Worship at the heart
One of the aspects of living in New Zealand I’m taking a bit of time to get used to is the distance from everywhere. Not particularly the distance from everywhere Else, but from everywhere in NZ. Although it is a small country relatively speaking it is well spread out, certainly in comparison with England.
One of the things I am adjusting to is not being able to pop on a train and nip to a conference, and be back in a day. Over the years I would go somewhere 3 or four times a year, making the most of my talent for decoding the Labyrinthine workings of the British Railways ticketing system to get myself cheap tickets to travel around the country and often be home in time for tea.
Now on the day I have in mind I went to a conference for in London. There were three speakers – speaking from different theological perspectives. And One got right up my nose. He was the Vicar of a Very large church in Oxford and declaimed about doctrinal purity and how his HUGE church which was getting bigger and bigger (he was very happy to say how huge it was) had decided that it wasn’t going to play its part in Diocesan affairs because it didn’t like its bishop (with whom it disagreed) and so would give its money where it thought fit, it would call the shots.
Well I have to say I almost lost it with him over coffee – I am a mild mannered man J and Rarely get angry but having struggled for a good number of years in two small hugely under resourced parishes trying to preach the good news and bring some life, his pontificating about how his large and extremely wealthy parish wasn’t going to support the likes of mine, poor and struggling because they knew better . . . excuse me whilst I recover my emotional stability! I told him in no uncertain terms that if he was really so keen on Mission as he said – he should tell his Huge and Well heeled congreagation they should get off their elegantly attired behinds (or some such words) and leave his church and go support the mission where it was struggling. I don’t want your money – I want people to come and help!!! Labourers for the harvest field.
I was Very Cross!! J
Anyway all that is by way of a carefully crafted preamble. Most if not all preachers complain from time to time, ‘Oh if only folk would respond to my preaching!’ but secretly I think they actually are hoping no-one will, for heavens, if folk Really heard and Really Got the Message well . . .
I’d like this morning to spend a little time saying a few words about our friends in Brockville Community Church.
Just Friday I went on behalf of Bishop Kelvin to consider with our Presbyterian and Methodist friends the future of this church in our parish. Put very briefly – they are at once facing Great Joy and Great Peril. About three years ago the Presbyterian church paid for a minister there, Andrew Scott – he has done a great work and the church has a Vibrant mission to its community which as you know better than me is by NZ standards impoverished – they have a Huge monthly community meal for the parish and two vibrant youth groups – BUT the church itself is small in number and struggling financially and the Presbyterian church may no longer be able to pay for Andrew’s ministry which for better or worse is key.
Well I was wondering – as you know Vestry has already decisded to give a tithe of the fair money and we have launched our Coffee and pastry appeal – Donate $5 a week and get rid of the excess Christmas flab J - and I had several ‘Wonderings’ as my mind Wandered – but then my mind wandered back to that Conference . . . to my brother in Christ who so successfully got up my nose and his large and successful church and my call for him to send labourers . . . and Christ’s call last week to leave our nets and follow him . . .
Not long before Christmas we hosted Steve Maina and he spoke of many mission opportunities and how it might be possible to get agroup together and go out on mission, somehere like Samoa, or even as far afield as North Africa – and it would be Life enhancing – I think as a church we would benefit as folk inevitably come back form such trips fired up for mission – but as I shared this with Vestry - the point was made that perhaps we ought to look more closely to mission on our doorstep – which brings us to Brockville, which of course ies within our parish. BUT one thing Steve said did stick in this regard also – for he spoke of visiting a large church wehre very regularly folk were commissioned to leave that church and go work in the mission field - and I wondered if as a congregation we might send some of our people to go and worship and work in that parish . . . I wondered if Christ might be calling some of us to go there?? I thik it is good when we can give money for mission, but giving People . . . well I think that that challenges us – but perhaps this is the challenge from Christ regarding Brockville . . .Well as I said, secretly most vicars don’t want people to respond so I’ll move swiftly on J
This week we celebrate Candlemas or to give it its more prosaic name, the Feast of the Presentation – Never fear I shall tie it all up , eventually J - We have thought about the beginning of Christ’s ministry at his baptism, his calling of the disciples and now with his ministry begun we think about the Lord coming to His temple – to quote Malachi. In John’s Gospel Christ’s first public act is to cleanse the Temple – John puts it there because this is KEY to the ministry of Christ. Luke who like the other evangelists places the cleansing of the temple at the beginning of Holy Week, still inserts this incident, the Lord coming to his temple – the one waited for by faithful Israel – Simeon has Seen the Salvation of the Lord in the Christ Child. He comes to the Temple, he is first recognized for who he is in the Temple – There Acknowledgement is made of the Presence of God’s Christ in the World. And these things happen everytime we gather together – Christ is recognized, worshipped here in the house of God.
