A congregation of the United Church of Canada
Yr A ~ Creation 2 ~ Psalm 96
We are the Holy Rollers.
We value enthusiasm and spontaneity.
We love happy clappy music and we wear our emotions on our sleeves.
We will laugh or cry in worship at the slightest provocation.
We will fall on the floor overcome by emotion as we open ourselves and ponder the immensity of God’s love for us.
We think sermons are participatory so we answer questions and voice our agreement throughout.
We nod our heads vigorously when the preacher makes an interesting point and we’ll shout out affirmation when the preacher makes a great one.
We applaud after every hymn, praise song, and choir anthem because that’s how we say thanks.
We love and worship God in a noisy and exuberant way.
And we are moved to share this love of God that we feel so deeply with others.
We are the Frozen Chosen.
We value order and dignity.
We love majestic organ music and we hold our emotions very close to the chest.
We will laugh in worship on occasion, and cry if dealing with something profoundly sad, but generally we keep our emotions to ourselves.
We sit in our pews and think deeply about the immensity of God’s love for us.
We think sermons are educational and inspirational so we respectfully listen as the preacher shares their insights.
We will nod our heads at interesting ideas and furrow our brow when we disagree.
We offer an affirming nod after choir anthems to allow the sanctity of the moment to resonate.
We love and worship God in a quiet and steadfast way.
And we are moved to share this love of God that we feel so deeply with others.
We are Faith United!
What do we value? What music do we love?
How much emotion do we dare to show?
How do we use our bodies in worship?
How do we interact with sermons?
How do we respond to music?
In what manner do we love God?
Are you feeling closer to a Holy Roller or a Frozen Chosen?
Or will we do the typically Canadian, United Church thing and declare ourselves to be right in the middle?
Perhaps you’re wondering why we’re talking about worship in the Season of Creation, when the usual topics are about the environment or nature? Well, this year I’m looking more at the Creator than Creation, and worship is our response to the loving action and being of the Creator. So it makes sense to think about what that response, what that worship, looks like.
Worship is really our main thing as a church so it really deserves some thinking time. Worship is the one time we gather together each week as a large community of faith and focus together on what is supposed to be job #1 – to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. This isn’t the only way we love God, but it’s arguably the most powerful.
Our spiritual energy is amplified when we gather. We share our gifts in creative and helpful ways. We set everything else aside and allow ourselves to be immersed in the presence of God.
A church is healthy and vibrant for many, many reasons and the people who make up a church community of faith need to be involved in many, many different aspects of discipleship such as learning times, and supporting one another, and helping in the kitchen, and grounds keeping, and preparing for various wonderful fundraisers and events, and even simple things like lugging chairs or speaking positively about the church.
But the centre point, the hub, the engine, the power cell, the fuel tank, the core, the foundation – pick whatever image works for you – the main thing, our raison d’être is to gather together and worship the Holy Mystery we call God.
Our buildings are specifically designed to support this gathering of God’s people.
Our biggest budget expenses go toward supporting this activity.
So if worship isn’t right, if it isn’t deep, and spiritual, and moving, and challenging, and inspiring, and life-changing, and soul tending, and action-provoking then this whole church enterprise loses its power and passion and drive – and it withers and dies.
I can get a lot of things wrong (and there are days when I certainly do!) but if I get worship wrong I’m in big trouble.
So let’s talk worship and make sure we get it right! Let’s see if Psalm 96 can help us!
1 O sing to the Lord a new song [I’m liking the way it starts!]; sing to the Lord, all the earth.
2 Sing to the Lord, bless God’s name [That’s a lot of singing!]; tell of God’s salvation from day to day.
3 Declare God’s glory among the nations, God’s marvelous works among all the peoples.
Sing to the Lord a new song!
Does that mean we should never sing old songs?
Does that mean we should sing more rockin’ praise songs?
Maybe, but not necessarily. Don’t be too literal.
This “new song” probably means a new life, a new way, a new spirit-filled approach.
Sing to God about how your life is different now that you notice God’s Presence more.
Sing to God about how your path is clearer and stronger and more human now that you’re learning and embodying Jesus’ way and teachings.
Sing to God about how your heart feels better, your outlook is brighter, your hope is more prevalent, your passions are more directed on helping others than only yourself because the Holy Spirit is working on you because you’re letting it!
Sing to God a new song about your renewed life!
Like the song says, “How can we keep from singing?”
And when you’re done singing speak of God’s glory, God’s saving power, God’s marvellous movement in your life.
