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Faithfully – Salvation

Date: 24/09/2023/Speaker: Alvin

Faithfully: Worship
17 Sep 2023
Miak Siew (FCC)

Good morning and welcome home!
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I have been reflecting a lot on your responses on Menti. I may joke that many of your answers are spoilers – they often reveal what I am going to share next. It may seem to be “giving the answers away” but I see that it is a reflection that many of you get what we have been trying to get across through our sermons over time, and that we are on the right track.

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We continue this sermon series “Faithfully?” (with a question mark), tackling some “basics” of Christianity so that we have a deeper understanding of how they came about, and explore where we go from there.

Very often, we assume that we all have a common understanding. Sometimes some of these aren’t explained to us, and we learn by observing and figure it out for ourselves. And sometimes, we get things wrong and don’t even know it! It is only when someone points it out that we realise that our understanding is incorrect or, in my experience, incomplete. But our ego (and I know this very well) often prevents us from admitting that we got it wrong and we react defensively or angrily. And this reaction often corresponds to the size of our ego, and our attachment to it.

Last week, I talked about prayer. In particular, the response to praying for each other surprised me. For some of you, it is something you already do often in cell group. For some of you, who are not in cell group, you realised that it is something you appreciated. We have been wanting to have someone available to pray for anyone who is in need of prayer or have some prayer requests after service. We had tried it before many years ago, for one reason or another, nobody came forward. But after the response to last week’s session, I thought maybe having had experienced it, those of you who are in need of prayer – be it a prayer request, or thanksgiving – may be more inclined to come up to have someone pray with you. So today after service, our council member Geoffrey will be available at the front of the church over here to pray with you. There may be a queue, but I think if there is something on your heart, do come forward and wait in line.

Now, let’s move to today’s sermon topic “worship.” Will you pray with me?

Just like last week, I want to start by asking What does worship mean to you?

One definition of worship is to recognise, celebrate, and praise God’s majesty and grace.

The Cambridge Dictionary of Christianity has a very helpful definition.

“Hebrew abodah Elohim meant work or service directed to God. The Greek latreia means “service” (hired, thus voluntary; not slavery or servitude); leitourgia, “liturgy,” was a Greek term for voluntary public service. The Latin opus Dei, coined by Benedict of Nursia, refers to the worship of God, the “divine service.”

Some believe that humans are naturally inclined to worship that which powerfully affects them or is supremely valued as worthy of praise (see Holiness), which gives rise to conflicting motivations for worshipping.

One’s motivation is either negative, based on fear and the desire to placate powerful forces for one’s benefit, or positive, based on admiration and inspiring a devotion that frames all actions. Reflecting aspects of both is motivation based on gratitude for salvation.

So – worship isn’t just the part of service when we sing. The whole service is worship.

Worship what powerfully affects us – motivated by fear and desire to placate powerful forces for one’s benefit

Worship what is supremely valued of praise – admiration and devotion to something worthy of praise.

But these definitions are rather academic – it is like putting something under a microscope and investigated and analysed. These definitions may not resonate – they do not describe our lived experience of worship.

Pauline prayed a version of the Lord’s Prayer from A New Zealand Book of Common Prayer last week, and I came across this in the introduction that does resonate with what I experience as worship.

“Worship is the response of the people of God to the presence of God.”

So what we do every Sunday – starting with a call to worship, followed by singing worship songs, prayer, the sermon, then communion, announcements, then a closing song (if we have live worship) and then benediction – is providing conditions in which that presence may be experienced.

“Worship is the highest activity of the human spirit. In this book you will find the means to express all the hopes and vision, common purpose and emerging love of which we are capable.

In each service, in a variety of ways, we experience God and respond to the eternal, following different threads and strands of spirituality

Worship is a skill to be learned and a creative art to practise. Whether you use this book as a leader or participant you will need to make your own contribution to the worship in which you are involved. Suggestions are given on how the service should be conducted but it is left open to each congregation to decide whether to sit, stand or kneel at the various parts of the service.

I think the worship song “Come Holy Spirit” encapsulates this – wanting to draw near to God and be in the presence of God. It was the first song that came to mind when I was thinking about the song choices for this week. This is a song written by City Harvest Church. I know for some of you, it may remind you of your experiences there. You may be triggered, you may break down in tears, you may be uplifted. But that’s worship isn’t it? Our response to the presence of God is different, not only from each other, but different from week to week. And that’s your encounter with God – we, the pastors and the worship team, just provide the conditions that presence is experienced. I know so many times people tear and cry during worship (So do i!) because God is at work.

Have you had a particular powerful experience during worship at FCC? What was it like?

