The Reformation at 500: Made for Worship



We were created for worship. Yes—all of creation was made for worship. The psalmist cries out to creation: praise him! Angels, sun, moon, stars, sea monsters, snow, rain, fire, frost, cattle, birds, people of every age and status: praise him! Praise the Lord! You were made to worship the Lord. This is what you have been created for. One of the great legacies of the Reformation was the Westminster Catechism, a teaching book that John Wesley even adapted for Methodists. The very first question is, “What is the chief end”—that is, the main purpose or goal—of humankind? And the answer is, Our “chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” And what is true for humanity is true for each and every element of creation, from subatomic particles to galaxies, from the seen to the unseen. Worship is our common vocation. We are made for worship.

For many of us, when we hear that word “worship” we start connecting it right away to particular activities. Maybe you love to sing, and when you hear worship you think of singing, of music. These days there seem to be a lot of people who think worship is just another word for music, for singing. Or maybe you think of praying, whether alone in your home or gathered with other Christians. Maybe when you hear the word “worship” you think of Communion, or of preaching, or of reading the Bible.

Scripture uses much broader strokes than these particular activities to paint its tableau of the true nature of worship. To worship means to give something its due, to give something everything its worth. So true worship does not begin with us; it begins with what, or whom, we are worshiping. Scripture calls us to worship the Lord God alone: solo Deo Gloria, to God alone be glory, as the great musician Johann Sebastian Bach used to write at the end of his compositions. God is worthy of all our worship, so worship can’t just be limited to singing or praying, preaching or celebrating, silence or speech. Worship must be about everything, everything we do, everything we say, everything we are. Every part of our lives should be an offering of worship to God, who alone is worthy of everything.

In Isaiah 58, the people of Israel cry out to the Lord, “We worship you, but you do not hear us? Why do we fast and humble ourselves before you if you just turn your back on us?” Their vision of worship has narrowed; they have zoomed in on their favorite particular activities. Why do we pray, and you don’t hear us? Why do we preach, and the dead bones do not dance? Why do we sing, and the songs die out almost before they’ve passed our lips? And the Lord answers his people, “Worship?! You want to talk about worship? Here’s the right kind of worship: loose the bonds of injustice, undo the thongs of the yoke, let the oppressed go free, break every yoke, share your bread with the hungry, bring the homeless into your house, and clothe the naked. That’s worship!”

One of my mentors in college used to say every week, “True worship is to live it out!” That’s about half right. True worship is to pray out, to preach out, to sing out, to fast out, to dance out, and, yes, to live out the glory of God. If you pray but don’t care about injustice, you aren’t worshiping yet. If sing but don’t share your bread, you aren’t worshiping yet. If you feast on great preaching—somewhere else, I’m sure!—but don’t bring the homeless into your house, you aren’t worshiping yet. But driving out injustice, sharing bread, housing the homeless, clothing the naked also require a people who are steeped in prayer, in Scripture, in song, and in sacrament. True worship is everything!

The great tableau of worship painted in Scripture is reflected in our own service of worship. Each bit, each moment in our service steeps us in prayer, song, Scripture, and sacrament while also reminding us that what happens in this room is only the worship God desires and deserves when we step out of the building and live to glorify God.

We enter, we gather, to glorify God. Before we step foot in this sanctuary, we are already gathering. At home when we wake up and get ready for the day. In the parking lot when we pull up to the church. As we enter and greet each other. As we pray, in silence or listening to the band, preparing our hearts so that we are focused on the glory of God—and I wish I could see more signs that we were praying and getting ready for worship. The author Annie Dillard says that if we were really to take our worship seriously, we would hand out crash helmets as people passed through our doors. Sometimes, instead, we get a little too lost in being happy to see each other. But before I say, “Welcome to worship here at Centre,” worship has already begun. We gather to worship. And the gathering continues in our opening hymns and our morning prayer, which are supposed to zero us in on glorifying God.

After the gathering, our worship continues in reading and proclaiming Scripture. We read from the Old Testament and the New Testament so that each week we are reminded of the vastness of God’s story with us. We read from the Psalms so that our own prayers and hymns are never too far from the prayerbook and hymnal that God provides for us in the Bible. We preach because we believe that God’s Word is alive and active in our midst; it glorifies God for us to remember that the Lord is still speaking to us today, still calling us to meet him in his Word for us. We worship in reading and proclaiming Scripture.

And then we respond, confessing our faith, praying, confessing our sin, sharing the peace of Christ, offering our gifts, and celebrating the sacrament of Holy Communion. And of all these sacred moments of worship, the holy of holies is in the sharing of the bread and of the cup. Here we meet Jesus himself, who in the power of the Holy Spirit has been present with us throughout our worship. Here we feed on him with thanksgiving. Here our whole world is reshaped around his Incarnation, his life, his death, his resurrection, and his ascension. Here we learn to glorify God by praying to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. If there is no response to the gathering and the proclamation of the Word, there is no worship. As we respond, our worship grows.

And then, at last, we are sent out. And as the hymn says, our end is our beginning. Because the gathering for our next service of worship starts over as we depart. The question that hangs over us is, “Will our worship continue?” Will we love our neighbor as ourselves? Will we glorify God always, and not just for an hour or so on Sunday morning? We will we live out the glory of God? Or will we worship the lesser gods of ourselves, our way of life, our money, our family, or our time? Worship hangs in the balance when we are sent out in peace.

We were created for worship. All creation was made for worship. Our chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. God alone is worthy of all our worship: May our lives and our lips ever glorify God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

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