At Centerville United Methodist Church, we are launching our summer worship series, “Love is a Mix Tape”. The idea for the series came from a book by Rob Sheffield, who is a contributing editor of Rolling Stone magazine.
How many of you are old enough (or young enough) to remember the mix tape? In the 80’s and early 90’s, if a boy wanted to express his feelings for a young lady, he would attempt to craft the perfect mix tape. One of my favorite movies, “High Fidelity”, shows the pain-staking process of piecing together the perfect mix tape. You couldn’t just start off with Lenny Williams “Cause I Love You”. You had to ease into it!
For you young folks, the mix tape is like sharing a playlist. Basically, you decide the message you want to convey and find songs to communicate that message. Now, sometimes the mix tape was used to express ones love. Yet, there were instances in which the mix tape was used to let you know the relationship was over. No one ever wants to receive a mix tape where the first song is War’s “Why Can’t We Be Friends” or Roxette’s “It Must Have Been Love”.
Throughout our “Love is a Mix Tape” series, we’ll be using Scripture and music to help set the stage for sermons on worship, doubt, unity, forgiveness, and more. We’ll use rock, folk, and country songs. This morning, we’ll be exploring the topic of worship. And, to launch our message on worship, we’ll hear Bob Marley’s “One Love”.
But, before the video, I have some quick business to take care of. Today is Father’s Day! So, that means that father’s get to do whatever they want to do, right? Therefore, in the spirit of Father’s Day, give me just one second…In fact, why don’t you watch this video while I get some things together. (While the video is playing, I will exit the sanctuary, change into shorts, sandals, grab a lawn chair and can of Ale8-1 in order to get more comfortable because, after all, it is Father’s Day)
Now, that’s better and feels more appropriate for Father’s Day! While Bob Marley was a Rastafarian, this song really gets to the essence of worship.
“One love, one heart, let’s get together and feel all right”
“Give thanks and praise to the Lord and I will feel all right”
Part of worship is getting together to give thanks and praise to the Lord. Often times, a bi-product of our worship together is that we will “feel all right”. When we give thanks and praise to God, we experience peace, comfort, joy, rest, and assurance.
In the Church, we often talk about “passionate worship”. One understanding of passionate worship is that everything we say, think and do has the potential to be an act of worship. That also indicates that every we say, think and do has the potential to not be an act of worship. So, that means we have two choices when it comes to everything we say, think, and do: sin or worship.
Worship is about ascribing worth to something. In the case of Christian worship, we ascribe worth to God. When we work, eat, drink, sleep, and play in a way that bring God glory and honor, we worship. When we work, eat, drink, sleep and play in a way that dishonors God, we sin. It really can be that black and white. We either sin or we worship. In many ways, whether we sin or worship comes down to our heart and our attitude.
Worship is so much more than our hour long gathering on Sunday mornings. Our worship isn’t just the corporate gathering, but also our private and personal worship in our daily lives. But, just for a minute, let’s talk about the hour long gathering on Sunday mornings.
Some believe that in order for our worship to be pleasing to the Lord, it has to be perfectly reverent and serious. Laughter is often frowned upon. We believe the pastor needs to wear a robe and stole or at least a suit and tie. The congregation needs to be well dressed and the children need to be well behaved. Listen, I believe part of the reason I’m still in the church is due to the fact that when I was a kid, I was allowed to be a kid. I was the one crawling under the pews, playing with his Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant action figures during the sermon, and skateboarding in the parking lot (or fellowship hall if it was raining or snowy. So, if these reverent and serious expectations aren’t met, it certainly isn’t worship. Therefore, folks with this expectation are often disappointed when “this guy” is around.
Some believe that we have to sing certain songs or it really isn’t worship. If we don’t sing a particular song, our worship just doesn’t hit the mark. (examples from churches and camp) Or if our songs don’t fit a particular style of music it certainly can’t be worship.
Some believe that the prayers in worship should be eloquent, wordy, and lengthy in order for our worship to be pleasing to God.
