Monday, May 21, 2012

Why Worship?

The following is a portion of my 2012 Annual Report to the congregation and is inspired by my attendance at the Valparaiso Liturgical Conference and a workshop sponsored by the Lutheran School of Theology in St. Louis presented by Thomas Poelker.

Why Worship?
Why do we worship?  More specifically, why do you worship?  There are probably as many answers to these questions as there are Christians who worship, and I think it is fair to say that there really can be no “correct” or “incorrect” answer to these questions.  Even so, over the past 50 years or so there are two approaches to worship that I think deserves some reflection. The first approach casts God as an audience.  The point of worship is pleasing or entertaining God. What is important then is our performance, our sincerity and enthusiasm.  If there is any benefit that comes to the worshipper in this understanding it is a secondary concern and happens because the Spirit is reflecting back in a way that lifts and encourages the worshippers.  But make no mistake, God is the audience of this approach.
A second approach casts the congregation as the audience and it looks for meaning and edification to the Pastor, the worship leaders and God to speak through worship to them.  In this approach worship is a very passive experience.  We, the congregation, sit and listen and pay attention.  We may participate, to some extent, in the singing, in the litanies and so on.  But the focus is on “what am I getting out of this service?”  And this question may be addressed to the worship leaders, Pastor and even to God.
I would like to suggest that while there are elements in both approaches that are important, an exclusive focus on one over the other will lead to a worship experience which is not very edifying or spiritually strengthening.  If God is the exclusive audience then we first of all, run the risk of falling into a form of works righteousness where all of our efforts to please God then become an end in themselves. If God is our exclusive audience, then why do we need the sermon or the Sacraments?  Do we really think God is so vain that God needs to be constantly entertained or are we so insecure in our relationship with God that we need to regularly remind God of our strong devotion and commitment?  And if we are the audience then worship becomes a piece of entertainment, which we can turn on or off depending on our mood and view.  If I need to be entertained in worship then worship is all about me.  What about you?  Do you fall into either of these groups, even partly?
I want to suggest another approach.  When I was little we would have parades every so often in the little town I grew up in. We all looked forward to these parades, because we all got to be in them.  In fact, there often were very few people watching the parade, because everyone was in the parade.  In the same way, worship should have no audience, only participants.  We all may participate in different ways, but we all participate in one way or another and the Holy Spirit works through our participation. As I pray with the Pastor, sing the hymns, listen to the choir, experience the sermon, receive the Sacrament I am an integral point of the worship event. This is why it is so important for the community – the whole community as much as possible – to be together for worship.  And why it is so essential for us, in our community of Peace and the Wartburg Parish to make a commitment to participate in worship so that we can experience Word and Sacrament on a weekly basis.  Through this we experience God’s presence; that is, we experience God’s presence in each other and we need you here so that others might experience Christ in you.
The word for weekly worship used in German is Gottesdienst.  This means God’s service.  Through worship we are serving God, by serving each other.  It is in this way that we experience Word and Sacrament as a Foretaste of the Feast to Come.

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