Gathering for Worship

The text for this sermon is Psalm 100.
Thadd and I in these weeks of the season of Easter will talk about the importance and purpose of worship. Whether we worship at Messiah in a “traditional” style, “contemporary” style, “blended” style or any other style that catches our fancy, the skeleton of the worship service will always contain four parts, in this order, Gathering us from our lives to hear the Word. The Word is always the same, God loves us, hearing this moves us to give Gifts and receive God’s gift to us, the living presence in the meal. Grateful for this gift, we move out of the worship space, Scattering to share God excitedly with God’s world.
Worship is not about us. It is always about God. When worship moves our hearts, it is when we are caught off guard by the powerful presence of God in the midst of the service. We had a special moment like that in March at our 4:30 worship service. The attendance was low that afternoon, so I invited the thirty people there up front for prayers with me. We gathered in a circle held hands and Holly, Brian and Michael started our prayers with a powerful song pleading with God to hear us. We all left after those prayers with tears in our eyes. All of us. God had landed like a thud on our hearts in that moment and got our attention.
Sometimes, maybe even often worship can become a powerful moment for us, but it always begins being about God. Pastor Jay Gamelin who used to lead the student ministry at OSU called Jacob’s Porch is now in South Carolina leading a church. Recently, he had a member tell him that she didn’t like the first song they sang. Believe me this is something that pastors hear every week. And it is good to hear, because we never intend to sing songs that most of you won’t like. Some of you, however are harder to please than others. Anyway, without skipping a beat Pastor Jay told that dissatisfied customer,“That’s okay. We weren’t singing that song for you. We were singing it for God.”
Worship is about God and we make the choice to be here to worship God. Worship is a direction that we choose for our life. Unless, you are still a child and your parents made you come, or on this Mother’s Day, guilted you into coming to honor your mother who spent twenty four hours of agonizing pain to give birth to you, all of us made a decision to worship this morning instead of golfing, sleeping in, reading the Columbus Dispatch with a cup of coffee or being the first one at Macy’s in Easton.
There are all sorts of reasons not to worship, but there is really only one reason to worship God. Read it in verse three of Psalm 100. Know that Yahweh is God. It is God who made us. We belong to God. We are God’s people. The sheep of God’s pasture. We worship God because God made us and we belong to God. We worship God because weekly like sheep, we return from our grazing in the world to this pasture, this church that bears the presence of God. Unless, until you believe this, all of the reasons not to come to worship will continue to outweigh the single reason to come to worship. Worship can become a powerful heart thing for us, but it always begins as a head thing, our decision, our choice.
Worship is a direction that we choose for our life. So it only makes sense that we begin with a Gathering that physically directs our bodies towards God. This is what Psalm 100 is about. It is an entrance song, a hymn that would begin a worship service. On festival days, the people would gather outside the gates of the temple and sing this song as they were entering. Gathered as God’s people, God’s sheep they would direct themselves towards where God lived, the center of the earth, the temple on Mt. Zion in Jerusalem. Psalm 100 is a joyful song, sung by people who know God, that they belong to God, that God is good, full of steadfast love.
Worship begins when we our gathered as God’s people and physically direct our lives towards God. You may be talking to your neighbor before the service starts, but when worship begins you are asked to turn and face the cross. Your body turns and your eyes follow it past the baptismal font where God called you to faith, past the pulpit where God’s word of grace will be read, forward to the table where God has promised to be present in wine and the bread, below the stunning, enormous cross built into our wall. There are moments when this procession is somber, like Roweena’s funeral on Wednesday. We spoke the 23rd Psalm instead of singing it as the casket of Roweena followed the cross to the altar of God’s presence. More often the entrance is like Psalm 100, fun, and joyful, a grand parade because who doesn’t love a parade?
My daughter Abbey for one. When she was three, we took her to a fourth of July parade in Toledo. My family cheered on the curb of the road in the midst of a big crowd. A clown on a tiny motorcycle participated in the parade. He would stop his motorcycle and get a child from the crowd to get on it with him. Then he would drive around with this child waving and laughing. He would drop them off then get another child. This looked like great fun, except to Abbey, who started to scream in terror when the clown came near her. What she had seen was the clown grab a kid out of the crowd, put him on the motorcycle, drive him away, dump him someplace, then come back without him to get another kid. She was screaming to make sure she wasn’t that clown’s next victim.
Our gathering parade is hopefully more joyful than Abbey’s experience, but it is always about our choice to redirect our lives to God in worship. When we renovate this sanctuary we will emphasize this physical redirection by angling the pews so everyone is focused on the beautiful cross carved in our wall and the altar where we will be fed. The angled pews will avert our eyes from most of the instruments that lead our worship. The instruments we will see will be God’s people, our choir singing in the acoustically best spot in our sanctuary, right under the cross. In fact all of our music should improve with the renovation. The choir’s leadership from the front will guide us. It will be easier to use the more appropriate instrument, the organ or the piano for the hymn chosen because we will put them next to each other. Vocal and instrumental soloists will have much more room to share their gift, too.
Most Sundays, our gathering is joyful so we want our space to be joyful, too. Which is why when we renovate we will freshen it up, bringing in natural light, new flooring and less clutter. Visitors will know how important worship is for us by the care we take of this space. Pastors, musicians, lectors, worship assistants will move less to lead us, keeping our focus, on the direction we have chosen this morning, God and God’s cross. When we renovate everyone will know they are welcome. People with mobility issues can choose to sit in any pew because every row will have space for a wheelchair or a walker. Plus, a large ramp will be built so that anyone can serve in our choir or aid us in our worship.
Worship is about God and the only gift God wants from us. Worship is a choice we make, to direct our lives to God. When our worship begins, the gathering physically moves us towards God. Like sheep being led into the pen by the Good Shepherd, our worship gathers us into this space, to spend time praising God who created us and knows each of us by name. It is not about us. It is about God. It is a head thing, but watch out in the midst of worship God will show up and land on our heart.

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