It’s Sunday morning.
According to the Pew Research Center, even though 77% of adults in Iowa claim the Christian faith, only 36% of those people commit to going to church worship at least once a week.
Another 33% attend anywhere between twice a month to a few times a year.
If we are generous with our numbers, maybe half of Des Moines is not participating in a religious worship service this morning.
So what are your friends and neighbors doing?
They’re sleeping in. Or at softball games. They are relaxing on the porch with the newspaper. Or at brunch at one of the many amazing restaurants in the city. They are traveling back home after being away tailgating at a game yesterday.
I see your wheels turning. Those things sound amazing! Why didn’t I do those things? Why didn’t we stay home today?
I’m going to share with you a confession.
When I stepped away from congregational ministry to lead Imagine No Malaria, I didn’t go to church every single Sunday.
I traveled, preached, and led worship in churches on Sundays all across the state, but when I actually had the chance to be home, the temptation to actually be home and not go to worship was real.
And here is something I discovered. The more I stayed away, the easier it was to stay away.
I felt less guilty about it, not more. Honestly, I didn’t really even think about it.
But on those Sundays a couple times a month when I was back in a church, I realized how disconnected from God I had been.
Why do we worship?
Is it out of habit? Obligation?
Do we come on Sunday mornings to be fed and renewed?
Are we here to gain God’s favor? Or to hang out with those people who have the same beliefs as us?
In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he addresses the divisions in the community and how focusing our attention on God transforms every aspect of our life.
As the end of chapter 11 states in the Message translation:
Is there anyone around who can explain God?
Anyone smart enough to tell [God] what to do?
Anyone who has done [God] such a huge favor that God has to ask their advice?
Everything comes from [God];
Everything happens through [God];
Everything ends up in [God];
Always glory! Always praise!
Yes. Yes. Yes.
If that is God… the beginning and end of everything… what does it mean to worship?
It means, according to Paul, that we honor and praise God by putting our very lives into God’s hands… by discovering who God has created me to be and then by responding out of love.
Hear again our scripture for this morning from the Message translation
So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what [God] wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.
The time we spend in worship is about honoring God by being in relationship with God.
And you know what… relationships take work. They take time and energy. It is hard to be in a relationship with someone you don’t spend any time with.
When we gather to worship, we are saying that God is the focus of our attention, our energy, our time, our life.
It is about living out the commandment to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength.
In worship, we encounter the living God and allow that encounter to shape everything else.
Worship has nothing to do with you. Worship isn’t about the songs you sing or the money you put in the offering plate. It isn’t about your preferences or desires. Worship reminds us that all of it… our time, our energy, our money, our voices… they aren’t ours to begin with. Everything begins with God… everything ends with God… It all belongs to God already.
And the more time we spend with God in worship, the more we realize that worship is not about what we do for God: an obligation, a responsibility, a duty… but worship is about what God does for us.
As Paul writes in this chapter of Romans, “the only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and what God does for us… Each of us finds our meaning and function as a part of [the body of Christ].”
Lisa Gungor, the singer/songwriter says – “It’s hard to truly worship and not be changed. When we are connected with our Maker, we are pulled outside of our self; we begin to live for something more. Love is the reaction to [encountering God in worship]” (http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/worship/features/25684-whats-the-point-of-worship)
And the opposite is true, too… when we are disconnected from God… when we don’t worship, then we start to turn inward on ourselves and our world becomes much smaller.
When I chose not to spend time in worship, I found myself distracted by the world’s values and temptations. There was even a time when I doubted my call… when I started to think that I could get a job doing something outside the church and just walk away and never look back.
I was forgetting what God had done for me.
How could I just walk away from that? How on earth was that part of the great commandment to love God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength?
I wasn’t part of a community, a part of a worship experience that reminded me of who God was and who God created me to be.
That’s what those people sitting next to you in the pew are for… to remind you. To tell you the story again and again. To hold that truth sacred, even if you forget it.
That’s what worship is about… It is rediscovering, over and over again, who God is and who God created us to be and responding to the good news of God’s love by being those people.
Worship in its fullest sense is about far more than simply showing up for an hour on a particular day of the week.
Worship is about taking those everyday, ordinary parts of our life… the sleeping, eating, going-to-work, walking- around life, and letting God have control of them. Letting God’s power fill them. Letting God’s love shape them. Every moment. Of every day.
All throughout this series on discipleship, we are recognizing that this journey of following of Jesus isn’t easy.
We all start in different places… like the servants in the parable who each had a different set of talents.
And the same is true of our worship experiences.
I know this room has people who fall in that category of the 33% of Iowans who only come to worship once a month or a few times a year. And I am so glad you are here today.
I know this room has people has people who show up faithfully for church every Sunday, but who are simply going through the motions and don’t ever expect to really encounter God here.
And there are people who not only show up, but bring with them the willingness to be transformed and changed through this time.
There are people in this room who not only worship on Sundays, but take time to be with God through worship and devotions in your homes and families.
I’m so glad that all of you are here.
Wherever you are… whatever has brought you to this place… you have a chance to take the next step.
You don’t have to go from attending church once a month to doing a daily devotion tomorrow. God doesn’t expect that of you. But God does invite you to take one more step. To take one step closer. To grow in your ability to love God, to serve God, to open your heart in prayer to God.
And God would love for you to take just one more step deeper in your faith life. To take the next step from wherever you are. To let go of just a little bit more… because it’s all God’s anyways…