Inspiring Worship

Psalm 100
Peace’s 5 Goals Series
Elizabeth M. Deibert

I got up at 4:30 Friday morning, drove to Tampa, flew to Charlotte, flew to Raleigh, then drove back through Charlotte in a 5 hour trip to Greenville, SC. My mom and I went to Family week-end at Furman University with daughter Catherine. Flights from Raleigh to Charlotte, Charlotte to Tampa, got me home last night after 11:00 pm. Why in the world would I do such a whirlwind trip? Because I love my mom and my daughter. And that was the best way to make them happy on an 84th birthday which coincided with a Family Week-end at college.

Do you know what makes God happy? Your joyful noise, your unceasing praise, your thanksgiving offering. Are you here to make God happy? I hope so, because if you’re here for other reasons, then you might not be able to sustain this activity. If you’re here to please somebody else, other than God, well that’s good, but ultimately it is between you and God – your worship. If you’re here to make connections with people, that’s good, because other Christians can help you to love God more, but I hope you’re here to make a connection with God. If you’re here to be entertained, well, you should probably go to a more entertaining church, because I’m hoping to inspire you but I’m not promising to be entertaining.

I hope you are here to say to God, “I love you and I want to serve you with my whole self.” If that’s why you are here, then great, and if you come with a half-hearted spirit about that, know that by being here, you are saying to yourself and to God, I want more fullness in my faith, in my trust, in my praise of God.

So here we are focusing once again – three times in one month – on the Psalms. Why so much preaching from the Psalter, the prayer book of the Bible? Because there’s so much there – so much of life – joy, despair, fear, anxiety, prayer, and praise. The Psalms touch the raw nerve of every human emotion and lead us back through expression of those emotions, to trust in God.

So I’m hoping if you have never been a student of the Bible, you’ll start soon with the Psalms. And if you haven’t been reading your Bible lately, I hope you’ll start soon with the Psalms. And if you think you’re a pretty good student of the Bible, I still hope you’ll pick up the Psalms again and allow these verses of scripture to shape your perspective on life.

Another reason for my choice of this text is that we doing a series on the five goals of Peace. You may have noticed that in recent weeks, as we have been in transition, we’ve spent a good bit of time with our faith statement and beliefs, our mission , our vision, and our five goals. One the first things we at Peace did as a new church, after I arrived as pastor, was establish core values, which now we call our goals. Worship, Relationships, Discipleship, Outreach, and Stewardship. But we needed to say more, so we added some adjectives. Peace’s goals are Inspiring Worship, Authentic Relationships, Nurturing Discipleship, Compassionate Outreach, and Responsive Stewardship.

Each week during this series we will hear from someone at Peace whose ministry team is engaged with the particular goal of the day. Today, we explore the first and foremost goal – inspiring worship. Mickey Miller will share during our Call to Discpleship what inspiring worship means to him. At Peace, our goal is to provide inspiring worship, centered in weekly Word and Sacrament and filled with music, prayer, and self-offering. We seek to challenge and comfort the members of Peace, while encouraging and welcoming all guests as children of God.

You know we’ve been busy trying to make this new place our home. And just like when you move houses, you feel a little disoriented, a little disgruntled, a little out of whack. So it has been for us here, much as we like this new home, we are still developing a sense of sanctuary in this place. It will feel more like home when we have worshiped here longer.

Psalm 100 provides a challenge and comfort to all of us – to worship God with gladness and fervor. It calls us to applaud God! To bring a gift of laughter, to sing ourselves into his presence. To really know that we are God’s children – to trust God deeply and make ourselves at home with God. Hear the word of the Lord:

Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth.

2 Worship the LORD with gladness;

come into God’s presence with singing.

3 Know that the LORD is God.

It is the Lord that made us,

and we belong to God;

we are God’s people,

and the sheep of God’s pasture.

4 Enter the gates of the Lord with thanksgiving,

and the courts of the Lord with praise.

Give thanks to the Lord,

bless God’s holy name.

5 For the LORD is good;

God’s steadfast love endures forever,

and God’s faithfulness to all generations.

Psalm 100 is divided into four parts. The first and third parts tell us how to worship, while the second and fourth parts tell us why.

How do we worship? We make a joyful noise. We worship with gladness. We come into God’s presence with singing. We enter with thanksgiving and praise. We give thanks and bless God’s name.

Why? Because the Lord is God. God made us. We belong to God. We are God’s people and the sheep of God’s pasture. The Lord is not just God, but the Lord is good. God’s steadfast love endures forever. God’s faithfulness to all generations.

Gerald and Bonnie Stephens, friends of ours, were Presbyterian missionaries to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In describing worship there, they said it was like being at a football game with your own team winning. The whole congregation was so excited about who God is and what God has done. They would sing and dance, cheer and clap, cry and shout. They were emotional with gratitude, gratitude overflowing for three hours without stop. Worship.

I’m not sure what it says about us that we are more emotional at a football game than over the goodness of God. Perhaps we see God as deserving a more dignified cheer? I guess that’s what a joyful noise is – a respectful shout out to God.

