This is the second in a 4-part sermon series entitle “The What’s? How’s? and Why’s? of Worship.” This series is intended to address how United Methodist understand the meaning of worship, and how we organize the Sunday worship service. It will also be an opportunity for Pastor Drew to share is vision for our worship life, as well as talk about where things stand with the development of a second worship service.
(Some of the ideas in the first two sermons of this series come from an article by Kenneth H. Carter, Jr., entitled, “Sermon Series: Vital Elements of Worship,” available online at www.ministrymatters.com.)
Scripture: Psalm 150
Over the course of my ministry I’ve been with one person at the moment of their death. It was a very peaceful passing. At some point, he simply took his last breath. And then he was no longer with us.
I’ve also been with a few of our cats when they took their last breath. The most recent was the most striking to me, because something happened that I wasn’t expecting. Our cat’s name was McGee. McGee was lying on the couch, clearly nearing the end, when I just happened to be looking right at his face when I died. I knew he just died because the pupils of his eyes, in the span about 1 second, suddenly expanded to fullest possible amount. That was it. He was gone.
Whether it was your beloved pet or family member, many of you, too, have been present at the moment of their passing. It’s a moment when they literally take their final breath in this life. And after that, there’s no more life in their body.
To breathe is to live. To live is to breathe. You and I are alive until we have no more breath.
In Genesis 1, when God creates the universe, and specifically our world, God’s Spirit sweeps over the face of the watery chaos and brings forth life. The Hebrew word for spirit is ruach, which is also translated breath. With his Spirit, God breathed into the nothingness of creation and life sprang forth.
Ezekiel 37 is the story of the valley of dry bones. The prophet Ezekiel is given a vision by God, and in this vision he looks out and sees a vast valley floor scattered with old, dry human bones. And in the vision, God breathes his Spirit into that valley of dry bones. And those disassembled bones come together, and sinew and skin comes upon them, and there is life. This particular vision was a visual metaphor for Ezekiel. His people, the Israelites, during their time of exile felt like they were dead. But the vision was God’s way of telling the prophet that he would bring his people back—he would give them life again.
In the NT, the risen Jesus breathes on his terrified disciples, and they receive a new kind of life—one of courage and hope. And a short while later, the Holy Spirit blows through a crowd of faithful followers, and they filled with God’s Spirit. And the church is born into existence.
Christians worldwide proclaim that God’s Spirit—the Holy Spirit—dwells within us. He’s as close to us as our next breath. To breathe is to live. To live is to breathe.
This morning, the psalmist tells us that to breathe is to praise God. V. 6 is an imperative to all living creatures: Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. As long as you’ve got breath within you, give praise to the Lord our God. Until that breath is no more, and you’re no longer alive, praise the Lord our God.
We breathe in what we need to live: oxygen. We breathe out a bi-product of what we inhale: carbon dioxide. Oxygen is needed to live.
What we breathe in is necessary for spiritual life as well. Consider this: to inhale is to receive the grace of God. We breathe in God’s grace and love. It’s something we receive from outside of ourselves because we can’t produce it. God’s love and grace is given to us. So we breathe it in.
But then we exhale. To exhale is to offer praise to God. Breathing out is what we give away, for it comes from within us. Praise is what we give; it’s what we offer. Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.
If you think about it, there’s a natural rhythm to breathing, isn’t there? Breathe in, breathe out. Inhale, exhale. All day and all night. Without even thinking about it. In the same way that music has beats and measures, so our lives are measured. There’s morning and evening; each day is measured. Biblically speaking, there are 6 days of work and one day of rest; each week is measured. God has ordered our lives in a such a way that we give and receive, work and rest, inhale and exhale.
Likewise, our public worship is measured. There’s order to what we do here each week. What we do here isn’t haphazard and thrown together without thought. The various parts of worship aren’t random and disconnected. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Every part of our worship has a purpose, and there’s thought behind how it’s all put together.
From the perspective of the whole of the service from beginning to end, the design is intentional.
praise – proclamation – response – thanksgiving – sending forth
This is the general outline of our worship service. Within that outline are the various elements of the worship service (anthem, sermon, hymns, etc.).
We generally begin with a hymn or song of praise. This morning’s was “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” and “Praise the Lord with the Sound of Trumpet.” Sometimes there might be a praise psalm, which might be read by a single person or it might be a kind of call-and-response between the liturgist and the congregation. From time-to-time there might some kind of praise liturgy or prayer of thanksgiving. In our church, this part of the service is usually concluded by the ‘Gloria Patri.’
