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The Centrality of Worship ©

This coming Sunday night we will open the 109th gathering of the Central Texas Conference at First United Methodist Church in Hurst. Worship is central to who we are and what we are about. The Psalmist writes...

1 Shout triumphantly to the Lord, all the earth! 2 Serve the Lord with celebration! Come before him with shouts of joy! Know that the Lord is God—he made us; we belong to him.[a] We are his people, the sheep of his own pasture. Enter his gates with thanks; enter his courtyards with praise!
    Thank him! Bless his name!
Because the Lord is good, his loyal love lasts forever; his faithfulness lasts generation after generation.
Psalm 100

Bishop Janice Huie

This year we will be especially blessed to have one of the great preachers and leaders of the United Methodist Church bring the message at our opening service of worship, Bishop Janice Huie. And, then on Tuesday evening we will celebrate our service of Commissioning and Ordination. Every year, to my mind, the high point of our Annual Conference gatherings is the Service of Ordination.

In worship, we become more than we are. In worship, we declare our allegiance to God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In worship, we commit and recommit to the Lord’s leadership of our lives. In worship, we place ourselves before the Lord God.

In one of Bishop William Willimon’s best books, The Service of God: How Worship and Ethics are Related, Bishop Willimon comments, “We do not worship God in order to become better people. Christians worship God simply because we are God’s beloved ones. Christian worship is an intrinsic activity. But as we worship, something happens to us. The love we return in worship is, in turn, lovingly forming us for the better.” 

Wesleyans have long held the unshakable conviction that worship of God, in the fullness of the Holy Trinity, is the first and most basic aspect of Christian discipleship. In his famous sermon on the “The Means of Grace” John Wesley said, “Chief of these means are prayer, whether in secret or with the great congregation; searching the Scriptures (which implies reading, hearing and meditating thereon) and receiving the Lord’s Supper, eating bread and drinking wine in remembrance of him; and these we believe to be ordained of God as the ordinary channels of conveying his grace to the souls of men [and women].” (The Works of John Wesley, Volume 1, Sermons I, No. 16, “The Means of Grace”, Edited by Albert C. Outler, p. 381)

J. D. Walt has appropriately noted that “theology without doxology leads to ideology.”  Worship begins in doxology — in praise of God, for in praise we acknowledge who is Lord of our lives.

Worship, properly understood, is central to discipleship. Worship is at once both an “input” to discipleship formation and an “output” (or outcome) of discipleship. This is why the “metric” of average worship attendance is so critical to the WIG (the Wildly Important Goal) of making “disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”  The central role of worship as discipleship formation represents a significant change over the lifetime of my ministry (almost 45 years, I was ordained a Deacon in 1974). Back in the day of Christendom (whose sunset was in the 1980s), worship attendance was an almost taken-for-granted element of American culture. In fact, talk among clergy about putting “butts in the seats” was spoken of dismissively. In a Christendom culture, worship attendance was seen as being about cultural acceptability. In a post-Christendom era, worship is just the opposite. Attendance in worship is a sacrifice. It is a witness and declaration of allegiance and identity. It is a fundamental act of discipleship!

I can not help but remember the 7th grader at University UMC in San Antonio (where I was a pastor) who gave up a starring role on her soccer team voluntarily because she refused to practice on Sunday morning. The witness of Gold Medal Olympian Eric Liddell, as chronicled in the movie Chariots of Fire, offers profound insight into faithfulness. In our own Fort Worth neighborhood, on the way to worship on Sunday mornings, we are greeted by a virtual peloton of bikers speeding by headed in the opposite direction.

However, we understand the Christian faith, let there be no mistake. Worship is central to discipleship. Let the Word of the Lord speak into our lives and times. “All who call on the Lord’s name will be saved". [Joel 2:32]   So how can they call on someone they don’t have faith in? And how can they have faith in someone they haven’t heard of? And how can they hear without a preacher? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, How beautiful are the feet of those who announce the good news. [Isaiah 53:7].”(Romans 10:13-15)

I look forward to sharing together in worship. In the proclamation of the Word of the Lord by Bishop Huie, our sharing in prayer and music, we will together encounter the presence of the Holy Spirit!