Saying things out loud is how we come to believe. We talk our way toward belief, or away from belief. Putting things into words is one of the best ways to grow in conviction. (Tom Long Testimony, p. 6) To participate in worship is to devote yourselves to the convictions of the faith. To be inspired in worship is to allow room for the Spirit of God to breathe in you. You know that taking in a breath is an inspiration. So to be inspired in worship is to breathe in God. It is to be open to receive God’s presence not only in your mind (the mind, a Presbyterian strong suit) but also in your heart and your soul, in your lungs and vocal chords, and even to receive God into your digestive tract. You are what you consume – mentally, emotionally, spiritually, physically.

When our kids were little, one of the things I found most difficult was dealing with the noise – the joyful noise of children. Squealing little girls and rowdy little boys. I must admit that with regard to these noises, I was a little like Mr. Grinch, who complains about all the noise, noise, noise! But Richard was quick to remind me of that the kids were simply expressing the joy of life. They were making a joyful noise.

It is that kind of care-free spirit to which God invites us. No worries kind of worship. Joyful worship. Child-like worship. Whether that happens for you with guitar, piano, or organ does not really matter because God is pleased when you rejoice, when you entrust your life, your whole life and all its concerns to the One who loves you most. The point is to let go, knowing you belong to God, your shepherd, who will take care of all your needs.

To make a joyful noise is not just about Sunday morning, it is to turn every moment of life into praise. Not cheap praise of God, but committed living for God, committed giving to God. To be joyful is to stand between your obligations and your pleasure, to weave them together fruitfully. When we live each day worshiping God, then we become our truest selves, not self-absorbed selves but Christ-like selves. Worship is what makes us see that world as it is meant to be seen, and turns us into the people we were meant to be. (thoughts gathered from several chapters inTom Long’s book, Testimony)

Are you in a worshipful relationship with God? When you throw down the covers each morning, are you entering God’s courts with praise? If not, then it will be hard for us to come together on Sunday for inspiring worship. Because I can do my best to bring my most inspiring self to worship—trying to prepare sermons and with staff and volunteers who work on worship preparation to select music and prayer and art which will inspire you. But you have a responsibility to bring your most inspirational self to worship too. When you share the peace, it is offering a true blessing of God’s grace. When you are responsive to the scripture and sermon, it is a genuine engagement with the God of our lives, who can breathe life into your exhaustion, your despair, you hopelessness, your frustration.

And while you may not be comfortable with a responsive style of preaching with the “amens” and “preach it sister” kind of encouragement, you do know that your nods, your smiles, your eyes, and your involvement in this service make a huge difference. When I look out and see unresponsive people – not singing, not engaging with the Word, it kills my spirit, which then in turn, affects all of us. We are mutually engaged in creating a worshipful experience here. When what happens in fellowship is totally inconsistent with what we affirmed about loving God and loving one another in worship, then it wounds the Holy Spirit in this place. We have a obligation to God and one another make this morning together, indeed all week together a worshipful experience, an inspiring (God-breathed) experience.

Our hymns of praise are not just optional pieces for exercising your voice. “They are not just songs to enliven our time together and enhance our mood. They are prayers, vows, declarations of faith and promises, expressions of worship and praise…” (Tom Long, Testimony, p. 53)
Worship is a language school. (T. Long, p. 54) It is a place where we are given a new vocabulary for understanding the world. We are trained to speak about a new reality. Your active participation makes that new reality come to life.

When Hazel Paul, Judi Steele’s mom died this week, her last words were a wonderful question: “Where’s Jesus?” Her final words reminded me of the final words of a little seven year-old girl, dying of cancer. In the room with the little girl were the hospital chaplain, more versed in psychology than in theology. Also in the room, the pediatric oncologist, knowing she has done all she could. And the agonized parents, who were given a wonderful gift in the last moments of this child’s life. Their daughter said, “Mommy, Daddy, can you see the angels? There they are. Aren’t they beautiful?” And then she died. The oncologist had previously called herself a post-Christian agnostic, but after this profound experience of grace with these parents, she said, “I now have a true witness to the truth. ” (This story from Tom Long’s book, Testimony.) This tragically untimely death of a child led her to life – to an understanding that God is good and that what we see is not all there is. We worship the God we cannot always see, but when one sees and witnesses to the truth, then we all see better, breathe easier, live more full lives. That’s inspiration.

Psalm 100 was my father’s favorite psalm. That why verse 4 is on his headstone. “Enter into his gates with thanksgiving and into his courts with praise.” We come to worship to be reminded by God’s inspiration here, through all of us, that all of life is an act of worship. Are you inspiring anyone here or out there? Your purpose in life is to do what the seven year old did for her oncologist – to witness to things not easily seen so that all people will know how great is the love of God, our shepherd.

(This sermon was inspired by the reading of Testimony, by Thomas Long, published by Jossey-Bass in 2004. I have tried to give ample credit where credit is due.)