Notice that all this singing and speaking is really directed toward God at this point. Our starting place in worship is to sing to God and speak about God’s glory.
Why? Why should we worship?
Is it because God is insecure and needs an ego boost?
Worship is for us. Worship is our way of expressing our response to God.
Psalm 96 tells us why we should worship God.
vv.4-6 (from the colourful translation called The Message Bible)
4 For God is great, and worth a thousand Hallelujahs. God’s terrible beauty makes other gods look cheap;
5 Pagan gods are mere tatters and rags. God made the heavens –
6 Royal splendour radiates from God, A powerful beauty sets God apart.
That’s the why – because God is great, and awe-full, and beautiful. And then it’s back to summonsing or calling us to worship:
7 Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples, [attribute] to the Lord glory and strength.
8 [Give all credit] to the Lord the glory due God’s name; bring an offering, and come into God’s courts.
9 Worship the Lord in holy splendor; tremble before God, all the earth.
Give glory, bring an offering, come into God’s presence, worship, and the last one – tremble before God, all the earth.
Did you notice the movement?
We went from speaking to acting – from singing about or to God to bringing offerings, physically moving into God’s presence, actively worshipping and even bodily trembling before God.
And then verse 10 takes our worship that has all been focused on God and turns us around and sends us out into the world to share the Good News:
10 Get out the message – God Rules! God put the world on a firm foundation; God treats everyone fair and square.
Whether we’re singing or saying it to God or speaking or showing it to the world there is one thing that is clear: proclamation – proclaiming our experience of God’s presence, Christ’s love, and the Spirit’s power – is central to what worship and discipleship are all about.
And now I’m going to link this whole thing to the Season of Creation – because one of the things that’s so great about this season is the language we get to use.
Language about human emotions can’t describe the depth of exuberant response that God’s love engenders so the poet, the psalmist, demonstrates their “off the chart” delight by having nature come to life and worship with us. God’s creative love is so indescribably awesome that everything is worshipful.
Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it.
Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy.
Or as The Message puts it:
Let’s hear it from Sky, With Earth joining in,
And a huge round of applause from Sea.
Let Wilderness turn cartwheels, Animals, come dance,
Put every tree of the forest in the choir – An extravaganza before God!
What happens when God’s Presence is experienced?
Worship means “to ascribe worth” – to sing, say, or demonstrate why something/someone/some Mystery is important, and valuable, and meaningful, and powerful for us.
But saying that you or I are praying, or praising, or singing doesn’t capture the breadth and depth and height and length of our response.
So the heavens help – the earth sings some harmony – the ocean gives a standing ovation – the fields exult and the wilderness turns cartwheels – the animals dance – and the trees sing for joy. Let all creation rejoice!
It is indeed an extravaganza of love and worship.
And what’s the ultimate purpose of all this extravagant worship?
We look at the last verse – verse 13 – but we need to take it carefully, because the words might trip us up. The lectionary usually leaves this part out, but it’s important.
…for God is coming, for God is coming to judge the earth. God will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with God’s truth.
Judgement gets such a bad rap because we’ve interpreted and used it so poorly so often.
Judgement doesn’t mean punishment – it means to evaluate and form an opinion. But we know that God is love.
The judgment God is bringing forth – and no it isn’t God swooping down from heaven and chucking thunderbolts at us (that’s Zeus/Thor) – the evaluation God brings or represents is about love.
God is love.
Love seeks love.
It’s like harmony in music.
Musicians know when things are not in tune, when the harmony is sour.
God isn’t looking to punish us – God is looking for harmony – God is seeking love in us that resonates with the love that God’s very being is.
So the ultimate purpose of our extravagant worship is to reshape and reform and renew our hearts, and souls, and minds, and spirits in love – so we can be in harmony with the love that God is.
All of nature sings God’s song.
Psalm 96 helps us to join the choir.
And it doesn’t matter if you’re a Holy Roller, or one of the Frozen Chosen – or even if you’re a member of Faith United!
It doesn’t matter if you raise your hands or sit on them.
It doesn’t matter if you dig praise songs or prefer hymns.
The style of worship doesn’t matter one bit – what matters is its depth, its power, its capacity to move you and open your heart to noticing God’s Presence and responding in ever-deepening love.
Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it. Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy.
Let the people of Faith United be glad, and rejoice, and roar, and exult, and sing for joy – each of us in our own way.
For God is great, and worth a thousand Hallelujahs.
O sing to the Lord a new song [of renewed life]; sing to the Lord, all the earth.
Let us delight in the Presence of God!