"Just How Important Is Worship?"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - September 21, 2003
Psalm 22:22-31; I Timothy 2:1-10
For a number of Sundays, we
are going to cover Worship, Missions and Education. We are going to
hear how these elements are critical to human life. This morning, I
am going to talk about why Worship is absolutely essential to the
quality of our lives.
In the narthex, you will find
two large posters that contain interesting information. One of them
provides a break out of what happens to a single dollar that is
given to St. Matthew’s. You will see that 39 cents goes toward our
Sunday morning experience. I found that absolutely beyond
comprehension. How could that be possible? Yet when a formula was
applied to how people and resources are used, it worked out to that
With that said, let us begin
our look at worship by saying that congregations everywhere today
are a tough crowd. When people find a worship experience not to
their liking, they often do not give that church a second
opportunity "to impress them." People church shop and church hop
all the time. The denomination no longer matters. Seekers are
looking for a particular style of worship with which they resonate,
and many of them know immediately whether or not they will come
back. Decisions can be that spontaneous.
The culture right now in the
United States has conditioned its citizens to be this way. We want
personal satisfaction at nearly every level of life. If a person
gets poor service at a dry cleaners, for example, they will find
another one. If the service is poor in a restaurant, they may not
come back. We have grown quite accustomed to getting what we want.
Since churches are everywhere in Bowie and the menu in each is
varied, people will self-select.
In early America, there were not many choices. People came to church for reasons other than self-satisfaction. Church was not a place to be spiritually entertained but to have life challenged to grow into the likeness of Jesus Christ and to be engaged in mission in some form every day.
Think about this. What would your life be like today if you could have controlled what you studied from the first grade through the secondary level of your education? You could pick your teachers and if there was something about the teacher that you did not particularly care for, you could select another class.
That is not how education works.
Whether we like it or not, we are exposed to the disciplines of
Geography, English, i.e., grammar, reading and writing, Mathematics,
History, Physical Education, Music, Art Appreciation, Foreign Languages
and maybe recess. When it comes to our religious life, a number of
us choose what appears familiar and comfortable. The right "code words"
have to be used during the worship service for us to feel at home.
Some people would rather be told
who God is instead of being challenged to come to their own conclusions.
Some people would rather listen to sensitive discourses on prayer and
forgiveness than actually engage in the behavior. Some people would
much rather pay attention to fascinating Biblical accounts than to
examine where their faith may be a little thin. Self selection often
draws us to our comfort levels rather than to mastering the challenges
we face every day.
Because Church attendance is
something we choose to do, we can easily create excuses for not
participating. "The service is boring." "We do not know the hymns."
"We find the sermons are beyond our grasp or they do not engage us with
anything substantive." "We would rather be at the gym with our friends
or getting 'our batteries charged' on the tennis court because Monday
morning is coming."
One of my favorite stories deals
with two men who were playing golf together on a Sunday morning. One of
them said, "I should be in church." The other said, "Why? I used to go
but I found it to be the most useless hour of my life. I never got
anything out of it and I could never remember a single thing that was
said, read or sung. Why blow an hour of your life when you can be out
here in God's creation on these lovely greens?"
His friend said, "From time to
time I experience the same thing as you did. Not every service is
useful to me, but being there does something for me that I can't
describe." His friend said, "Humor me! You feel guilty for being in
church but you can’t tell me how you benefit from it?”
After they played another couple
of holes his friend finally responded, "I've been married for 47 years
to the same woman. During that time I am sure that I have eaten more
than 32,000 meals that she prepared. For the life of me, I cannot
remember even two percent of what she served me during all those years.
All I can tell you is that I would not be here playing golf with you
without the nourishment those meals provided."
Nourishment is one issue.
Another issue is when we cannot pay attention. Ministers can become
discouraged when people sleep in the pews Sunday after Sunday. When it
comes to listening to prayers, Scriptures, anthems and sermons, a number
of persons close their eyes every Sunday and their heads bob and weave.
What benefit does the person gain from sitting in a pew when they
cannot remember anything when the service is over? This is an
I will now tell you more than I
know. There is a part of us that never sleeps. Think about this. Who
is awake when you are dreaming? Who is tuned in when a mother suddenly
sits up in bed in her Chicago home because she just witnessed her son
being shot in Iraq. She knows he is only wounded. Later in the week,
when she and her husband received the official news, that very day and
time were confirmed as the exact moment when the incident occurred.
There have been numerous reports of this interesting phenomenon in every
war. What do these experiences mean? How did she know about her son
when she was sound asleep?
A colleague of mine had a patient
in a Baltimore hospital when he was the pastor of Towson United
Methodist Church. A parishioner of his was dying of cancer and she was
in a deep coma. Nothing could have aroused her. Steve and a duty
nurse, who also belonged to his church, closed the door. They held her
hands and they sang a duet of "How Great Thou Art." When they finished
singing, tears were flowing from both eyes of their friend. Who was the
listener in that comatose body? What I am saying to you is that
while some of us cannot stay focused, there is a part of us that is
being nourished anyway.
Each of us is inexplicably
connected with God and our beliefs have nothing to do with that
reality. When we feed our spirits, they devour everything. When we
do not feed them and the link between ourselves and God is not
stimulated or nourished, our spirits will communicate, "I am lonely and
bored with the routines of my life. No one understands me. I am not
getting the love that I need. I am just marking time with my life. I
can't shake this sense of dread and doom." We do not know why our
spirits do this. Perhaps this is the only way they know how to say,
"Feed me. I'm starving."
