John Morrison – 19 March 2017

Welcome to worship at CBC this morning. You are joining with scores of others in what must surely be the most fundamental and significant activity of any church – the worship of Almighty God.

In “Christianity for the Rest of Us”. Diana Butler Bass deals with ten “signposts of renewal” that were evident in the healthy and growing churches she researched. Worship stands out from the list as unique. All sorts of secular organisations could and often do engage in them all… except worship.

When I began pastoring my first church in 1982, I was quite daunted by the responsibility of leading worship. One of the books I found helpful was a short, down-to-earth one by Anne Ortlund titled “Up with Worship – How to Quit Playing Church”, published that year. This passage is one I’ve never forgotten.

“So the people all come together in rows in the church, and they face forward. So what?

Well, it’s the same physical set up as a stage play, and everybody knows about those. You plunk down in a seat. …At H hour the lights go up; the actors start performing, a prompter offstage whispers cues – and the spectators lean back and evaluate how they do.

But church? No. No. No. No. No. No. No!

Church is unique. Whether the people in the congregation ever discover it or not, they are the actors. The upfront people are the prompters, whispering cues as needed – and God is the audience, looking on to see how they do.

Many poor churches don’t even know who’s supposed to be doing it! What lousy, lousy plays they put on! The actors sit around lethargically while the prompters practically exhaust themselves trying to do all their lines for them so the play will still give a lively appearance. It doesn’t.”

The Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard had used a similar analogy back in the 19th Century.

While I have found this analogy very useful over the years, I must admit to ongoing unease about likening worship to a performance. Authentic worship is much more intrinsic than that. Another shortcoming of the analogy is considering God as the audience. While this is true in one sense, it gives the impression that we are inviting God to come and watch our performance. In fact, God graciously invites us into his presence. Scripture sometimes describes that as approaching the throne of the Almighty, Holy King, which emphasises the humility and reverence that ought to characterise our worship. At other times, the analogy is joining in a feast at the Lord’s table. Either way, there is the amazing privilege of interaction and relationship with God.

The subtitle Bass gives her chapter on worship is “Experiencing God”. She talks about worship being an experience of God rather than just a reflection about God.

May you truly experience God in worship here this morning.