Thursday, April 3, 2008

Worship Changes Lives

Worship changes lives.

I grew up using the 1928 Prayer Book. I was confirmed in Mexico using the 1979 Prayer Book. Over the years I have worshipped in many churches and communities. I have worshipped in the beautiful holiness of Anglican chant at Christ Church Cathedral and in the laid back ambience of summer camp at Camp Allen. I have been moved by the the organ at St. Martin’s in Houston and by the jazz of St. James in Austin. I have prayed with people using the '28 Prayer Book, Rite One and Rite Two, in Morning Prayer and the Holy Eucharist.

One of the greatest gifts I receive in undertaking my job is being able to worship and praise God by singing contemporary Christian music one Sunday, swinging incense the next Sunday and singing my favorite hymns the following Sunday.

If the church’s business is to live the Kingdom of God, then our worship must be a clear expression of that life.

Regardless of the style or form of worship, regardless of the size of the congregation or its ethnicity, I have learned that the clearest indicator of a congregations health is its love for what they do and how they create worship together.

That’s why I take my job as a liturgist seriously. I believe that the best way to celebrate the presence of God’s Kingdom is to make liturgy that appropriates the tradition of the church in creative, not nostalgic, ways. In other words, liturgy has to be alive. Liturgy that works is alive with the tradition that we consciously use in the service of God. And because I believe that liturgy must be alive, beautiful and real I believe that we will meet God every time we worship.

When we worship well together we are energized for the work that is before us. I believe that when it is done well (not just right) liturgy welcomes everyone to encounter the living God in the midst of the lively people. This liturgy will prepare people to grow into full, active and conscious worshippers and ministers. I expect that liturgy done well will make people powerful and wise and let them know God in new ways. And this way of worship will tell the truth about who we are, who God is and how we can hold these two truths in prayer. I believe that this way of prayer opens us not just to love for those we worship with, but opens to us the experience of transcendence.

We can be lifted out of our self-centeredness when we worship, and be prepared to serve others. God is present whenever two or three are gathered in the name of Jesus; not as a third or fourth in the group, but in the midst of the relationships we share with one another. I believe that worship makes us new as we open ourselves to God and to one another; opening ourselves to those who are like us and unlike us. And in this opening to the other – and to God – we are a part of the new creation that God is making right now. When we worship with the face of our neighbor in our heart and mind I believe that we learn that God loves us all, desires our company and longs to use our gifts for his glory. As those so loved we find the energy to love and serve others.

Our liturgy is like our faith. Faith tells us that God is at work in the ambiguity of human life, in trust and in doubt, in our relationships and our loneliness, in the people we love and in strangers. Liturgy says the same thing. When we embrace this truth we are set free to worship - and to live in God’s Kingdom of love.

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  • "Christianity is not a theory or speculation, but a life; not a philosophy of life, but a life and a living process." Samuel Taylor Coleridge
  • "Most people are willing to take the Sermon on the Mount as a flag to sail under, but few will use it as a rudder by which to steer." Oliver Wendell Holmes
  • "Perfection, in a Christian sense, means becoming mature enough to give ourselves to others." Kathleen Norris
  • "Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can." John Wesley
  • "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried." G. K. Chesterton
  • "One of our great allies at present is the Church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempters uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans." C. S. Lewis
  • "When we say, 'I love Jesus, but I hate the Church,' we end up losing not only the Church but Jesus too. The challenge is to forgive the Church. This challenge is especially great because the church seldom asks us for forgiveness." Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey
  • "Christians are hard to tolerate; I don't know how Jesus does it." Bono
  • "It's too easy to get caught in our little church subcultures, and the result is that the only younger people we might know are Christians who are already inside the church." Dan Kimball