“Church Is…”

September 8, 2019
Jonathan Rumburg
Psalm 95:1-7a

Introduction

Why are you here?

I’ve been known to ask this question a lot.  I ask it of those who travel with me on the Ohio Delegations to Chile.  I ask it of campers at Camp Christian.  I’ve asked this question of people who traverse the waters of seminary and work toward ordination.

It’s a simple but loaded question, and I ask it because it is important to know.  Mind you, it is not necessarily important for me to know why you are going to Chile or Camp, or seminary.  I ask it because I want to make sure who I am asking knows why they are where they are.

We all must know why we are where we are, doing what we are doing, because if we don’t, then we are likely to miss the true essence of where we are and what we are doing.

So, why are you here?  Why are you here in church…in worship today?

It’s a beautiful summer morning (it is still summer you know.)  You could be a lot places doing a lot of things: playing golf, riding your bike, tending your garden, or any number of things around your home.  You could simply be sitting in a comfortable chair, reading the Sunday paper, enjoying a cup of coffee.

Now you probably are thinking now, “Why am I here?!”

So why do you come to church?

As we kick-off a “new year” in the life of the church, it is a good question to ask.  But before we answer, let us first consider what church is… what worship is… along with what they are not.

Move 1

I only knew one of my grandparents, my Dad’s mother.  She is the namesake from which my daughter got her name.  My grandmother was a wonderful woman and a devout Christian all her life.

One time we were talking about church and she told me she hadn’t missed church in over two years.  I remember being shocked—Two straight years without missing even one Sunday.  I can’t boast that and I’m a minister!

I remember asking why she went to church so much and her reply was simple, “I go to express my thanks to God for all His blessings, and it is where I get to be with those who care about me.”

Her answer wasn’t anything overly theological, but neither was it pompous.  She was a woman of deep faith, and she lived out her faith, in part, by being a faithful part of her church family.

*******

          I share this story because her answer to my question is what I have come to know and understand as what church is…what worship is.  Church is…Worship is… exaltation … thanksgiving … communal.

And knowing this will help us answer my loaded question—Why are you hear?

Move 2

In our text for today the Psalmist tells us that worship is our time to bow down, to kneel before our Maker. “O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!” (Psalm 95:6)

When the first Christians began to worship together, this was their model.  The Hebrew and Greek words for “worship” both literally mean to “bow down” or “bend knee”, like paying homage to a king.

The very language of the activity of worship actually caused the first Christians to become subject to persecution.  The identity of Christians was fixed as “bowing down” and “bending knee” to a higher authority, to a different king other than the Roman emperor.  Consequently, early followers of Jesus could not conduct public worship.  So they met in houses, in secrecy, because being discovered worshiping in such a manner meant you could be arrested or killed.

Would you be here today if it meant you could possibly end up arrested or killed?

*******

          Now there are some who go to worship, faithfully, because it is safe, but also because they expect a certain something.

A clergy colleague told me about a time when someone who had been worshiping with them for a while told him they had decided to leave and find a different church, saying, “I go to church to be entertained. No offense, but I’m used to more entertainment than this.”

My friend wondered if this person wanted him to wear a clown suit or bring in dancing bears.

As brutally honest as her declaration of wanting to be entertained in worship is, she makes a case.  Boring worship doesn’t attract people.

But should we, or I, or the worship team, make it so that worship is… entertaining?  Or should we, make it so that worship is…, that church is…something else?

Move 3

A famous catch phrase offered by arguably the world’s greatest professional boxer, Muhammad Ali, was coined early in his career.  Ali said, “I am the greatest.”

I could ask for a show of hands of those who think they are the greatest and my bet is no one would raise their hand.

We know we aren’t “the greatest” but we do know who is—God is the greatest.  And that is why we are here.

With this understanding, worship then becomes our exaltation to the greatest.

In worship we place God in the position of “the greatest” which allows us to recognize God’s transcendence.  We celebrate and worship God who, while far away, chooses to come near for our sake.

Exulting God’s status in worship identifies who God is and who we are in relationship to God.

God is God, and we are not.  God is the greatest, and we are in need of God’s greatness.  God is God, and we are God’s children.  God is God, and we are those who are blessed by God.

And for that, when we worship, we ought to give thanks.

*******

          The Psalmist writes: “Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving”

Worship is and should be thanksgiving.

It is our chance to thank God for the opportunity to come to this building—warm in the winter and cool in the summer—to sit comfortably, without fear of persecution, to hear God’s word and receive God’s grace and mercy, God’s forgiveness and love, again.

It is our chance to thank God for another week of work, school, family, friends…of life.

Exaltation and thanksgiving are powerful testimonials about what Church is… of what worship is.

*******

          Now, put all of this into context of early the Christian church—that it is done even if it means lives are at risk—and we find the imperative that is the third point of what Church is… of what Worship is… They are… Communal.

When the Psalmist calls the community to worship, he reminds them, “In God’s hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are God’s also. The sea is God’s, for God made it, and the dry land, which God’s hands have formed.” (Psalm 95: 4-5).

Authentic worship honors the importance of our human togetherness before God.  God is the Creator of us all.

Something fundamental happens for human community when we stand before God and address God as “our” Creator.  At the very moment of creation, God willed our togetherness.  We are God’s children and we belong to a family which gathers together to give thanks to the head of our family.  It is a reminder that we are not alone in this world, that there are others who are there to support us,  and for us to support them.

Move 4

As we kick-off a “new year” in the life of the church, I am intentional to bring this up:  Why are we here?  What is this… that we are doing?

It’s important to keep at the forefront of our minds and hearts because we don’t do this because God needs us to do Church…to do Worship.  Rather we do this…Church…Worship… because we need to do it.

We need to be mindful that all we have is from God.

We need to give thanks for all we have because it keeps us grounded and focused and full of gratitude.

We need to know it’s not us who are the greatest, but it is God who is the greatest.

And we need to be in community with one another to be mindful that we are not alone.  When life is at its hardest—and we feel the persecution that inevitably comes with life—we need to know we are not alone.

Conclusion

When Church is… When worship is… exaltation, thanksgiving, and communal, church and worship cultivate an identity, and that identity is that of authentic Discipleship— God is our God, and we are God’s blessed children.

But when worship is entertainment and detached from community it too cultivates and identity.  And that identity is that it’s all about me.

God is there to serve me with great prosperity.

God is there to bless me.

God is there to seek me out instead of me seeking out God.

But worship is never about us.

Yes, worship is a place where we come to draw closer to God, where we come to feel good, be inspired and motivated, but those are always byproducts of what worship is first—a place to exalt God our Creator, by giving thanks for all God provides and blesses us with, within the community that is part of the body of Christ, a body that cares and loves one another, and all of God’s children.

That should always be our first response when we consider the question, “Why am I here in church… in worship?” Because that is why we are here.

I am excited about what God is doing here at First Christian of Stow.  And I am eager to see what we and God will do together in this new year.  Welcome.  I’m so glad you are here.

Amen.

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