseen being. Is God really even here, we might wonder. But Jesus has promised that wherever two or three are gathered in his name, he will be right here in our midst. We can be assured that Jesus is with us, and that is how we should worship.
Think about it…
If Christ were bodily present and we could see him with more than our soul’s eyes, our worship would instinctively move from self-consciousness to God-consciousness.
If Christ stood on our chancel, we would fall to our knees and bow our heads.
If Christ stretched out his hands and we saw the wounds, our hearts would break; we would confess our sins and weep over our shortcomings.
If we could hear Christ’s voice leading the hymns, we too would sing from the bottom of our hearts; the words would take on new meaning.
If he read the scripture, the passage would come to life and the lesson would pierce the marrow of our souls.
If Christ walked down our aisle, we would hasten to make amends with our brothers and sisters; the pews would be crowded, the collection plates would be overflowing, and we would offer ourselves in service to others in his holy name1.
But here’s the thing – the living Christ IS here, just as he has promised. Christ is here in the words we speak, the songs we sing, the silence we keep, and the prayers we send up to heaven. Christ is here in the sharing of the bread and the cup, and in our being a community together. Christ is here; and that is how we should worship – knowing that he is present among us.
As the Apostle Paul writes in this morning’s Epistle lesson; “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”
When Paul speaks of offering our bodies, he is referring symbolically to the whole of our being, our total selves. Present your total selves to God – body, soul, heart and mind; that is worship, not just on Sunday mornings, but all through the week. And when we give ourselves wholly to God, our worship will be holy and pleasing to God. Listen to this different translation of Paul’s words, from The Message by Eugene Peterson:
“So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him… Fix your attention on God.”
It’s not easy moving from self-consciousness to God-consciousness; it’s hard enough to worship God on Sunday mornings, much less every day of our lives. But worship is a spiritual practice, it is something that disciples do, and we need to do it over and over again – to practice it – to get the hang of it. And the more we do it, the more we will find ourselves able to move from self-consciousness to God-consciousness, the more we will find ourselves able to give our whole selves over to God. And that is worship.
And so, on Sundays and all through the week, may we make God the object of our devotion – not football, not our work, not our possessions – but God. May we be preoccupied with God, may we live in God-consciousness. May we offer to God our whole selves –all that we have and all that we are – that our lives may be lived worshipping God. As The Message tells us, Embracing what God does for us is the best thing we can do for God – and, I would add, for ourselves, too. Amen.
1Adapted from Karen Burton Mains, Preface, Sing Joyfully, Tabernacle Publishing Company, December 1989..
The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.