Sermon for Sunday, November 25, 2012

Matthew 6:25-33

Worship Is Our Gift Back To God”

Franklin Circle Christian Church

(Disciples of Christ)

Cleveland, Ohio ~

Rev. Allen V. Harris, Pastor & Preacher

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I have been challenged recently by the thought that I have made my world too horizontal.  That’s the language theologians and preachers use when we make too much of the relationship between people here on the horizontal plane of life and not enough of the relationship with God, which would be the vertical axis.  Even taking into account my non-hierarchical commitment to how I understand the divine, I think it is a fair assessment.  Forty days of talking about community only accentuated what I already struggle with, as do so many of us earthly creatures: it’s so much easier to focus on each other than on God, who is ultimately impossible to fully comprehend.

In an article in the Christian Century Christopher Holmes, a New Zealand theology professor, confronts my horizontal sensibilities even more when he takes on our very familiar language of Christians “being Jesus’ hands and Jesus’ feet.”  He says we should be very nervous about such terminology.  He even gets right up in my face by calling into question my beloved use of “incarnation” in reference to the community of faith incarnating Jesus’ ministry, which he believes effectively domesticates God in Jesus into a puppet of our own making.  His point is that Jesus (and by easy extension, God) can never be treated as one to be “remembered” from the past, but should always be understood as one who is actively present in all of life. (1)

Especially in our worship.  We should worship as if Jesus were actually present in our midst, not as one to be recalled, remembered, reflected upon.

And as I thought about this well-founded challenge, it made me to want to think and explore and talk about the purpose of worship more.  Do I worship as if I am trying to recall an ancient prophet or as if I am becoming more and more aware of a living presence in our midst?  Do we, as Disciples of Christ, do a disservice to Christ by not being more insistent that Holy Communion is not a meal of remembrance but an active invitation to a table at which Jesus Christ is the host in this very moment?  Do I preach in such a way as to give the impression that the Bible is a historical document that should be examined like the Magna Carta or Wuthering Heights rather than a manifesto whose ink is barely dry?

Holmes reminds us that it was no less than the great 20th century pastor and prophet, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who stressed in his works that Jesus Christ is “reality.”  As a reality Jesus is at work now in our midst, and especially in worship, inviting us, confronting us, healing us, comforting us, empowering us, and sending us forth.  It isn’t the Elder or the Soloist or the Preacher who does any of this, if our worship is to be authentic, but Jesus himself!

So how do we worship as if Jesus is fully present in our midst?  The best way we can do this is also one of the hardest things for a person to do: let go.  The phrase “let go and let God” has been overused, I know, but it holds a truth that is at the core of authentic worship.  Now by “letting go” I’m really not talking about throwing up one’s hands in frustration or disgust.  Nor am I calling us to a disengagement from proper preparation and planning.  We are being called to something much deeper, more spiritual, if you will.  In life, but in worship especially, in order to fully experience Christ as a present reality we must be open to who God is and what God is calling us to in that moment.  I think I can best get this point across by telling you a funny anecdote.

Several years ago I purchased one of those sun reflectors for the front window of our car.  You know, the kind of thing that you stretch out in the summer months across the dashboard of your auto and pull down the visors to hold into place?  Coming from the searing heat of the southwest, I consider them as essential as jumper cables or ice scrapers.  Now, most of mine had been the cardboard kind, but this new one was a flexible material shaped in a small circle.  I was told by the store clerk that this “new kind” was the best, and that you just had to give it a pull and it would pop open and go into the window quite nicely.  This was true!  I loved it, except for the fact that there were no instructions on how to refold it to keep it stored.

Well, watching me try to bend and twist and pull this springy metal and fabric monster to try to get it to condense would have made for a great comedy routine.  I reasoned as to how it worked, and failed to get it back.  I examined it closely for signs as to how to retract it, and failed to get it back.  My frustration grew to the point of yelling at it, which inanimate objects love for us to do because it is so successful.  Finally, after several minutes of this and the realization that I should just give it up, I snapped it into place.  It was like a dream.  Now all small and folded up I could put the reflector away.

As smart as I am, as capable as I am, as thoughtful as I am, at that moment the only way for me to get myself out of the way and allow the darn thing to work as it should was to let go of my need to control it.  This is so much what we are called to in worship.  Again, we don’t let go of good planning and quality preparations, but when we are actually worshipping, we must “let go and let God” for the divine to be truly present, for the presence of Christ to be genuinely felt.  I don’t know what this might mean for you, but I’m eager to explore what it means for me, so that I truly can “Give God My Worship.”

If we worship like this, then we will find the horizontal and the vertical to be integrated so that Christ, in Bonhoeffer’s words, will be a “reality that wills to become real ever anew in what exists and again what exists.” (2)  And isn’t that the chief aim of our faithful lives, to understand Christ anew and afresh every day, every moment?   Amen.

(1) Christopher Holmes, “What Jesus Is Doing: The Ministry Of The Risen Lord,” in the Christian Century, September 19, 2012, pp. 26-29.

(2) Ibid, p. 29.