We can watch the news. We read
dog-eared magazines as we wait in the doctor's office. We pick up the
Post or Times and reflect on what we read. We can be as
well informed about world events as we want to be. Who is taking
care of the world we cannot see? This invisible world fuels our
motivation, enthusiasm, understanding, confidence and hope.
Our lesson this morning is a
personal letter from Paul to a young man named Timothy. In it he
described how worship should be experienced. "First of all,” Paul wrote,
“I urge that petitions, prayers, requests, and thanksgiving be offered
to God for all people, for rulers and all others who are in authority,
that we may live a quiet and peaceful life with all reverence toward God
and with proper conduct." Paul urged the early followers of Jesus to
come together in prayer and to examine the content of their lives.
We get an image from Paul that
one of the opportunities given to those who worship is that the key
relationship between God and people is kept in tact. When we lose
that perspective, something else will be governing the direction of our
lives. Jesus described what happens when the branch is no longer
connected to the vine. We slowly wither and many of us do not know
A number of us have been there.
It seems like an endless aching need, a dark night of the soul or a
sense of having meaningless lives, and these feelings will not go away.
Or, we may go to great lengths to protect our identity which has become
fragile and easily upset. Many of us cannot identify the source of our
irritability and increased lack of patience. Only when we become
attached again to the vine do we realize what has been missing.
One of the best stories that
Jesus told was his Parable of the Prodigal Son. Every component in that
story can happen in our lives. The lure of fame and fortune, our
enjoyment of a good party atmosphere, and then the emptiness, the
starvation, the desire to return to what has substance and the love we
receive when we follow through and come home.
Each time we have a power failure
that lasts for days, we are reminded that something vital is missing in
our lives. We go into the bathroom and automatically flip the switch.
Nothing works. People whose water supply comes from a well experience
their dependence on electricity more than the rest of us. We take it
for granted. We assume that power for living is always going to be
there until a day comes when it is not.
This is the way it is with the
worship experience and the linkage it provides to our Creator. We take
it for granted. Some of us assume that we can take worship or leave
it. Some of us have been away so long that we never knew anything was
missing. Yet in recent years we begin to notice that nothing works as
well. We may be successful but there is an awareness that something is
missing. Our spirit is saying, "Feed me!" but it comes packaged in a
form we do not readily associate our relationship with God as being the
God would be the first to tell
It is really okay to do exactly what you want to do with your life, but if you let go of my hand while we are walking together at the carnival, you may not easily find me again. You will go from the balloon man to the merry-go-round then on to the ferris wheel. You will stop by the hot dog and funnel cake vendors and be distracted by the clowns. When it is time to go home, you will suddenly realize how on your own you have been.
When the spirit is fed, wisdom
comes from a source the origin of which we cannot define. The way we
perceive life is focused through a prism that was being formed while we
thought we slept in the pew. Result areas suddenly appear out of
nowhere that may be absent in the lives of those who spent a lot of
their time enjoying the environment provided by the carnival.
Worship just may be the only
source of nourishment that we receive during the course of a week.
There is no substitute for coming together with others and remembering
who designed us, who walks beside us and who will be there when the
curtain comes down on our little drama.
Thirty-nine cents of every dollar gives us the components of an environment where our faith community gathers. It is worth it! We all have a responsibility to remember with our tithes just how important St. Matthew's is to us. Our church family helps feed the world within us that no one can see. It is that world of spirit that radiates who we are. Soon it will be time for us to remember and express financially how important that 39 cents of every dollar really is to us.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
We thank you, O God, that your love is
eternal and changeless. We thank you for coming to us, even though our
lives often reflect crosscurrents in the way we express our
discipleship. We know that understanding truth does not always give us
the courage to live it. We know how easily we can be careless with our
opinions. We know we often allow the hurts in our past to guide present
decisions. We know that being right is often more important than being
kind. We know the times when we greet conflict with silence and
avoidance. Yet you have called us to represent you in the world. We
welcome the challenge to be your hands and feet, to pass on to others
the torch of understanding and to become the bridge over troubled
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
We find ourselves living in time, O God, and
we know that for you there is only the current moment. We find that so
hard to comprehend. We live in a world where life constantly changes.
As we find ourselves moving from one day to the next, we become aware
that our adventures never cease. Hurricane winds topple trees, the
costal regions experience storm surges, rivers spill over their banks
and into homes and our loss of electricity helps us identity with people
in parts of the world who have never had it.
How grateful we are that we have each other.
How wonderful it is to see people pulling together to keep stores and
restaurants open, to see neighbors helping neighbors, to see electrical
linemen from so many jurisdictions helping to get our homes and
businesses energized again. How wonderful it is to be here so that once
again, you might nourish and feed a part of our world that no one can
see. Thank you for your love which is everywhere and, in these days,
Even though life changes constantly for us, help us never to loose sight of our need to remain tethered to you. It is so easy to become discouraged when the changes of the external world never stop. We are amazed at how focused and peaceful we remain when we know who it is that walks beside us. Help us never forget this simple fact that makes all the difference in the world. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, who taught us to say when we pray . . .