It Is Not About Us
Bishop Lindsey Davis
September 9, 2018
Psalm 34: 1-3
“I will extol the Lord at all times; his praise will always be on my lips. My soul will boast in the Lord, let the afflicted hear and rejoice. Glorify the Lord with me; let us exalt his name together.” NIV
“I bless God every chance I get; my lungs expand with his praise. I live and breathe God, if things aren’t going well, hear this and be happy. Join me in spreading the good news. Together let’s get the word out. God met me more than halfway—he freed me from my anxious fears.” The Message
A couple of weeks ago Jennifer and I took friends to Shakertown for lunch and a tour. The official name of the Shakers was—the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing. Started in England in the 18th century, the Shakers came to America and established villages in New England and eventually as far west as Kentucky and Indiana. They practiced a simple, celibate and communal lifestyle. The Shaker village near us was begun in 1805 and grew to 490 believers by the Civil War.
While we were there this time, we attended the demonstration of Shaker music and dance. The guide who was sharing with us got us totally involved. Now anyone who knows me knows that I am rhythmically impaired. But I gave it my best effort and I learned a few “fun facts” about their worship life.
- The Shakers focused on two central ideas about worship—the purpose of worship was to praise God and to connect with their community of faith. In other words, worship was focused on God and others—sisters and brothers in the faith.
- They spent time during the week preparing themselves for worship on Sunday. Within their family dwellings they practiced the songs they were to sing and they prayed for their leaders and the visitors who might attend. So, on Sunday they came to worship “prayed up” and ready—with the expectation that they were going to experience God’s holy presence.
- They believed that the Holy Spirit was going to be in their midst and that the length of the worship service did not matter. The Shakers kept personal journals—and recorded the length of Sunday worship—the shortest on record was 15 minutes—the longest was 23 ½ hours.
- The Shakers believed in repentance from sin and “shaking off” temptation thus accounting for their nickname and their ecstatic behavior during their worship dancing. They believed that the Kingdom of God was at hand so they needed to perfect themselves in love as an offering to God.
Next week, we start our new worship schedule and I’m not suggesting that we adopt Shaker worship practice (although it might be fun to try it just once). But what I am saying is that they got a lot right—especially concerning their attitudes about worship.
- They understood that worship was not about them and their preferences. It’s about praising God and surrounding their fellow members and guests with prayer and love.
A common refrain voiced near the exit door of churches across America is “I didn’t get anything out of that service.” “That song didn’t do anything for me” “I didn’t get ‘spiritually fed’ today”. Sound familiar—-I have been guilty of uttering some or all of these myself.
Wrong attitude—wrong spirit. It is like dry rot in a congregation. Friends, worship is not about you and I—not about getting our needs met—not about traditional, contemporary, or blended styles of worship—not about a performance from the pastor or the choir or the musicians. Worship is about giving glory to God. Self-centeredness destroys all worship.
But when we come with a Godly sprit—-a Godly attitude then the Holy Spirit shows up and can transform these moments—temptations can fade, sins can be forgiven, relationships can be healed. God’s Kingdom can come here and now.
- The Shakers prepared themselves for worship. They prayed for each other during the week so that they were ready to lift each other up to the Lord on Sunday. I have enjoyed sitting in the pew here since my retirement. After 38 years of non-stop sermon preparation, I enjoy hearing the messages of our pastor. Preaching is hard work and I deeply appreciate the hours of study and prayer that goes into the sermons we hear.
St. Luke has always been blessed with gifted musicians. (Sue Lord when I was here. Brent Merrit leads us now)
My job and yours is to pray for our pastors as they do this important task. We are called to undergird them and our fine musicians with prayer. (Peter and Insook Oh story)
Are we a praying church or not? There may just be room for improvement. It would not hurt us to wear out these altar rails. (Story about altar rails).
- We are American Methodist so time is an issue for us. It wasn’t for the Shakers and it’s not for most of the Christian world. When we go past the hour of conclusion people get antsy. I understand it but there is a word of caution for us and our culture. What if the Holy Spirit shows up during our final hymn?
- As we go into this time of change in our worship schedule, I hope and pray that we will rekindle a heart for worship to understand that worship is not about us—it’s about Jesus. I’m afraid that sometimes we come to worship with a critical spirit—evaluating everything in light of our own likes and dislikes. Friends, that is a deadly infection for any church. (Story of man with gift of criticism).
Instead we need to come with our hearts wide open to the blessings available to us. (Hispanic worship story)
“I need more” he said. So do I. I need more of Jesus and less of Lindsey. How about you?