Worship Has Its Own Value
By The Rev. Dr. Andrew Stirling
Sunday, November 3, 2019
Reading: Psalm 100
A friend of a friend of mine posted something last month about a drive he took on the M60 motorway that goes around the city of Manchester in England, a road I know well. He talked about what happened to him on a foggy, October morning. He was pulling off the motorway onto a roundabout near Altrincham when a great fog appeared in the valley and he had an accident. The car in front of him stopped sharply, he was the middle as the second car and a third car hit him from behind. He was shaken up but managed to get out of the car to look at the damage. The good news was no one was hurt. The cars had barely touched each other; there was just a little bump and a scratch. Everyone seemed fine, the fog was lifting when the police arrived and wanted to know if everyone was all right. Of course, he had to take down all the information about what had happened to file a formal report that would eventually go to the insurance companies, if needed. The police officer was a very friendly sort and, along with the two other people in the other cars, chatted about football matches and life in Manchester in general. The friend of a friend was getting a little irritated at this point and said to the officer, “Excuse me, but I have to get going. I can't just hang around here any longer. No one's hurt, my car's fine, let's move on.”
The police officer says, “Well, what's the rush? “
He replied, “Actually, I'm on my way to a worship service and I don’t want to be late.”
The police officer looked at him and said, “Oh come on, worship doesn't really matter, does it? It's not like it's important or anything.”
My friend of a friend was most put out by this because he is a clergyman and was on his way to perform the services on a Sunday morning, but he didn't have the heart to tell the police officer that. On his Facebook comment to my friend he wrote the following: “It is not that my ego was hurt by the accident that bothered me. It was not that my car had a dent and a scratch in it that bothered me. It is not that it had taken all this time and I had to do all the paperwork that bothered me. He said, but I must say it bothered me when I was told that worship wasn't important.”
My friend decided to post because, well, God bless the police officer, he was probably only expressing what the average person might think. But there was an underlying sense that worship itself was simply not valued as being important. Doubly troubling, I think, and singularly amazing, is that there are people of faith who espouse almost the same conviction; who love the social activities within a church that give them joy and fellowship, the performance aspect of worship and music and praise, the good deeds done through the church and via the church, all of which are perfectly laudable and good in and of themselves, but nevertheless think that the act of worship is not as important. Maybe you're one of those people today and if I asked you, would you and your life be any different if you never got to worship again? Would you be deeply saddened? Who knows what you might say, but what bothered my friend, my friend's friend and me is that maybe people have misunderstood why worship matters. Why worship actually makes a difference and has a value. That's why I'm delighted that our reading today is Psalm 100, one of the shortest of the psalms, but it is a powerful testimony to the worship of God. In fact, many of you, if you were married, had Psalm 100 read at your wedding. Many of you who have attended funerals of loved ones will have had Psalm 100 read at their funeral.
At the baptism this morning, we read Psalm 100. It invites us to worship. What was powerful about it in its time, and that's a long time ago, years and years before Jesus, was that it was a time of thanksgiving. It was written as praise for the monarchy. A sign that the people were gathering to do and have something powerful. In fact, commentators around Psalm 100 have said it was even like a big feast where animals were barbecued, followed by an incredible outpouring of praise, thanksgiving, and adoration. As you study this psalm, you realize that there are some parts to it that really strike you and themes that come out of it that are relevant for us today. At the heart of it all, there is this sense that worship is here because of an invitation. The Protestant Reformers wanted people to grasp that they are not to worship out of guilt or a sense of obligation, but as a response to the call of God. In order words, we come and we worship God because we have this incredible invitation and at the very heart of it, it is an invitation to make a joyful noise, to shout to the Lord with praise and adoration, to sing songs of praise and of glory. That's exactly what the people of Israel did.
They would make a bellicose noise. Their praise would be one of adulation and exaltation. One of the things that I've always loved about our worship here at Timothy Eaton Memorial Church is that I don't think you can leave here on any given Sunday without a sense of praise. Lord knows, we put the trumpet en chamade at the back of the church to be able to blow our minds with the power, the praise, and the glory of God. Or we bring a trumpeter in like we did this morning, or we have the choir sing something loudly and magnificently. We lift up God. We do this because we're responding to the invitation and the power of God. I love what Martin Luther said. Oh God bless Martin Luther. He said, "The devil should not be allowed to keep all the best tunes for himself." That is how we feel.
That is in keeping with Psalm 100. It's a response to the glory, the wonder, and the majesty of almighty God. It also suggests to me that it is worship and it is praise, not only that is joyful, loud, and full of exaltation, but it's for the whole Earth to grasp. Look carefully at the psalm. It's all the nations, all the Earth to make this sound, not just the people who are gathered in a temple or a synagogue or a church. The whole Earth sings of God's praise because God is the creator. If we have any reason at all in our souls to care for the Earth and its welfare, it is because it was created by almighty God. It is the whole Earth that sings his praises.
I love the poetic way that Elizabeth Barrett Browning put it: "Earth's crammed with heaven and every common bush a fire with God, but only he who sees takes off his shoes. The rest sit around and pluck blackberries". Only those who see take off their shoes. Those who know the Maker know the source and those who know the source humble themselves in praise. But it is not just in good times, in the glory of nature, or in thanksgiving that the psalmist understands praise. This psalm was read over and over again in times of trouble for Israel. It became a default psalm for moments when the people of Israel were down.
This last Friday, I had the privilege of performing the funeral of a person that I have known for more than 50 years, who was a retired United Church minister, and a minister in Bermuda who sometimes worshipped here, the Reverend Dr. Charles Swan. It was fascinating talking to his family who had come over from Bermuda, some of whom I haven't seen for 40 years. There were others who came from various churches he had ministered to and people from our own congregation who are here right now. Before the service, many of us were reminiscing about the places where he had preached and the churches he had been in and they asked me about churches I had been in and how important worship is and how it differs in different places and cultures.
