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Sunday Worship 23 October | Worshipping Community

Updated: Jan 19

Let's turn our attention back now to the Five Core Values. You have to dig around a little on the Baptists Together website to find them now, but they were part of what drew me to the Baptist family thirteen years ago, and I still keep returning to them.

 

The five values focus on the kind of community we are called to be - worshipping, inclusive, missionary, prophetic and sacrificial. The very observant among you may notice they are in a different order than they were in our prayer earlier, and in a different order to the symbols that represent them on the screen. That is because I have rearranged them to give us the acronym WIMPS, which makes them far easier to remember.

 

John did suggest this week that we could change worshipping to rejoicing and have the acronym PRISM, which I like far better, but unfortunately I was already too far committed to starting with W, so WIMPS it is. And perhaps thinking of ourselves as WIMPS may be a reminder that we are called not to exercise power and strength but to practise gentleness and humility.

 

Of course none of these values are unique to us as Baptists. It may be that we live them out in radical Baptist ways - and radical is an important word when we are thinking about being Baptist, because ours is a dissenting tradition - but they are the hallmarks of any true Christian community.

 

We start by reflecting on what it means to be a worshipping community, and that seems appropriate even without trying to fit the acronym, as it is the worship that draws our attention and our lives towards God that should set the stage for everything else we do together. Before we hear our readings and start our own reflections, here is what the Baptist Union has to say about being a worshipping community:

 

"Following Jesus in engaging in worship and prayer which inspire and undergird all we are and do. Exploring and expressing what it means to live together as the people of God, obeying his Word and following Christ in the whole of daily life. We must recognise the primacy of worship and prayer, both individually and corporately. This will nurture our relationship with God and awaken us to the wonder of his salvation. It will open our hearts and minds to the renewing power of the Holy Spirit, making us more ready to obey his Word and honour him in all aspects of our daily lives. It will also enrich our life together as the people of God by guiding and undergirding all we are and do."

 

John 4:23-24 (NIV)
Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.

 

Romans 12:1-18 (NIV)
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgement, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honour one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

I have already said that the values we are going to be considering over the coming weeks are about the kind of community we are called to be. Community is a shared endeavour and so I want our reflections on it to be shared too, which is to say that I will share some of my own thoughts, but I want to make space for yours too. I will keep pausing to offer some questions, and I invite you to ponder them, and perhaps to share with those around you. I've also put the questions up on a board, and I invite you to scribble down your answers, so we can start to draw together our collective thoughts. We should finish this series just in time for our next church meeting, so my hope is that we can then reflect together on what we have learned about community through these values.

 

We begin this morning by asking what it means to be a worshipping community, and so my first question is this: What do you first think of when you hear the word 'worship'?

 

Some people will think first of a service like this, others may think of a particular act like singing. Both are fine answers, because worship can certainly take place in those times, and we will come on to thinking practically and specifically in a moment, but first I want to suggest that it is not what happens so much as the attitude with which it is done that makes something worship. The word ‘worship’ comes from the Old English ‘worðscip’, which is the condition of being worthy, and so it speaks of expressing the worth of someone or something. By that definition it is possible to worship many things and in many ways, but Christian worship is centred on the triune God - traditionally expressed as Father, Son and Spirit - as the one who is worthy, and our worship is something that has both public and private aspects to it. There are things that we do on our own that are simply between us and God, and there are also things that we do in families or small groups or congregations.

 

Having said something briefly about the character of worship, I want us to think now about the practice of worship, so starting with your own experience: How do you worship privately?

 

I imagine there will be some common themes to our answers, particularly prayer and scripture. I have spoken a little before about my own habits, and been honest about the difficulty I find in maintaining a rhythm. I still commend apps like PrayAsYouGo and Lectio365, and there are plenty of written resources which offer daily prayers and reflections on scripture, but I also entreat you to be gentle with yourself if you don’t use them every day. There is rich blessing in discipline and consistently making time to very deliberately seek and recognise God’s presence, but don’t let perfection be the enemy of the good. Making yourself feel guilty for missing a day only turns the whole thing into a chore, and then you risk abandoning it altogether. And remember that God is everywhere and therefore worship can be found anywhere, and so we don’t have to limit ourselves to listening to a ten minute recording or reading a page of study notes. Worship can and should be woven throughout our days, as give thanks for a particularly beautiful tree or hum a favourite hymn that has come to mind as we do the washing up.

 

And now thinking about our shared experience: How do we worship corporately?

 

A common pattern for corporate worship may look something like this:

●     gathering - coming together in song and prayer

●     breaking of the word - the reading of scripture and the preaching of a sermon

●     response - perhaps a time of reflection and further song or prayer

●     breaking of the bread - sharing in communion

●     dismissal - blessing and notices for the week ahead


There’s lots in there and room for plenty more, as there is potential for great creativity in prayer and response, as we have experimented with ourselves from time to time. I hadn’t come across the phrase “breaking of the word” before this week, but I rather like it. The parallel with “breaking of the bread” is quite pleasing, but I also really like the image of cracking a text open to take a closer look and see what goodness it holds inside. It also strikes me that such a pattern for worship is not wholly self contained. We gather from service, with people having spent time cleaning the building and setting up the kitchen and checking the sound desk, and we are dismissed into fellowship, taking time to enjoy one another’s company.

 

So here is another question for you: What would change if we understood preparing the building and making the tea as worship?

 

I want to push us further now, because if worship is about showing God’s worth, then surely it is in part about showing that worth to those who do not already know it. We’ll think more about that when we come to being a missionary community, but I think there is a connection and I think worship has to extend beyond the chapel and the cell, to use the language of the sacred spaces we explored earlier this year. As one dismissal has it, “our service has ended but our worship is begun”. Here I think we can learn from the French monk Brother Lawrence, who spoke of practising the presence of God, which really meant living all of life in an attitude of worship. He said this: "It is not necessary to have great things to do. I turn my little omelette in the pan for the love of God…When I cannot do anything else, it is enough for me to have lifted a straw from the earth for the love of God...People seek for methods of learning to love God [but] is it not much shorter and more direct to do everything for the love of God, to make use of all the labours of one's state in life to show Him that love, and to maintain His presence within us by this communion of our hearts with His? There is no finesse about it; one has only to do it generously and simply.”

 

So think now about how you might follow Brother Lawrence’s advice: What everyday tasks can you offer to God as part of your worship?

 

The passage we heard from Romans was about whole life worship, so let’s hear some of those verses again. “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship...In Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us...Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honour one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”

 

And so to my final questions: What do these verses say about how we worship? And what do they say about who we worship?

 

As I reflected on these verses, and on Brother Lawrence doing everything for the love of God, I thought back to Erin Burnett, who I quoted a few weeks ago. She talked about relating to God by striving to live a life defined by love, and I think perhaps that is the heart of it. We worship a God who is love, and so our true and proper worship is to give ourselves wholly to that love. We reflect it back to God in prayer and in praise, and we refract it out into the world by sharing our gifts and living well with one another. Jesus said that the time was coming and had already come when the true worshippers would worship in spirit and in truth, so let us be true worshippers, known by a spirit of love and revealing the truth of love as witness to the one who is most worthy.

 

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Jesus the Christ You are the guide of our living and the shaper of our horizons. You are the meaning of our living and the song of our hearts. Help us to trust you, to love you and to serve you.

Jesus we must walk your way. Renew us to be a worshipping community, now and in the future until your Kingdom comes. Amen.







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