The Possibility of Worship
Last Sunday after the Epiphany
Genesis 8:13, 19-22 ; Psalm 5:1-6; Mark 9:2-9
You woke up this morning, had a cup of coffee, ran outside in your pajamas to pick up the paper, after warming up you had second thoughts about going back outside until June, but you decided to chance it, got all gussied up and made your way to church. In the midst of your rituals what went through your mind in regards as to what will happen this morning in worship? What expectations do you have? You ought to have expectations of being moved by God, by others; the expectation of the rebirth of your true self. The possibility of Christian worship as an open promise for transformative change for your life, the life of this congregation, this world and even the Lord God Almighty.
Imagine this scene: the ark is gently rocking, the lapping waves occasionally rise above the bow and spray, yet the moment is still and you can hear the flapping of wings – you cant see the bird due to the glaring reflection of the sun. You hope it possess’ a sign, a promise of land, but you have been let down before. Then the white dove approaches, a single white feather gracefully floats down, in the her beak is an olive branch! Imagine the jubilation all on the floating city experienced at the sight of the olive branch.
-Finally the could touch and feel land.
-Finally they could swing from a branch.
-Finally they could roll down a hill.
We cannot, however, imagine the sight of the land once the waters subsided. We can not imagine the sight of the carnage, the mud or the unpleasing odor of the death, rot and destruction.
Upon exiting the ark, in the midst of all the death, rot and destruction, Noah, the Bible says, built an altar. He built an altar and took every clean animal and of every clean bird and offered burnt offering to the LORD. Noah worshipped.
The boiling frog theory states: “If you drop a frog in a boiling pot of water it will instinctively jump our. But if you place a frog in a pot of cool water and gradually increase the temperature, the frog won’t notice that the water’s getting hotter. It will sit there until the water boils—and will boil with it.” Primal Leadership. (p. 126) My hunch is that most of us in our spiritual component of our lives are in hot water and are totally unaware of it. We are complacent, comfortable and stale; when we God is calling us to a deeper, truer and more authentic life.
So what do we do about it? Do we enjoy the sauna of warm water, rest on our laurels, languish in style or do we jump out to the possibilities of challenging discipleship, justice works and advancing the kingdom? As Christians we jump out saying enough is enough; we are sick and tired of being sick and tired. God in Jesus Christ has and is calling us to a deeper, truer, and more authentic life. We got to jump out.
We got to jump out.
If we decide to jump out we do so with the possibility of worship. We brought this morning to worship all of the events of Monday-Saturday, and then some. Worship offers us the possibility
-to take all of that stuff, both beautiful and painful, and reform it all.
So that we can:
-gain a new and healthier perspective of our true selves and the world.
-and engage in the constant and ongoing beautification of our souls.
No two people here are on the same point on their spiritual journey, their Christian pilgrimage to the heart of God. We all participate in the frustrating venture of one step forward and two steps back, accompanied by intense mountaintop experiences and bleak times in the valley, along with sideways, swirling adventure known as spiritual growth. Yet we all gather to worship together and to aid each other in this walk, to receive a vision of our true selves. We are never complete creatures, we constantly change, bend, contort and expand, and shrink. The possibility of worship is that it is the glue that holds us all together.
Are you boiling or jumping out?
We don’t know much about Noah, the Bible records this about him: he was a righteous man, blameless in his generation; and he walked with God. I don’t know how Noah conversed with God but I only know that he had to do it often and that was pretty good at it. His constancy, his focus and sticktoitivenss kept him from being a boiling frog. How do I know this? Because when the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat he lowered the ramp from the ark and immediately built an altar, before he danced and kissed the earth he worshipped; he built an altar and made burnt offerings to the LORD.
The story does not end at the burnt offerings. When the aroma, pleasing odor, rose, reached and filled the nostrils of God something remarkable happened. The LORD was moved, the LORD repented and changed: “I will never again curse the ground because of humankind, for the inclination of the heart of the human is evil from youth; nor will I ever again destroy every living creation as I have done.
The next part was so beautiful the translators had to set it as pure poetry:
As long as the earth endures,
seedtime and harvest,
cold and heat,
summer and winter,
day and night
shall not cease.
This great movement all because Noah’s act of worship.
The last Sunday after the Epiphany or the last Sunday before Lent is called the day of the Transfiguration. Before we descend into the pain and crossbearing journey of Lent we ascend to hike up a mountain with John, James, Peter and Jesus. While on this mountain Jesus is transfigured and his clothes are dazzling white.
God in Jesus Christ had no intention of creating poached disciples. The gospels always keep us on out toes, Jesus thwarts our attempts to fully understand, comprehend and control him. He didn’t use logical stories; he taught in riddles. When the sick approached him; he healed them. When the crowd had only four fishes and five loaves, he fed 5,000. The One who guides this spiritual pilgrimage will not let us boil.
Next week we will embark on our Lenten journey; Lent is a natural time in the rhythmic journey of our souls for growth, transformation and deepening. On Ash Wednesday I am going to ask you set a goal for the Lenten season for spiritual or inward growth. In preparation for your response ponder these questions to evaluate where you are at this point in your life:
-Do you awake each morning excited about the day, not wanting to sleep any more than absolutely necessary?
-Do you laugh much?
-Are you having as much fun in your personal life as you have in the past?
-Are you finding much meaning in your spiritual life?
Now don’t interpret these questions to mean that all the time we are supposed to be happy, jolly Baptists, always wearing what my Episcopalian and Lutheran friends call the Baptist smile. Pain is real and central to the Christian life, but has the pain in your life made you numb? Or has the experiences of your life kept you hope?
If so and we are finding that work, relationships, and life in general doesn’t make you feel energized and hopeful about the future, that’s a good indication that we have probably lost touch with God and with our true selves.
Lent is the time to wrestle with who we are at this moment. Sunday mornings are times to open our hearts, minds, and bodies to the possibility of worship that we can change, that God will hear and smell our prayers, that God is still active and participating in this life despite all of the pain, tragedy and despair. Sunday mornings are simply an opportunity to remind us that the numbness is not infinite, that we can notice and jump out of the increasingly warm water.
The possibility of worship is that we just might start to feel the temperature of the warm water around us and decide it is time to get jumping. We have a mission to embody. Noah’s sons had work to do: be fruitful and multiply the earth the greatest blessing of intercourse in the history of humankind. The disciples were told to keep what they saw on the mountain a secret. But the transfiguration was important and life changing they couldn’t. They saw and experienced good news that burned in their bones they had to let it out. So when Jesus died and was resurrected they went from cowardly nobodies to proclaiming somebodies. Look at this world we live in we all know it is desperate need of some good news. We have disciples to make, wars to end, people to feed and clothe, a creation to mend. We aint got time to boil, we got to jump out and grab the first person we see and tell them about what God has done in our lives.
We aint got time to worry about what folk may think. We have this possibility of worship to share. We got to get people moving that something as mundane as building an altar or a hike up a mountain can and alter our lives forever. We are transformed people with a history at least 175 years old, who cannot be satisfied with the status quo.
Brother and Sister frogs, JUMP OUT.