Some believe that worship has to be in the sanctuary, on a particular day, and a particular time in order for it to be true worship.
We could go on and on about what folks believe has to take place in order for our worship to truly be worship. Some of our differences of opinion on worship help explain the existence of the plethora of denominations around the world. Yet, all of these things are really just personal preferences.
Worship is more about our hearts and minds connecting with God than whether or not we sing a certain song, in a certain style, in a certain location, at a certain time, with a certain dress code. I’m pretty sure God doesn’t really care about our personal preferences. God might actually want us to try some new and different things in order to stretch us, grow us, and challenge us. If we’re simply doing the same routine we’ve been doing for years, we probably are just stuck!
For a number of years, we’ve experienced “worship wars” in the Christian church…people arguing about the style of music. And, get this, people have divided churches and driven out leaders because of musical preferences. Some believe one style to be superior to another. One side will say, if there isn’t an organ it isn’t worship. The other side will say, if there isn’t a band, it isn’t worship. One side will say the words of certain songs are empty and childish. The other side will say that the words of hymns are complicated and no one really understands them anyway (what’s an Ebenezer anyway and why would we raise it?) It’s really ridiculous the lengths we’ll go to in order to hold onto our personal preferences. (Elkhart Trinity- drums/organ/new drums story). God doesn’t care if we’re singing Charles Wesley, Chris Tomlin, Johnny Cash or Bob Marley, as long as our hearts and minds are connecting with Him!
We can experience powerful moments of worship in extremely formal, traditional settings.
We can experience powerful moments of worship in extremely informal, contemporary settings.
We can experience powerful moments of worship in the car, in the office, on the beach, in the middle of the mountains, wherever we find ourselves. And, we shouldn’t discredit the ways others worship, but be thankful they have found a way to connect with God.
But, back to that one hour on Sunday that we refer to as corporate worship. Sometimes we reduce our concept of worship to the singing portion of our gathering. When we join together we should sing with joy and passion as we truly think about the meaning of the words we sing. If we took a picture of congregations across the US during the singing portion of a church gathering, people would probably make the generalization that Christians are joy-less and grumpy!
I’ll be honest…one of the most difficult roles of a pastor is to sit in front of the congregation as we sing together and keep a straight face. It’s hilarious to sit and front and watch congregations sing. We’ll sing songs like “I’m so glad I’m a part of the family of God” with a frown on our faces, then we’ll sing a song about the brutal death of Jesus with a big smile!
John Wesley, founding father of the Methodist movement, gave some rules for singing: (in hymnal)
- Sing all. See that you join with the congregation as frequently as you can. Let not a slight degree of weakness or weariness hinder you. If it is a cross to you, take it up and you will find a blessing.
- Sing lustily, and with a good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength. Be no more afraid of your voice now, nor more ashamed of it being heard, then when you sing the songs of Satan.
- Sing modestly. Do not bawl, as to be heard above, or distinct from, the rest of the congregation, that you may not destroy the harmony; but strive to unite your voices together, so as to make one clear melodious sound.
- Sing in time. Whatever time is sung, be sure to keep with it. Do not run before, not stay behind it; but attend closely to the leading voices, and move therewith as exactly as you can. And take care you sing not too slow. This drawling way naturally steals on all who are lazy; and it is high time to drive it out from among us, and sing all our tunes just as quick as we did at first.
- Above all, sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing Him more than yourself, or any other creature. In order to do this, attend strictly to the sense of what you sing, and see that your heart is not carried away with the sound, but offered to God continually; so shall your singing be such as the Lord will approve of here, and reward when he cometh in the clouds of heaven.
Worship is about honoring and praising God in all we say, think, and do. It’s not the songs we sing. It’s not that one hour on Sunday morning. It’s everything we say, think, and do.
Can we find joy in all we do? Can we find ways to honor and praise God in all we say, think and do? As Christians, we should be known for our joy, our hope (even in times of trouble), and our love. That’s worship! Worship is all about our One Love, Jesus Christ, so, let’s get together and feel alright!