As I was driving home and getting ready for today, I thought about Psalm 100 and was reminded of a service I attended in the 1970s in Chingola, Zambia that I'd been invited to say a few words in by it’s Methodist minister. What you wouldn't know is that Chingola was absolutely devastated at that time because the price of copper in the early 1970s had fallen and Chingola was destitute. People were unemployed. It really was the copper belt but it had become a rust belt and the people really had nothing. Knowing their plight, I went to worship expecting something paltry, something small and tiny.
When I got in there, I was absolutely blown away. It's as if the whole community was there. Everyone was wearing their finest. The choir were at their most joyful. The preacher preached for 40 minutes. (Consider yourselves lucky). I then had to get up and say a few words. Can you imagine? It was joyful though. The sound that was made, the singing of those people, when all around them was devastation and insecurity and uncertainty. In the Methodist church, the roof came off with praise and with adoration. That's what the psalmist had in mind. “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord. All the Earth sing his praises with glory.” Now I'm sure that many people will come and say, “But Andrew, are there not some very good solid reasons why worship is good for us? One could make a list as long as your arm.”
Worship helps calm us down, gives us a moment of peace, switches off our phones, takes us out of our work. I love what one senior said to me last week. “I'm glad to be here because it got me out of the house.” It doesn't have to be a profound reason. It can be an ordinary, simple reason. But that's not why we're here, and it's not the benefits of worship that really is the main motivation, because that could ebb and flow with the emotions of the moment. No, people throughout the ages have been here to honour God who has called us. We are here because of God. And the really powerful part is that, not only do we have invitation, we have identity here.
In this passage there is this incredible sense that the psalmist knew who the people were because of their worship. He goes on to say, “We are his people. We are the sheep of his pasture. It is he that made us, not we ourselves.” We are here because of our Creator and our sense of identity, our sense of who we are is because of the God who has called us. This is powerful because we can identify who we are on many different levels. This morning we baptized children and we gave, in a sense, the children a name officially, plurally, in the presence of God. For the other 10-12 who we have baptized this year, the naming is important. It might be our ancestry that determines our sense of identity.
We might self-identify in a myriad of ways. We might be identified by our character, or our nationality, or by what we do, and with whom we are associated, but for the psalmist, “We are His.” The identity, the supreme identity that we have, is as children of God. That's what worship does. It also means that all the things that we create to differentiate ourselves, all the things that we use in life to separate ourselves, melt away with the one declaration above all declarations, “We are His.”
Yesterday morning, I got up early, as you can imagine, to watch the World Cup final of Rugby. Oh, it was painful. I'm still hurting. I felt I played the entire game in my chair, and I was willing England on, but it was awful. All my African friends just giving me the glory. This morning all of them making fun of me (and if you're watching the live- stream, stop it). One of them even had a picture of the queen wearing a spring rugby shirt. It's gone too far. But I must admit, there's always a part of me that wanted to see the Springboks win. Had to be there. I'll tell you what really sold me was when I listened to the captain of the South African team get up and receive the award, the first black South African to captain the Springboks.
I then went and read about Siya Kolisi, who had been brought up in poverty. His family couldn't afford to keep all the children so they ended up in orphanages. He had a terrible, poor upbringing. In an interview with one of the world's leading broadcasters, before the World Cup, Kolisi said the following and this really hits home:
While struggling with a lot of things personally, with temptations, sins, lifestyle choices, and poverty, I realized I wasn't living according to what I was calling myself, a follower a Christ. I was getting by, but I hadn't decided to commit my life to Jesus Christ and to start living according to His way. Walking alongside a spiritual mentor, I've been able to discover the truth and the saving power in God in Christ in a whole new way. This new life has given me a peace in my heart that I'd never experienced before.
I don't have to understand everything in life or in my past and there are so many things that I don't, but I know that God is in control of my life. My job is to do my best, to play my best and I leave the rest in the hands of the God who called me.
The right team and the right captain won. Why? Because Kolisi is one of us. He understands the transcendent power of belonging to God first. It's precisely that which allowed him to captain a multi-racial team with all the tensions of a nation that at times is breaking apart at the seams. From the very poorest of roots he understands who he is. The psalmist says, “We are His and the sheep of his pasture.” This is powerful. It's also eternal. Worship isn't just about the here and now. It's not just about the momentary gathering of people. Oh, it's important that we have a place to worship and anyone, anywhere, at any time can commune with God, but when you worship, you worship together, you worship with others. The whole ministry, and the whole life of Jesus was to bring those who otherwise had a questionable background into the very presence, the very sanctuary of God, whether it was a bleeding woman, an adulterous woman, a blind man, a tax collector, a centurion with a sick child, it didn't seem to matter. For Christ, it is the worship of God. It's two or more who are gathered and that those two or more that are gathered are welcomed into the banquet, thanksgiving, joyful feast of God. That's an eternal thing. That's why the psalmist ends it that, “This is a praise and a worship and a song that is from everlasting to everlasting, from generation to generation.”
You know it really hit me this week. I do a lot of services, but it really hit me that a week last Friday I buried a friend, and we had a worship service at the end of his life and left him in God's hands. This morning, we baptized two human beings and what do we do it in? A worship service, in a place that people gather to honour their God, from generation to generation. This is a link that has no bounds, no constraints. It is eternal. If people think, like that police officer in Manchester, that worship is not important, or that it has no real value, I'm afraid they don’t know what worship is. Because when you do, it is so precious, it is so valuable, that you cannot put a cost on it. May the power of this worship be in you today. Amen.