Thank you for sharing your experiences. I want to highlight though, there is a danger of making worship about us, our experience, instead of being focused on God.

Worship is service – it is not in service of ourselves – but service of God and others.

And sometimes we end up chasing that experience, that “high” we feel instead of seeking connection with God.

This isn’t something new. The early church had simple services – focused on the Eucharist / communion / meal. It was not until Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire that all the protocols, pomp and pageantry from Empire became incorporated into the worship service.

What we experience now as worship developed over time, and how we worship, and how those who came before us worshipped, was very dependent on their context, and especially how we/they understood God and our/ their relationship with God.

How did the early Israelites in the Hebrew Bible worship? One way is through making sacrifices, offerings.

Rob Bell notes in What is the Bible (yes I have been plundering this book for much of this sermon series)

“Leviticus begins with extensive instructions on how to offer five different sacrifices—the burned offering, the grain offering, the peace offering, the sin offering, and the guilt offering.

To add to that, there’s verse after verse of instructions on what to do with the fat (of the animal you’re offering), the loins (of said animal), the long lobe of the liver (of the person—I’m just messing with you . . .), and the blood. Of the animal. Lots and lots of blood.

Two notes about the text:

First, the book begins with the LORD (this name for God is intimately connected with the God who rescues people from whatever they’re enslaved to) telling Moses to tell the people,

When anyone among you brings an offering to the LORD . . .

The word for offering here in the Hebrew language is the word corban, and it means to draw near. (Here I am going to insert myself to clarify what Rob Bell is saying, because I am particular about accuracy. More accurately Qarban comes from the root Qarab which means to come near, approach, enter into, draw near. Qarban, based on the lexicon, means “something brought near the altar, a sacrificial present to be offered, an offering.” When I quote writers, I do fact-checking. So back to Rob Bell…)

Draw near?

Let’s get some context. The gods at that time were understood to be distant, detached, demanding, and constantly needing to be appeased. You never knew where you stood with the gods.

But this God—you can draw near to this God? You can? That was a new idea.

A pause to reflect. We are one verse in, and minds are being blown. People didn’t talk about the gods like this. People didn’t conceive of the gods like this.

This God is different.

You can come near to this God.

You can relate to this God.”

That was the context of that time – how people understood God, their relationship with God, and how they worshipped God was evolving.

The God revealed by Jesus is more than just one we can draw near – The God revealed by Jesus is one who becomes human to be with us – Emmanuel!

The key thing about worship then – is drawing near to God. (this is the what)

** I am concerned that offering / drawing near leads to the misunderstanding that God’s love is conditional and transactional, which is why we don’t talk that much about giving.

That said, I have to recognise that your giving is what sustains the work here. We won’t be here for 20 years without the giving / offering of time, energy, finances, love that is poured out into this community. We have fallen behind in our giving but I know we will always have enough.

What we hope to do here throughout the Sunday service is finding ways to help everyone draw near to God.

During the Covid pandemic, we didn’t have much of a choice – we couldn’t sing. We had to find ways to connect. Some service leaders suggesting singing with our hearts. We recorded worship videos – and for those of you who don’t know – worship recording is more difficult than live worship for the team. Sometimes it is about the stress trying not to make mistakes because it is being recorded, sometimes it is because it is not the same when there isn’t a congregation worshipping along. They spent many more hours recording worship than when they rehearse for live worship.

Then as measures eased, we started having one live worship service a month. We moved to having live worship twice a month this year. A question that may be on your mind – why don’t we move to live worship every week? Isn’t this worthy of doing to praise and honour God?

Of course it is important to praise and honour God. But I think that we cannot forget that worship is about drawing near to God. If the result of moving to worship every week creates burn out in the people who are serving, then that is does not serve that purpose but does the opposite and drives people away from God instead!

I want to thank every single one who have offered their time, energy, resources that make our services hybrid. Do you notice something this morning? – I want to especially lift up Gary – he not only serves as the chair of our board, but also leader of the production team and does so much hands on work so we can stretch what little we have – at the fraction of the cost we have a new screen and a new projector last us till the end of our lease.

Here I want to make a plea. The worship team, early this year, have already expressed that they are willing to move to having live worship every week. What we are lacking are volunteers on the production side. We need more volunteers to operate the camera when we have live worship.

I think when we talk about worship we often only think about the worship team, but everyone who serves on Sunday is part of the worship team because every single person involved in the welcome team, the production team, the prayer team, the worship team, the communion team, the lunch khakis is “providing conditions in which God’s presence may be experienced.”

