|4:45pm||Sunday Organ Recital - Paul Carr|
Sermon preached on the Tenth Sunday after Trinity (9 August 2015) by The Reverend James Milne, Minor Canon and Sacrist
The Reverend James Milne looks at how worship transforms us and says "let us dedicate ourselves anew faithfully and constantly to offer worship to the one who made and sustains us, that God’s great act of creation may continue in our lives."
Psalm 91.1-12; Ecclesiasticus 43.13-33; Hebrews 12.1-17
The author of Psalm 48, whose words we have heard sung so beautifully this afternoon, declares that God is greatly to be praised in his city and on his holy mountain. This theme is taken up by Ben Sira, the author of the Book Ecclesiasticus, a portion of which we have also heard this afternoon. In his meditation upon the works of God in creation, Ben Sira, a native of Jerusalem who travelled the world, describes the wonderful and beautiful things that God has created and exhorts us to be faithful in offering our praise and worship. “Awesome is the Lord”, he writes, “and very great and marvellous is his power. Glorify the Lord and exalt him.”
His message is clear. When we meditate upon the falling snow, the frozen lake, the gathering mist, the little islands of our world and all the lurks beneath the surface of the sea, we cannot but be moved to offer praise and worship to the one who has created all this and much more besides.
But we would be wrong to suppose that our acts of worship are merely acts of homage through which we acknowledge our place in the created order. On the contrary, we are inspired by the wonder of creation to worship God so that we too might be transformed as wonderfully and as beautifully as the snow and frost transforms the fields and mountains of our homelands in the drab, dark days of winter.
The worship we offer transforms us. Through the engagement of all the senses we are taught what it is to be the people God calls us to be. When we hear harmonious songs filling a church with glorious sound we are taught that we are stronger when we work together. When we see people of every age and race gathered at the altar we are taught that all are equal in the sight of God. When we feel the hand of our neighbour upon our own we are taught that we are called to comfort and to care for each other in good times and in bad. When we smell the sweet flowers that often decorate our churches we are taught that this is a beautiful world to be cherished and enjoyed. When we taste the bread and wine of the Eucharist with those alongside whom we worship we are taught that the good things of this earth are to be freely and equitably shared.
But worship, like everything in the Christian life requires, as the author of the Letter to the Hebrews so clearly recognized, perseverance and discipline.
There are occasions when I, desiring to be a little healthier, embark upon a lengthy jog or a cycle ride. Afterwards I always feel virtuous, but when I stand on the bathroom scales and discover that I have not, as hoped, lost half a stone through my exertions, I become disheartened and return to my lazy ways. But of course, the benefit of exercise is cumulative and it is only when we “run with perseverance the race that is set before us”, to quote the author of the Letter to the Hebrews, that we attain the prize we seek.
The transformation of our lives through our participation in the worship of the Church is likewise attained through perseverance over time and through the support and encouragement of those alongside whom we pray. Alas, we often attend worship presupposing that every act of prayer and praise must be a moving and meaningful experience, and if we do not encounter God in a new and surprising way we are disappointed.
Such a mindset is particularly prevalent in an age in which visual effects are everything and the entertainments of past generations seem boring by comparison. But worship, though dramatic and life changing, should not be judged as if it were a movie or a play, but rather as an unending stream of praise and action into which are called to immerse ourselves and play our proper part. We come to Church “not to initiate worship”, to quote a former Dean of Lincoln, Colin Dunlop, “but to contribute to and be carried up by a worship which never ceases, the source and fountain of which lies in the eternal activity of Christ.”
Though such participation can sometimes feel the trial of which the author of the Letter to the Hebrews speaks, through perseverance and discipline “it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.” And so, inspired by the countless millions who have faithfully offered prayer and praise to God through the centuries in our Churches and Cathedrals, let us dedicate ourselves anew faithfully and constantly to offer worship to the one who made and sustains us, that God’s great act of creation may continue in our lives, and that those who look at us, in all our frailties and complexities, may likewise wonder at all that God can do. Amen.