Sometimes gifts are so obvious, they smack you in the face and you sit back in awe, just glad to be able to be a witness to this moment. My younger brother Jimmy was always good at building things. Growing up we had chests full of Legos and my 2 brothers and I would often play a similar game. And the game was this. To get us out of her hair, my mom would name an item and the three of us would have to build it separately. So we would all go off to our separate rooms and put together our object piece by piece. So if we were building an airplane I would put together a couple of wings with the longer flat pieces and a cockpit with a larger block or two and some fins in back with the smaller pieces and done an airplane. And it would look like the Lego version of a stick figure drawing. And my brother Kyle would have something that looked a lot like mine, but Jimmy, my brother Jimmy would make something that was a piece of art. He would put together this detailed airplane that looked even better than the pictures in front of the boxes that displayed what everything was supposed to look like. It was detailed and intricate and beautiful. When we were done, my mom would then look at all of them and she would try to keep her neutrality, but it was so hard because Kyle and my airplanes couldn’t hold a candle to the artwork that Jimmy had put together. Jimmy had an innate ability to see something in his mind that he was able to make into reality. He had a gift for building things. And it is a gift he is still using as he graduated this past weekend from Arizona St. University with his masters in Architecture. And although I was sometimes jealous of this gift that he had, I was always glad to be in his presence when he was using or sharing this gift.
I think this is the ideal in the church as well. That this can be a place where we hone our gifts and share those unique gifts with one another, so that the people in the presence of the gift can be blessed. This week we continue our sermon series on worship and specifically we are talking about gifts, given and received, in the midst of worship.
Worship is the center of our lives together as a faith community. So both Pastor Karl and I spend more time in conversation about worship than probably any other aspect of our jobs. We are often planning worship or involved in thinking about different aspects of worship, like our sermons, almost every day during the week. We work hard to make sure people are able to share their gifts in a way that enhances our worship lives together. And in the midst of these conversations, both inside and outside the church, there are two questions that come up over and over again.
The first question I get in these worship conversation is “Why do I need to go to worship?” And I know this is a question many parents have to answer to their children, just as my parents had to answer to me when I was growing up. And while my parents said, because I said so, I think there is a better answer than that. But I get asked what is so important about worshiping in a church building, after all I can experience God in a beautiful sunset, or in the beauty of nature or even at home in my living room. And you know what yes, I think you can worship God in those places. I think you can see God in a beautiful sunset or on a walk in nature or even in your living room, but there is something powerful about coming together as a community of people you might not hang out with people from different places than where you are at and gathering together for worship. Because I am able receive gifts that are different from my own. Because lets face it when I am singing on my own, it is a sad story. I am one of those people who thinks he sounds alright when I am singing along to the radio (I have been told otherwise), but even if I was as good as I think I am, my voice alone doesn’t sound nearly as good as many voices joined together in a song with beautiful instruments accompanying it. And even beautiful gifts don’t sound the same on their own. This week Laura practiced her flute at home to get ready to play her special music and honestly I get tired of her playing at home. When I am watching a game it is distracting, but here in this space when she plays the flute it is a good gift given in the midst of worship.
If the conversation goes further than why it is good to be in worship. People will ask, “What does good worship look like?” And all of us have a different answer about what good worship looks like. For some of us it means nothing but the organ for every single song. For others we like as many instruments as possible. For others having the confession to begin every service. And when I get asked this question my answer is simple. Good worship is an encounter with the Holy. I have experienced this with all kinds of different styles of worship. But at the heart of worship is an encounter with God. And I think this happens when we share our gifts in the midst of worship. I would challenge you not to experience the holy when you hear Joanna Boswell and Mike Lantis sing “Were you There?” on Good Friday, or when 6th grader Corbin Russ plays another incredible piece of music on the piano, or when any one of our beautiful choirs sing a wonderful song that matches the theme of the day with light coming in from the beautiful cross behind them. All of these moments enhance our worship lives together. We encounter the Holy because of the gifts that people in our community have been willing to share.
And there are many ways we offer and receive gifts in worship outside of the obvious ways. I think there is certainly a gift in being able to walk up to someone and let them know that you know they are going through a difficult time and that you are thinking about them and praying for them. Your presence in this space is a gift that makes worship and this community a better place. Because when we encounter the Holy in this worship space, I think other people will encounter the holy when they see us outside this worship space.
A couple of weeks ago we had a woman come to the grief class on Wednesday night. She must have been nervous coming into a place she had never been before. I can’t imagine the guts it took to walk into a place with 200 strangers walking around. As she entered, I am sure she wondered if it was even a good idea to continue to the class. This big building is quite overwhelming for those of us who know it well. And I saw the deer in headlights look on her face as she nervously asked me about the grief class she had seen on the sign. I brought her to the class and waiting for her outside the door is Lois Beery. Lois leads the group and has a wonderful gift of hospitality. Lois embraced this woman in a hug and I would imagine that in that moment this woman no longer felt as if she was among strangers and she had experienced a piece of the Holy.
But gifts of hospitality, presence and music are not the only gifts we offer in worship. We are also able to give of our wealth. And it is because of the gift of generous wealth in the mid 60’s that we have such a beautiful place to worship in. And it is our hope in 2014 that all of us can again give of our wealth to renew the sanctuary so that we can even more effectively share and receive these gifts in the midst of worship. One of the ways this will happen is by bringing the altar closer to you, we can better participate together in a meal that shares the gifts of God. When you share a meal together one of you doesn’t sit really far away from the other people. Well that is unless they choose to do so. This meal is about everyone participating so by moving the altar forward it will feel like it involves all of us. Another part of this plan that will enhance our worship lives together is by making the chancel area one level. This will get rid of the clutter and the wires and instruments that are currently all over the front of the space and put them off to the side and hidden when they are not being used. So instead of seeing all kinds of kinds clutter when you look at the front of the church you can focus on the cross that is prominent in the front of the space while you hear the many gifts offered. This will allow us to focus on what is important in the midst of worship, an encounter with the Holy.
Our worship lives are better when you are here sharing and receiving gifts. And this is not always an equal transaction where you share and then equally receive gifts. There are weeks when you are a gift for others by adding your voice and your presence to this community. And there are weeks when others are a gift to you. But no matter whether you have received or given gifts in the midst of worship or feel like you have not received any gifts at all everything in worship leads to the gift that is given to all of us, the body and blood of Christ. This is truly where we experience the Holy. This is the meal where Christ says he will truly be present with us. This is a gift that fills us so that we can go out and give witness to the good gifts we have received. Amen.