Monday, May 21, 2012

Why Worship God?

Why Worship God?
“They worshipped him and were continually in the temple blessing God” ~Luke 24:53
The Feast Day of the Ascension is a favorite of mine if for no other reason than the exquisite music often heard for the occasion in Evensong. And the lessons for the Feast Day are especially beautiful literature.The Author of the Gospel of Luke is also the author of the Book of Acts, and in today’s lesson he addresses his remarks to “Theophilus”; to the “Lover of God” literally.
It is in the nature of the “God Lover” to worship the creator.
And with the Great Feast Day of the Ascension of Jesus to the Right Hand of God we discover that God is now with us all the time. The “Collect” (theme prayer) for the day expresses it this way 
Almighty God, whose blessed Son our Savior Jesus Christ
ascended far above all heavens that he might fill all things:
Mercifully give us faith to perceive that, according to his
promise, he abides with his Church on earth, even to the end
of the ages; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and
reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory
everlasting. Amen. Book of Common Prayer, page 226
You will notice then, that the first witnesses to this event found themselves in the Temple All the Time worshipping God
The root meaning of the word worship has the sense of “worthiness” to it. One wonders why does God needs us to tell him that he’s worthy?
Evelyn Underhill defines worship as the “absolute acknowledgment of all that lies beyond us-the glory that fills heaven and earth. It is the response that conscious beings make to their Creator”. (from “Education and The Spirit of Worship” in  Collected Papers, page 193, London 1946)
At first blush this is a persuasive definition, but then in some senses I believe Evelyn Underhill has it precisely upside down. She thinks of worship as the acknowledgment of something that is beyond us.
I think of it as something that lies within. The “Otherness” of God lies within, I would argue, especially as we see the sense of “within” in the Biblical Tradition.
You will remember that Moses encountered God at the burning bush, he had several interesting questions to ask concerning God’s identity. In essence those questions went like this; “Who are you? What is your Name? Other gods of other nations have names and shapes that we can readily see and recognize and replicate into idol form for all to see. What then is your name?
But God replies in a way that cannot be seen “I AM”, God says.
The Hebrew meaning of the copula verb “to be” goes beyond a simple declarative. In the aorist mood/tense, of which there is no equivalent in English, the statement “I AM” has the sense of indefinite time to it. It is as if God were saying “I am Being itself” 
Thus when God says “I AM”, you and I meet God as we discover that “we are Being” too! Thus God’s Being and our own meet in the heart of things, and most particularly within the human heart.
God’s Kingdom therefore is within. Jesus said so too. The Kingdom of God is at hand, it is within. It is between us. (Luke 17:21) It is among us in forgiveness, repentance, love and reconciliation. 
This is our work; to build the Kingdom of God on the strength of the very things Jesus taught us to do; to love one another, to declare God’s forgiveness, repentance, and by God to work at the reconciliation of all to God and to one another.
Worship therefore, recognizes not so much a God that is beyond, but a God that is within.  To discover God, we begin with discovering our own hearts. As we become more honest about ourselves, we become more “Honest to God.”
Interestingly enough then, it is when we ascribe honor and glory and worship and worthiness to God, that we increase the likelihood that we will discover at the same time the honor the glory and the worthiness of humankind and particularly of ourselves in each particular instance. 
This is what we call worship; the discovery of our own worth in the ascription of God’s. It is the intention of God that repentance and forgiveness become two sides of the very same coin. Remember Jesus died for us while we were yet sinners. (Romans 5:8) We were still involved in sin. 
Our catechism defines Sin as the seeking of our own will instead of God’s. (Book of Common Prayer, page 845) We were sinking deeply into one mess after another, our lives were being destroyed by violence done to ourselves and to one another.
God couldn’t help but notice our tendency to sink into the stormy seas on Galilee. That is why God sent Jesus to us. Sure Jesus walks on water. but don’t trivialize the story. The sea he walks on is Forgiveness, Joy, Repentance, and Eternal Life. We somehow figure out how to make a mess out of out of our lives both before we got to know Jesus and since! Even after we’ve heard how to rise up and walk with God, we can figure out how to mess things up rather quickly. Then we start sinking again.
You will notice that we frighten easily. We frighten precisely because we think we’re going to fail. But this is impossible! Jesus has already given us all the Forgiveness we’ll ever need.  It is enough to last a lifetime. That is why Jesus ascribes worship (worthiness) to us in his Death, Resurrection, and Ascension to the Right Hand of the Father. This is the essence of the Love of God!
It is enough to last unto Eternal Life.

We needn't fear now. "Fear Not!" The angel said it. Jesus said it...again and again.

Fear not!
God’s will working together with our obedience can bring us to an awareness of both the worthiness of God and ourselves! Note for instance, that it is in the ancient practice of worship that we sing our songs, tell God’s stories, and then rehearse the Passover Meal  Jesus rehearsed the night before he died for us. That ritual ascribes to us our worth because it was God’s decision to declare that we are worth giving his own life for.
That gift declares our forgiveness and makes possible repentance; a radical makeover, if you will, of the whole of human nature to make peace, justice, healing, and reconciliation possible.

In Islamic practice the idea of “Salat” the ritual of setting aside five times a day for prayer is a recognition that, in order to bring our own will into conformity with God’s will, we need to dwell with the sacred words as a community to learn what God’s will is for us. Thus worship is not something God needs since God is perfection and entirely self sufficient. But the ritual instructs the worshipper in God’s ways. and develops the inner being of each and all of us as we make our way toward God. By the way, the word “Allah” is Arabic for the word “God”.
I mention this because in Christian Thought, God becomes one of us in Jesus, in flesh and blood in order to declare that we are indeed worthy in our own flesh and blood to worship Him. The idea of God becoming Flesh and Blood is problematic for other religions including Islam and Judaism, but for us it is the critical ingredient for the exaltation of humanity toward forgiveness and eternal life.
Thus the Atonement is a becoming One with God and worship makes that “One-ness” or “At-One-Ment” not only possible but a weekly reality. This bread and this wine is the Banquet of God, gathering God’s family around the Table for a wonderful celebration not just of God, but of each and every one of us. God listens to our stories and asks after our well being as would any father or mother at a great family feast.
What we celebrate today is the Ascension of Jesus to the Right hand of God. He becomes our Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous, and he is the perfect offering for our sins and not for ours only but for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:1,2)
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

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