Sermon–January 7, 2018


1 Epiphany

January 7, 2018

William Bradbury

Genesis 1:1-5, Psalm 29, Acts 19:1-7, Mark 1:4-11

Paul shows up in Ephesus, a great port city on the Aegean Sea, and finds some followers of Jesus. He’s looking for transforming worship, but he doesn’t find it. Was the worship flat and boring? Was it precious and smarmy? Was it pompous and proud? Whatever it was, it forces Paul to ask an arresting question: “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you first believed?” But they answer: we never even heard of a holy Spirit”–which explains everything because only Holy Spirit creates in us the ability to worship in deep and healing ways.

So the question for any church is, how do we know if our worship is man-made or Spirit-led? It is a crucial question many don’t want to face—especially clergy. Instead of asking if the Holy Spirit is leading our worship, we ask things like, are we using the proper liturgy and doing everything decently and in order.

We ask, “Is our church building ab attractive, warm space in which people will be comfortable?

These are good questions to attend to, but they are not the central question. The central question is this: Is the Holy Spirit present and leading us in worship?

So, how can we know? One sure clue we might be off track is when we are judging worship instead of surrendering to worship.

Say, you’re on vacation and you go to the local Episcopal Church and after the service starts your inner voice says, “The choir sounds thin and off-key and the hymns are way too slow. And the voice in the head says: I’ll give it 4 out of 10.

And then comes the sermon and you hear in your head my father’s punchline to one of his favorite jokes: “there were only three things wrong with that sermon: the priest read it, he didn’t read it well, and it wasn’t worth reading—I’d give it 2 out of 10.

When we are judging worship, or anything else for that matter, it means we are no longer directly experiencing it, for now we are standing on the outside looking at it. We’ve got the butterfly pinned to the table as we dissect it. It’s also possible to dissect worship when we give the choir and preacher each a 10. What matters isn’t the score but our participation.

It’s the difference between being an Olympic judge of figure skating and being a fan. The judge must separate herself emotionally and pay attention to skating details, while the fan gives herself to the whole experience—and is moved by a performance even if the skater falls down.

When we notice we are in judging mode, which is our default setting, we can gently let it go and slip into worship mode.

 So what is it to be in worship mode?

Evelyn Underhill, writing in the early 20th century England, says that true worship starts with Adoration. Adoration is when we are swept away by the mystery and mercy of God.

Scholars believe the opening verses of Genesis we heard this morning were used in the liturgy of the Temple as a way to draw the heart and mind into adoration: “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good.”

When we imagine that being read as an act of adoration, then the words of Psalm 29 today would make sense:

“And in the temple of the Lord *
all are crying, “Glory!”

Parents know adoration when looking at their sleeping child. The heart is touched by a Reality so much greater than they have the words to express. We don’t create adoration so much as adoration rises up within us.

Sunday worship is intended to call us out of judging mode and into adoration.  This can happen at a formal prayer book Eucharist at 8 Amor at a Holiness Camp Meeting down by the river.

But Underhill says there is also a necessary second movement, which is the movement of surrender, or self-giving, or the word she prefers: “Sacrifice.”

We begin to experience a personal response to the One whom we adore.

At the end of his call to be a prophet through a mind-blowing vision in the Temple Isaiah hears the Divine voice ask:

“Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”

And Isaiah says, “Here am I; send me!”

For parents adoring their child this response hits us when we realize that we love this child so much that we gladly surrender ourselves completely for their protection and nurture.

This self-giving surrender to God completes the circuit of worship and shows that Spirit is truly flowing through us.

When Paul realizes Holy Spirit has not been in charge of worship in Ephesus, he baptizes them into the Lord Jesus and  prays for the Holy Spirit to come upon them. Then, they adore God with their voices and give themselves to Jesus with the offering of their lives by proclaiming the mighty acts of God which is what it means to prophesy.

So where do we find Holy Spirit?

John the Baptist says, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me….I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

So where and when does Jesus baptize us with the Holy Spirit? Episcopalians might say we received the Spirit when we are baptized. Evangelicals might say we receive the Spirit when we confess our faith in Christ Jesus. Both of these responses are true.

Biblically, though, we can say it is when Jesus–who is fully connected to God and fully connected to humanity–when Jesus receives the Holy Spirit then we all receive Spirit in him. His experience becomes our experience.

This means that the words Jesus hears are also words spoken to us in Him:

In Christ each of us hears our Creator say: you are my beloved and with you I am well pleased. We are the child being loved by our Heavenly Father!

That’s not just Jesus’ story, for in Him that is also our story. And as we trust God is really speaking those words of unconditional love to us, then adoration comes, not one hour a week, but frequently every day. And our response of service back to God is to look for ways to love our neighbor in every place we go.

Therefore—if you are of a mind to make New Year’s resolutions then consider this: the first thing to resolve this year is to practice trusting in Jesus Christ and that in Christ you have been filled with the Spirit and that you are God’s beloved—whether you fail to keep any of your resolutions.

We are filled with the Spirit of Jesus and accepted by God even when we fail to go to the gym, or break an addiction, or lose weight….

So in this new year, let us resolve to move from judging to worship: To adore Jesus Christ for living his life of sacrifice for us, and torespond, by offering ourselves back to Christ.

So we can learn how to love with the fierceness with which we have been loved by God.