With yesterday's post getting so much attention, I thought it appropriate to discuss why understanding worship, why viewing it in the appropriate context is so appropriate.
Why we have to move past thinking of it as something we go to. Move past viewing it an hour or so long appointment on Sunday mornings (and maybe Sunday and Wednesday evenings).
That comes from remembering who worship is for.
Remembering that it's not really about us.
Worship is not about that feeling I get from singing songs in a group setting.
It's not about that feeling of conviction or exhortation we get from a message.
It's not about that joy of communal fellowship.
It's not about something labeled a "worship service."
It's not about the leadership of the church.
It's not about the other members of the church.
It's not about us.
It's not about me.
Worship exists for one purpose - to glorify God.
Worship is about God above, and God alone.
Sure, worship can encompass all the things above. It can involve singing, it can involve the preaching of the word. It can involve hearing a message. It can involve fellowship. It can be in a building, it can be in a formal structure, it can be just how you have experienced it.
But that's not all that it is. That barely scratches the surface of worship.
Worship can be being moved by God's creation. Worship can be an act of simple gratitude. An act of kindness. An act of mercy. Worship can be loud and noisy. It can also be still and quiet. It can be out among the multitudes, as in the largest evangelism crusades that Billy Graham ever had. It can happen all alone, in a quiet corner, of a quiet room. It can happen on the battlefield. It can happen at work. Yes, it can even still happen in our schools today.
It can happen physically and it can be sent out and shared virtually.
It is, quite literally, what we were made for.
You and I are created to worship. If we do not do it, the very rocks will cry out. Further, I guarantee that you are worshipping something, even if you would claim no belief. Everyone worships something. Money, status, self, their spouse, their kids, leisure. Something.
While we have a responsibility in the process in Christian worship, while we are involved, it's not about us. The focus should never be on us.
To misunderstand this can bring us closer to worshipping the wrong things. Closer to idolatry than we would like to imagine. It can make us enforcers of form over substance. Bring us close to worshipping our style of worship, the building we attend, our ministers performing the service over the one true God who has called us to worship.
This was the problem of the Pharisees. According to Jewish tradition, they were the best worshippers. They followed every religious custom. They prayed the right prayers, worshipped the right way, they met the requirements that we would identify as worship. They went to the temple, they gathered like they were supposed to do, attended all the right meetings, and to the Jewish people of the day, they appeared the most pious.
But Jesus had to remind them that their focus on form over substance, on their focus on tradition instead of actual worship, was worthless.
"Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 'The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works that they do. For they preach, but they do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their little finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. By you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers.
And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people's faces. For you neither neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves...'"
Jesus continues on through all of his seven woes, but I think the point is made. The Pharisees were so focused on their ways of worship, the way that the conceived of worship, that they missed the opportunity to worship the Messiah when He was right there before them. He was calling them out of their familiar, to experience true worship, and they completely missed it.
A great example of this can also be found in the story of the woman at the well. After all the initial questions are dispensed with. After Jesus has revealed just how well He knows her, the question turns to where to worship.
"The woman said to him, 'Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshipped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.'
Jesus said to her, 'Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.'"
The Samaritans and the Jews had always disagreed about how to worship. About where worship was to occur. And here in this conversation with a Samaritan, Jesus reveals that they have both been missing the point. Worship is not about a location. It's about a spirit. Worship is about glorifying God and we must do that in spirit and in truth. Those are the requirements.
That's why being out of our buildings should not phase the church. It's why the church can't be re-opened, because the Church was never closed. We who make up the Body of Christ, the great universal Church, have been open and active in this time.
There was an opportunity in this time for our worship to have increased. I have seen it happen and I pray it has happened for you. That is what we should take away from this. What we should carry with us long beyond this crisis is over. To move our worship beyond a building, beyond our previous ideas of what worship entails into spirit and truth.
Let's focus on that and not a temporary interruption of our meeting together.