The Heart of Worship
“But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” Luke 2:10
I love what my WELS Pastors have instilled in me about the worship life of the church. The simplicity of worship in a corporate setting (and even a personal one) always starts with God. In its simplest form, Worship is: God’s coming to us (in word and sacrament) and his people respond to him and to one another about him. If you are a lover of traditional worship settings, it is what the liturgy is all about. It is the formalization of quality biblical texts that have lasting value to the church for nearly 2000 years. It is God coming to us in his word, psalms sung about what he has done for us and how his faithfulness has impacted our lives. It comes from baptism when he comes to us with grace and reminds us repeatedly of the gift that was poured out to on us that grants faith and the capacity to even call him God and Father. It comes from Holy Communion, the union of body and blood that comes to us in a tangible form with the promise and strength of the Holy Spirit and the promised forgiveness of sins that both strengthens faith and reminds us of who Jesus is and what he’s done and the life he’s given us to share. We then have a chance to respond with sayings, prayers, songs and actions as we lift up united voices to proclaim that Jesus is Worthy of our praise because he was slain that we might receive the rights as a son.
One of the things, probably THE thing that separates Lutheran worship from others is the public opportunity to confess sin, a need for a Savior and the formalized profession of forgiveness of sins for those who confess and believe that Jesus is the Christ. The content of a Lutheran worship service includes the main key elements of Songs of Praise, Confession of Sin, Absolution of Sin, Confession of Faith, Reading and Hearing of God’s Word, A Law/Gospel message based on biblical text, Holy Communion, Baptism and Prayers. But just like the bible has everything to do with Jesus and how he fulfills the plans and desires of God, our worship also points to, lifts up, acknowledges and confesses who Jesus is, what Jesus did and is doing and the overarching message that without Jesus we are dead in sin, but were made alive because of the finished work of the cross. And now we have a new identity, a new heart, a new destination and a new purpose through this relationship that Jesus alone made possible. Worship is all about Jesus. It’s not about seekers, sinners and saints, it’s about Jesus and what his life and relationship with him means to and for seekers and sinners and saints.
So if many can agree that this is the primary purpose of Christian worship, why is the conversation about forms of worship so contentious in Lutheran settings (and many other denominations as well)? Great fear and concern over an erring of doctrine often is at the heart of the conversation, but is not always discussed openly and honestly. There is great fear and concern over divisions that may develop in the church and in families from different languages. There is the question of effectiveness for non-church people connecting to the Jesus we celebrate in our worship settings. The conversation brings concern and defensiveness over attendance and budget numbers as one church grows and another declines. There is often great fear and concern over past mistakes and perhaps the sins of others who have passionately and even with the right heart, led a church down a path that wound up costing them more than they thought it would. From the traditional and blended to the contemporary and modern service settings, fear and concern are a part of the conversation, but in my experiences, fear and concern are often what drives the heart and motive of the conversation.
And yet into difficult discussions comes the bible’s most quoted command of God – “do not fear”. Interesting that when we get our focus on “doing” church and worship we often get fearful and defensive. Perhaps it’s due to putting our focus on DOING church instead of the ONE we worship. And yet there it is… “Do not fear!”. In many respects it is the “so that” of the Gospel message. Jesus came, died for sin, rose to life, gives faith, and grants forgiveness – so that we do not have to fear. Hey Matthew… come follow me – do not be afraid. Hey Peter, yes you can walk to me on the water – do not fear! Jesus didn’t come to make bad people good, he came to make dead people alive and we have an awesome opportunity to share the peace and joy that comes from the Gospel in our worship settings. With that heart in mind here’s the next chapter.