Gloria Patri is Latin for ‘Glory to the Father.’ You who like modern praise choruses might be surprised to know that the Gloria Patri is just an ancient praise chorus. It’s a short sung chorus, 14 measures long. And it’s the lyrics are all about praising God: Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost; As it was in the beginning, is now and every shall be. World without end. Amen. The tune may have been written in 1851, and the lyrics may have been penned in the 3rd or 4th century, but it’s based in Scripture, and proclaims a timeless truth; it’s old, but it’s Gospel: God is the same forever. Let all who have breath, praise the Lord.
After getting things started by praising God, we hear the proclamation of the Word. This is the reading of the day’s Scripture lessons and the sermon. As you know, Pastor Chris always began his sermon with a prayer of illumination, which some church include just prior to reading the Scriptures.
How are the Scriptures chosen? A very tried-and-true approach is to use what’s called the Common Lectionary. The Lectionary is a 3-year cycle of Scripture readings that cover about 70% of the Bible over those 3 years. It generally includes a reading from the OT, the Psalms, the letters of Paul, and the Gospels. From week to week there may be thematic connections, and on occasion there may be connections between a couple of the readings on the same day—although that’s not usually the case.
The other option is to preach on a text of your own choosing. This is what I’ve been doing here with the various sermon series. In other words, decide on a topic, then choose the Scriptures to undergird the message. There are pros and cons for both methods.
After God’s Word has been proclaimed, then it’s important that we respond in some way or another. It’s part of the inhale/exhale pattern. We exhale our praise of God. Then we inhale his grace and his Word. Then we exhale—or give—our response.
At a minimum, this would be our prayers and the offering. But it would also be appropriate to respond to God’s Word by giving voice to a creed or affirmation of faith. Our hymnal contains a number of important creeds and affirmations of faith that Christians have proclaimed for generations. These include the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed.
After the sermon it would also be appropriate to be baptized and/or take vows of membership. And on Confirmation Sunday, this would a good time to invite the youth to come forward to be confirmed as their response to what God’s doing in their lives.
As part of the time of prayer, it would be appropriate to confess our sins as well as receive a word of pardon. Some churches incorporate the passing of the peace to one another as a response to receiving God’s forgiveness.
As you’ll note, not all of these ways of responding to the Word are incorporated into our worship each week. What’s important, however, is that we do respond in some way or another. This is truly where the “rubber hits the road.” If worship doesn’t inspire or motivate you to respond somehow, then it’s ultimately failed.
This is why on the back of the yellow Connection card we suggest a few ways you might respond. It’s certainly not an exhaustive list; our hope is that you’ll personalize your own response based on how God speaks to you. General response might include adopting a new view/perspective, changing a behavior, committing yourself to a spiritual discipline (prayer, fasting, etc.) an act of service, recommitting yourself to Christ.
After we’ve responded in some way, it’s appropriate to offer thanksgiving to God. Praying should always include some aspect of thanksgiving, right? And the reason we have Communion after everything else is because it really is an act of thanksgiving. In fact, the long prayer that the pastor says, beginning with “The Lord be with you,” and closing with “Through your Son Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit in your holy church, all honor and glory is yours, almighty God, now and forever,” is called The Prayer of Great Thanksgiving. Sometimes the Lord’s Prayer is included as part of this Prayer of Great Thanksgiving…like we’ll do today.
Finally, worship comes to a close and we leave the building to be sent into our own worlds for the week. In the order of worship, we typically close with a hymn or song and the final benediction or blessing. This is the final “command” to go forth with God’s good news, to be his disciples wherever we go, to bear witness to God’s love. The Quakers have a great saying for this part. They say, “The worship has ended, and now the service begins.” We leave here to be Monday-through-Saturday Christians!
So this is a general overview of how we United Methodist’s have typically ordered our worship lives. It’s not written in stone. There are simple versions of it, and there are more complex versions of it. But from a higher view, it’s an order—or measure—that makes sense to us: Praising God . . . Proclaiming the Good News in God’s Word . . . Responding to the hearing of his Word . . . Giving thanks . . . Going forth into the world as his disciples
This worship journey from praise to going forth is totally independent of style. It’s an order than can be utilized whether it’s a very traditional style or a modern style of worship. It can be used whether we sing to an organ or a guitar, or whether we raise our hands while singing or use the hymnal. In whatever manner we worship, the point is to DO IT so that it becomes as natural to us as breathing.
Breathe in God’s grace. Breathe out God’s praise. Inhale God’s grace. Exhale God’s praise.
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!