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Sunday, March 15, 2020
Scripture: Exodus 29:44-46 & Acts 2:37-47
Rev. Kristine Aragon Bruce
It hasn’t been lost on Pastor Troy or me that the irony of our current sermon series is about corporate disciplines during this time of “social distancing.” Hello to all of you who are worshipping with us through Facebook Live. What do you know…social media can be about so much more than cat videos and memes.
It may come as no surprise to you, but the Bible does not give specific instructions about what to do during a pandemic. The Bible does give us something we need more than anything else. A description of who God is. A reminder of what God has done. Accounts of how God remained with his people in any and all circumstances including famine, disease, slavery, the exile of forced immigration etc. God’s word then became flesh in Jesus Christ. In Jesus Christ we see and we know the lengths of what God will do to ensure that whatever we’ve done, whatever we are experiencing, whatever “it” is…nothing can separate us from God.
It’s why in the Presbyterian/Reformed tradition God’s word is what guides our worship. The Bible is where we can be reminded of why we can trust God. To know that in the ways God was faithful to those in scripture apply to us as well. Like the Israelites we forget God’s faithfulness even minutes after experiencing his faithfulness. Like the religious elite in Jesus’ day we show off our morality and upright citizenship. Like the Pharisees we crave power and we’ll do anything possible to keep it.
God’s word is what guides our worship because God’s word points to Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ is the center of our worship. But we can’t know Jesus without the Bible because the Bible is where we learn about what Jesus said, what he did and how he related to all those he came into contact with. One thing Jesus encouraged us to do was to be in community. The life of a Christian was not meant to be lived alone. This also applies to worship. We are called to be in worship together. In this present age of social distancing we’re going to have to be creative of what that looks like. I have a feeling we’ll be experimenting a lot these next few Sundays.
Throughout Scripture God’s people have always been creative when it came to worship. But even then God was their guide and helped them every step of the way in crafting a space, an order, liturgy and worship leaders all in order to help God’s people engage in worship together as a community.
Our passage from Exodus takes place after God gives Moses the 10 commandments on top of Mt Sinai. Chapters 25-31 are all about the directions God gives to the Israelites in building the Tabernacle which was to be the dwelling place of God among them. The Tabernacle would also hold the Ark of the Covenant, which held the tablets of the 10 commandments. In all honesty these chapters aren’t all that exciting, but what is exciting is the jist of what is happening and that is God can now be present with the Israelites wherever they go. The Tabernacle is now a physical place where God can now dwell among them and that is something they never had before. Before this point they only witnessed the glory of God in the form of a cloud that led them out of Egypt. With the building of the Tabernacle they can now experience the presence of God wherever they go. This was good news as they were about to embark on a long journey into the promised land. The land God promised to Abraham generations ago.
The first Christians as seen in our passage from Acts chapter 2 met together for worship in each other’s homes as well as in the synagogue because there was no such thing as a church building at the time. And yet “They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching, breaking of bread, fellowship and prayers.”
No matter how worship is done it’s meant to be done with others.
Even the Psalms which was Israel’s songbook of prayers the first of its kind that contain “I” statements were meant to be sung with others. The majority of passages of scriptures concerning worship consist of “we” instead of “I.”
List of passages
Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
O come, let us worship and bow down,
let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!
For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture,
and the sheep of his hand.
For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.–Matthew 18:20
not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
So what about the topic of Worshipping alone? Yes there’s a time for that like this morning. But not at the expense of corporate worship.
One of the most amazing trips I ever took in my life was a week long back packing trip in the Canyon Lands in Utah. I co-lead a group of college students from University of Colorado when I was worked in college ministry. I was floored by God’s majesty and creativity as we trekked through deep red canyons and admired rock formations that words just can’t describe. I would not have appreciated God’s presence in nature, however,without my time in worship with others. In those times of worship I learned more about who Christ is which allowed me to see him more clearly in nature. It started with worship.
Today when there is encouragement to be at least 6 feet apart from one another and our schools have been shut for a month our staff and Session are still in conversation about what our Sunday corporate worship will look like going forward. We will live stream our worship services on Facebook and looking into doing the same on our website.
I encourage you if you’re able and comfortable doing so to gather in small groups of 10 or so to participate in worship together. And those with whom you gather don’t have to be First Pres members. It can be your neighbor or anyone who is also feeling the need to be in worship physically present with others.
God meant for us to be in worship together because God made us to be in community. (Quote on front cover.) Isaac Pennington, a devout quaker from the 1600s said:
“When people are gathered for genuine worship, ‘They are like a heap of fresh and burning coals warming one another as a great strength and freshness and vigor of life flows into all.’ One log itself cannot burn for very long, but when many logs are put together, even if they are poor logs, they can make quite a fire.”
Furthermore Worship is where we are reminded of who God is and also the springboard of being Christ for others in the world.
At the bottom of our bulletin it says “Worship concludes-Service begins.”
But our service in the world needs to start in worship together.
Richard Foster in Celebration of Discipline writes: “The divine priority is worship first, service second. Our lives are to be punctuated with praise, thanksgiving, and adoration. Service flows out of worship. Service as a substitute for worship is idolatry.”
Be the church in the world by being the church together in worship first.
Otherwise our service in the world becomes the idol we worship. Even God’s blessings in our lives such as worship can become idols when we come to the false belief that they can do for us what only God can do.
Worship is where we are reminded that only Jesus can do what our idols cannot.
Our idols certainly cannot be what we need during these anxious times.
And boy are they anxious.
I’m not going to tell you to not be anxious or fearful. But here are some practical things we all can do to keep our anxiety and fear from controlling us:
Most importantly remember who we can go to when we are fearful and anxious.
God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult.
As I mentioned earlier worship is our springboard to responding to Jesus Christ the rest of the week.
We will be sending out communication next week of how we can help those in need due to the closing of our schools as well of many of our nursing homes, but here are just a few ways you can be of help now. I’m sure there are many more as this list is not an exhaustive one:
o Peanut butter & Jelly
o Stews & Chili
o Canned meat – chicken & tuna
o Canned fruit
o Canned vegetables
o Hygiene items (toilet paper, toothpaste, soap, shampoo)
To remain in Jesus Christ is to worship Jesus Christ together. In worship we remember who Jesus Christ is and we give him our burdens, our praise, our thanks and all of the glory. When we do this we can’t help but respond to Jesus Christ by serving and loving others in his name.