Sunday, October 11, 2015

Liturgy



To listen to the audio file of this sermon, please visit the Medina-Streeter Parish website.

Grace, mercy and peace be unto you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Liturgy.

Most of us have heard this word. Many of us recognize this as the words we hear and say during service – basically, everything that’s written in our bulletins this morning. But liturgy is much more than words read and heard each Sunday. It is the work of the people. It is a combination of the words and actions within worship.

If you look at your bulletin, you’ll notice that the liturgy is split into four different sections: Gathering, Word, Thanksgiving, and Sending. Each of these sections has a purpose.

The Gathering is the beginning of our service – when each of us are called together by the Holy Spirit to assemble in this place of worship as a community. It’s the members and visitors; friends and strangers; all brought together in God’s presence and in each other’s presence in confession and forgiveness, prayer, and song.

The Word comes next, and is God speaking to us, and with us. This is done through the scripture readings, the responsive reading of the Psalm, and the sermon; as well as through song, and the creed, and prayer.

Thanksgiving follows, which may start with Holy Communion. This is the part of the service where in addition to receiving the body and blood of Christ, we also give thanks for the Word, through our offering, prayer, and song.

The last part of our service is, perhaps, the most important. The Sending. In particular, the Dismissal part of the Sending. The dismissal contains a declaration from the pastor or leader, followed by a response from all gathered.
Go in peace; serve the Lord – Thanks be to God!
Or, as we’ve been using recently in our liturgy – our parish mission statement:
We have been called shepherds of God – Let us do God’s work daily.

This dismissal does not signify the end of our worship. It does not mean “Oh finally! Service is done, we can go home and eat, watch football, take a nap, get back in the field.”
The dismissal is a call for a continuation of service – for service to God throughout the week.

In our reading from Amos this morning, Amos is speaking of those who do worship God and pray. But once that service is done, the rich are taking from the poor, and pushing aside the needy. They do not care for those in need. Their transgressions are many; and their sins are great. This is not what God wants from his people. He does not want empty worship. If we expand the reading, particularly to include verses 21-24, we see that this is not the kind of worship he desires from us:

I hate, I despise your festivals,
    and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
    I will not accept them;
and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals
    I will not look upon.
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
    I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
But let justice roll down like waters,
    and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

This is not to say God is against worship or the singing of hymns. He is not saying we should not have assemblies of worship and sing hymns. In fact, we are called to worship – to gather together each Sunday. We are called to sing hymns and pray together during this time. We’re called to be active participants in the liturgy during our Sunday worship service. The prayers in our bulletin are not just meant to be just be read or heard – they are indeed the prayers of each of us, both individually and as a united community. This is the same with the hymns, and the Creed we recite, and every piece of the worship service – we are to be active participants in them.

God does not want our worship to be empty and meaningless. This is why we change up the liturgy from time to time throughout the year – to help prevent it from just being something we recite from memory while our minds wander to things other than God and the worship. But even though we change the words from time to time, the purpose of each piece remains the same… especially the purpose of the dismissal.

What God is telling us in Amos, is that these assemblies and hymns are meaningless if we do not take something from them to bring out into our daily lives, and into the daily lives of others, after we’ve said that dismissal.
It is through these words that we can understand truly what liturgy is – that it is not only the words we speak and listen to, but that it is our own actions which spring forward from these words. It is us leaving the worship service and going out to help the needy and the poor. It is us not using our wealth or power to keep the poor and needy down, but rather to give to them and help them. 

Our Psalm reading this morning echoes this message, particularly with the last two verses:
16 Let your work be manifest to your servants,
    and your glorious power to their children.
17 Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,
    and prosper for us the work of our hands—
    O prosper the work of our hands!

Simplified - Let God’s work be brought about by the work of our hands.

Or… put even shorter still - the mission statement of the ELCA as a whole…God’s Work – Our Hands. This mission statement is clearly defined in this passage, and is a message that should be in our hearts at all times.
When we see someone hungry – we should pray for them, but then we should take it a step further and be that prayer – be God’s hands, bringing this person nourishment of food. When we see someone in emotional pain, or grieving – we should pray for them, and then be that prayer – be God’s hands, bringing this person love and comfort. To simply offer our prayers, without being willing to be that prayer, isn’t enough. To simply attend church service, and walk away until the next Sunday, isn’t enough. We need to take action.

The need for action is prevalent throughout scripture. Even in our Gospel message, we see that God desires some type of action. Here we have a rich man – a man whom claims to have kept all the commandments. He hasn’t murdered, or committed adultery, or stolen anything, or bore false witness against another. He hasn’t defrauded anyone, and has honored his father and mother.

And we can assume by the way Jesus looked at him and loved him, and did not dispute the man’s words, the rich man was being honest in his claim. Unlike the people Amos spoke to in our first reading – people who were stealing from and exploiting the poor – this man was following the commandments. But Jesus tells him there is more he should do. Jesus tells him – “go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor… then come, follow me.”

This call to action isn’t always easy. In fact, most of the time, it’s almost impossible to follow – especially when it comes to money. I know I would have a difficult time selling everything I own and giving it to those less fortunate. The thought of getting rid of my car? House? Laptop? Other necessities? Or even just what few luxuries I have? It’s not an easy task.

And it wasn’t easy for the rich man either. Instead of doing what was asked of him, he walked away grieving. But Jesus already knew the rich man wouldn’t be able to do this. And yet he loved him anyway. He knows that we are not always going to be able to do what is asked of us. And yet, he loves us anyway. The call to carry our service into the world after the dismissal is not a requirement for our salvation – through Christ, we’ve already received that.

In Mark, Jesus tells his disciples that…
10:25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God."
They had a hard time understanding this and asked one another… “Then who can be saved?”

10:27 Jesus looked at them and said, "For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible."

Does this mean we allow our liturgy to become meaningless? No. Does this mean we shouldn’t carry our service with us throughout the week, helping those who need us? No. It means that although yes, we are called to have meaningful worship assemblies and we are called to care for those who are in need, God still recognizes our failures as humans, and by his grace and mercy, still loves us, provides for us, and grants us forgiveness and salvation.

The realization of this grace and mercy, this love and provision, this forgiveness and salvation, should be more than enough reason to come into this Church and actively participate in giving thanks and praise to our Lord… it is more than enough reason to try to do our best to leave this place of worship with the dismissal in our hearts, and doing what we can to try to follow through with those words, whether it’s “go in peace, serve the Lord”… or “let us do God’s work daily”.

And now, may the Word of the Lord which surpasses all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in true faith.

Amen

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