Week of Sept. 2: Testing the worship waters leads to strength of soul
By VICKY BRANTLEY and JOHN BRANTLEY
Lesson for week of Sept. 2
Scripture: Hebrews 10:19-31
Lord, may our faith penetrate our thoughts and actions, be joyful and give peace and gladness to our spirits and to others, be humble and sincere in all situations. Amen.
Thomas Edison performed 50,000 experiments before he succeeded in producing a storage battery. We might assume the famous inventor would have had some serious doubts along the way. But when asked if he ever became discouraged working so long without results, Edison replied, "Results? Why, I know 50,000 things that won't work." Perseverance requires faithful commitment even when the results are not what we expect.
Our Wesleyan foundations have been established with a deep appreciation for the persistence of practicing spiritual piety. It is the third of our three general rules: attend upon all the ordinances of God: the public worship of God; the ministry of the Word, either read or expounded; the Supper of the Lord; family and private prayer; searching the Scriptures and fasting or abstinence. Making a habit of practicing our faith is a framework of staying on task and heading toward the heart of Christ. While our methods might be as unique as we are, it is mutually beneficial to share overlapping practices. This includes our worship, service and spiritual growth. Look over the order of worship for this Sunday’s plan for worship. What are the parts of worship? Why are they included and why do we repeat them week after week? Rather than critique what we like or dislike or evaluate which part of worship is most meaningful to us, take the reminder of this text that the method and repetition of all the parts help build the community.
John Wesley wrote several entries in his diary in the spring of 1739 relating discouraging results from his preaching: May 5 - Preached at St. Anne’s, asked not to come back; May 12 - Preached, deacons said I couldn’t return; May 19 - Preached on street, kicked off street; May 26 - Preached in meadow, chased out by a bull; May 26 - Preached on edge to town, kicked off the highway. Then on the afternoon of June 2 he wrote, “Preached in a pasture. Ten thousand came to hear me.” When we persevere, results will come.
The use of liturgy teaches us to be persistent. The text describes a familiar order that builds persistent faith in the worshiping community. Beginning with gathering the congregation, it gives witness to its inclusive nature. Together it’s affirmation of common traditions of the organization and leadership of our church, defines its boundaries. Worship allows the ongoing stating of our intentions to grow closer to God and one another. The practice of confession of our sins to God and one another is a repetitive experience of grace. Through study and encouragement of Scriptures and the faith, the community grows in both knowledge and experience of God’s presence and the call for daily life. All these components of worship continually encourage us in our habit to participate as a worshipping fellowship. Dr. Michael Foss, a Lutheran pastor in Des Moines writes, "Why is it that if someone tells you that there are one billion stars in the universe, you'll believe them, but if they tell you a wall has wet paint, you'll have to touch it to be sure." Worship is like that wall of wet paint. Worship can make us an incredible witness. Look at the language of our text, verses 24 and 25: "And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another."
Practice Our Faith Urgently
One of our membership vows is our pledge to presence, to participate. It is often the most overlooked of the five: prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness. The core of the vow underscores the vital importance of the habit of being present for God and others in our faith community. Prayer we can share from the comfort of our home or the golf course. Gifts we can mail or drop off at our convenience. Service we can sign up for on our own terms and witness is done in dozens of ways beyond the doors of the church. But being regular and faithful in the habit of being present for worship, sharing in the traditions of worship and regular in our accountability with each other in Sunday school classes and Bible studies is equally as important as anything we do as a church.
There have been some recent changes in the results of Gallup polling about “active church participation.” In prior surveys persons stated they attended three to four times a month and now once every six weeks is considered ‘active.’ According to a 2010 Gallup Poll, 43 per cent of Americans say that they attend church regularly. The poll did discover regular worship provides a social support group and has a strong positive influence on a religious person’s emotions.
When we regularly come into the presence of the source of life, the God who alone is God, these would seem to be natural outcomes. So keep on coming. Come and test the painted wall of worship for yourself. Come with a waiting heart. And then watch out! God has a way of gently but surely transforming us from the inside out; and if you're serious about being a disciple of Jesus Christ, then this will be a commitment to a habit, a discipline, that will grow strength of soul.
Take Action: Enter each worship service this month with an open mind and heart, ready to hear God speak to you. Share with someone who does not attend your church how worship in the community has strengthened your faith.
“Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine. O what a foretaste of glory divine! Heir of salvation, purchase of God, born of his Spirit, washed in his blood. This is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior all the day long!” Hymn # 369 The United Methodist Hymnal