Rob Bell continues –

Which leads to a second observation about the text: One of the offerings is called the peace offering. It’s an offering that you give because you have peace with God. One of the instructions in chapter 7 regarding this peace offering is that the meat that you offered

must be eaten on the day it is offered. (Leviticus 7:15)

What’s it called when you eat something? (Not a trick question.)

It’s called a meal.

You come near to this God, and then you have a meal celebrating the peace that you have with this God.

In other words, you can know where you stand with this God.

This evolution of human understanding where we stand with God continues through Christ. We, too, have a meal celebrating the relationship we have with God every Sunday.

To us, the meal is a remembrance of Jesus, his life, his teachings, his death, and his rising to new life.

Marcus Borg

“the body and blood language intrinsically associates bread and wine with Jesus’ death. In the New Testament, all four variations of the words of institution do so. Separation of body and blood occurs in violent death. These words are thus reminders that Jesus died a violent death, killed by the power that rule this world. This sacrament is about becoming one with this Jesus. It is about joining our lives to his life, our passion to his passion.

Many eucharistic liturgies obscure these meanings because their language reflects the framework of heaven and hell Christianity with its emphasis on sin, guilt, and substitutionary sacrifice. Body and blood highlight the fact that Jesus offered up his body.

It is worthwhile noting that not all uses of the word sacrifice in the liturgy refers to substitutionary sacrifice. For example, in most churches “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us” is said during the Eucharist. The Passover lamb in Judaism was neither a substitutionary sacrifice or a sacrifice for sin.

In Exodus 12:13 the blood of the Passover lamb daubed on the doorposts of Hebrew homes is a signal for God’s angel of death to pass over these homes. Then the Passover lamb is eaten; it is food for the journey out of Egypt and into a new life.

The meal then is about the journey out of bondage and preparation for a new life.

Some of you will notice that during communion we spill some of the wine onto the tray.

This detail is adapted from the Jewish practice during Passover described by “Larson in Bound for Freedom – The Book of Exodus in Jewish and Christian Traditions”

The rabbis realized the danger of triumphalism and self-glorification in the story of Exodus and the final victory over the Egyptians… In the Red Sea crossing, the fact remains that Israel is saved and a considerable part of the Egyptian people are afflicted and finally destroyed… Aware of this dilemma one rabbinic commentary describes a scene in front of the heavenly throne. The angels wish to sing a song of praise when they witness what happens to the Egyptians and as the Israelites break out into a song of deliverance . Before they even start, however, they are reproached and fully silenced by God himself with the words, “The work of my hands are drowned in the sea, and you want to sing songs?…

Any suffering, even that of the enemy should make us reflect upon and subdue the joy we may feel. A reminder is given in a very concrete way during the Passover meal. In connection with a listing of the ten plagues in the Passover Hagadah, some drops of the wine in the cup are spilled out at every plague. The cup of joy cannot be full when one’s own salvation is achieved while others are suffering, even if it is one’s persecutors who are hit. This custom is explained during the meal and leaves a permanent impression on the participants…

We hope that even as we pour out some of the wine, we will in a small way affirm our solidarity with those who still suffer. We remind ourselves that Christ incarnates himself in those who suffer (Matthew 25:31-46) and therefore while our joy in Christ is truly abundant, this joy will only realise its full consummation in our ultimate reunion with our Lord Jesus.

Our liturgy, our words are a reflection of our understanding God’s love for us – that is inclusive, radical and unconditional.

These actions, songs, words are only a means to draw near to God, so that we may reach for things beyond these words in the language of the heart so we are more and more awakened to the fact that God’s presence is everywhere, not just here in church, not just here on Sunday morning. God’s presence is everpresent with us. It is us who are distracted and unaware of God’s presence.

This comes to the why of worship –

It is the hope that through worship that we awaken from our stupor and slumber into God’s presence so our entire lives – every one of our words and every one of our actions is an act of worship.

“leave a permanent impression”

There are many people who cried at FCC – whether it is a song they sung, or when they received communion – because we mediated God’s presence for them.

And there is more –

We cannot be singing songs here on Sunday while the rest of the week our lives are not aligned with justice and compassion. That is why the Prophet Amos has strong words –

“I hate, I despise your religious festivals;your assemblies are a stench to me. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them.

Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps.

But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!

Our worship is drawing near to God, to allow God transform us more and more Christlike – into a people awakened, whose actions and words, whose lives are acts of worship – we don’t worship God just in church – but everywhere (and I don’t mean putting up a performance – saying “praise the Lord” every other line or acting pious, but worshipping in spirit and in truth – our innermost thoughts and our actions aligned with God – and bearing fruits of justice, love, compassion to serve others.

Doing what is required of us – do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God.