Worship is at the Very Centre of the human response to God – Christ in his Humanity Worships God in Obedience and self sacrifice. Right Worship is Essential – We are not truly human unless we come to worship, indeed if we don’t come together to publicly worship – but that Worship must be Right Worship – it must be true Worship. Christ comes to Purify the sons of Levi, the Priests, so that Right worship might be made. What is more Right Worship is the Very source of God’s life flowing into the world. We tend to think all to readily that it is what we do outside of church that lets God’s Life flow into the world, but the Reality is – and this has been proven down through the ages over and over aain that without the worship of the true and living god – all the Life dries up – for it is in Worship and the Eucharist –that Heaven and Earth are connected
Corporate Worship is the Very heart of Christian Life. To miss out on the Eucharistic feast is in a very real sense to miss out on heaven, however obscured at times this may be.
The Pastor and writer Eugene Peterson, who wrote the translation of the Bible some of you may know as the Message – tells a wonderful story to illustrate this. He had in his congregation a man who like in many congregations was a bit on the fringe – not least because his life was utterly chaotic – he was alcoholic and it was rumored he beat his wife. It wasn’t good. Anyway, over time the man got his life turned round – but he was still pretty much the roughest of diamonds when one day he totally surprise his Pastor by announcing he believed he was called to be ordained – well a more unlikely candidate you could hardly imagine – I can only begin to think what the folk responsible for advising thought of it, but . . . over a long period of time, the call was confirmed. The man struggled through all the academic stuff and was finally called to be pastor of a small struggling church in the back of beyond. To Peterson’s amazement, for he believed he’d done nothing to encourage the man’s ministry , he asked him to preach at his Installation and ordination as Pastor. Well alone he went to what was little more than a tin hut. A windy and cantankerous organ and a small shabbily dressed choir of a few ‘reedy old ladies’ Peterson recalled. Half way through the service there was an anthem – Peterson said – musically it was terrible, none of them could sing particularly well, but half way through the man being ordained poked him in the ribs to catch his attention. ‘Isn’t it beautiful!’ he murmured. Well Peterson all to aware of this man’s past thought he was being sarcastic, btu he looked round at the man and saw his face was just rapt with what was happening – he was caught up in the beauty of the worship that his sophisticated pastor had just failed to see . . . a telling tale in many ways. And most of us, most of the time have our eyes closed to this reality
Shared Worship is Always an opportunity for heaven to break into the world – it is in God’s eyes its purpose – and when it is all about Him it is. But the Worship of Israel had become all about them – an opportunity to make money – to delight in elegance rather than to delight in the Lord – so Christ comes to purify the sons of Levi, for Worship is the Heart – Worship is the Door of God’s Life into the World, Supremely in the Worship and Sacrifice of Christ.
This is something I believe we have largely lost sight of. Too many Christians nowadays believe they can get by worshiping alone – or on the hills – Shared public Worship is not of the essence for them. They are Very Mistaken. Christian Life Requires Christian Worship – together, Week by Week and more often if possible.
Which brings me back to Brockville, but also how we think about the relationship of Worship and Mission. As I recounted last week we have lived in an age where worship dwindled but folk said – it’s OK, there’s still mission there – the church has a presence in its social ministries – perhaps hospitals or schools or agencies feeding the hungry. Except the evidence shows that that presence dwindles, and either expires or loses touch with the Life that sustains it when there is no worshipping community – it is the Life of that community that sustains Mission – there is No Mission without a Worshipping community.
Sustaining the Mission in the end requires sustaining the worshipping community. We have lots of money, but perhaps it is our people they need??
I am of course thinking aloud – I hope that you will think and pray with me for this church, but also about our own hearts and approach to what we do here Sunday by Sunday – Because at the heart of our faith is humankind being offered to God in the person of Christ - an act of Right worship to God – We enter into His worship when we too live sacrificially – we receive blessing from God as Christ is blessed in Baptism – that blessing is for the world. Everything flows from this