First Presbyterian Church

Clarksburg, West Virginia
 Divine Worship
Christmas Eve Worship Services - December 24, 2013                   

7:00 pm      Family Friendly Service / Candlelight                                                                                                    
11:00 pm    Communion / Candlelight Service

Sunday Morning Worship Schedule:

 10:45      Our traditional Service for the Lord's Day

Liturgy for August 2, 2009 


On The Maintenance of Divine Worship

by the Rev’d. Susan C. McGhee

The Maintenance of Divine Worship is one of what our constitution calls “The Great Ends of the Church.”

When we say, “I’m going to Church,” we usually mean, “I’m going to worship.”

The Church was born in a burst of fire and wind at Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit empowered the followers of the risen Christ to go out and proclaim the gospel for the salvation of humankind.

But before we were Christians, we were Jews. Before we went to Church, we went to Temple. Jesus went to temple, and much of our order of worship is patterned  after the kind of worship that Jesus and the early disciples experienced.

The prophet Isaiah describes a stirring experience  of worship sometime around the year 742 BCE:
    In the year that King Uzziah died,
        I saw the Lord sitting on a throne,
        high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple.
    Seraphs were in attendance above him;
        each had six wings: with two they covered their faces,
        and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew.
    And one called to another and said:
        “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
        the whole earth is full of his glory.”....
    And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips,
         and I live among a people of unclean lips;
        yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”
    Then one of the seraphs flew to me,
        holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs.
    The seraph touched my mouth with it and said:
        “Now that this has touched your lips,
        your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.”
    Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying,
        “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”
        And I said, “Here am I; send me!”

As we read this passage a pattern emerges that informs the patterns of our present-day worship. There is a progression from
    1) adoration “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts”
    2) to confession “Woe is me, for I am lost”
    3) to forgiveness “your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out”
    4) to proclamation “I heard the voice of the Lord saying”
    5) then invitation “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”
    6) and finally to response “Here am I; send me!”

If we look at our worship bulletin, we see how this pattern is played out.

We come first with words and songs of adoration, which lead to the confession of our sin, the receiving of God’s forgiveness, and our sharing the peace of this forgiving God with one another. From there we listen to the Word proclaimed - first to the children among us, and then to all of us – through scripture, music and sermon.

The hope is that through this proclamation, we will, each of us and all of us, hear an invitation to live out our faith more fully. This invitation can lead us to a response,  to say, “Yes,” or “Here am I.”

Some of these responses we make every week. We respond with an affirmation of faith. We respond with our prayers for the church and the world. We respond with our offerings of treasure, talent and time. And we respond as we leave this place and go out into the world.

But the first and primary response that we as Christians make is the response made in baptism, when believers present themselves or their children for entry into the kingdom of heaven, the household of faith. Of course, God is the prime mover in baptism. God is the one who makes baptism possible. God is the one who incorporates us into the Body of Christ.

Yet God does not force this grace upon us; God makes it possible, but we are left with the freedom to choose. When parents choose to bring their children for baptism, they come to affirm their own faith yet again, to renounce the powers of evil, and cling to the promises of God made known to us through Christ Jesus our Lord.   

Parents, however, are not the only ones who act in this drama. We ourselves, the rest of us in the congregation, also have a part to play. Baptism is not a spectator sport. We do not simply watch this mystery unfold; we are called to be a part of it.

Baptism is part of the liturgy, and liturgy is a word that literally means “the work of the people.” Worship is, most accurately, the work of the people. The Church has a long history of forgetting that fact.

Nineteenth Century Danish philosopher, Sören Kierkegaard, once compared worship to a dramatic production.  In worship, it often seems as though the worship leaders are the actors and God is the prompter,  whispering in the leaders’ ears, telling them what to do next. The congregation sits back as the audience.

But Kierkegaard calls us to think about it a different way. In the drama of worship, he says, God is the audience,  those in the congregation are the actors, and the persons leading worship are the prompters, simply keeping the production going.  So when we come together to worship, we come, not to observe, but rather to participate in this grand drama, giving our very best to God.

And so we come as the Body of Christ for the great purpose of divine worship. We come, not primarily to “recharge our batteries” (although that may happen), not primarily to hear a good sermon (although that may happen), not primarily to listen to good music (although that may happen). The focus of worship is God, not we. We come to worship to bring our praises, to acknowledge our fallenness, to receive God’s mercy, to open ourselves to a new word, to hear in our hearts and minds the gospel invitation, and to respond in gratitude and faith.

It may be that this thing we call worship is not so much the production of a drama as it is a rehearsal. We come each Sunday morning to practice our faith, because we haven’t gotten it perfect , because we’re in this thing together, and because we all have important parts to play.
And maybe we’re not here for a drama at all, but rather we have come to participate in what Dante has called The Divine Comedy.  To say that it’s a comedy is not to say that everything is funny, or that everything is sweetness and light. We come here to participate in this Divine Comedy, because we know that Christ Jesus, risen from the dead, will have the last laugh over all that has threatened to undo us.

We come here because we know – because we are straining to believe – that, in the end, evil will not have the last word, and sin will not have the last word, and death will not have the last word.

We are here because we know – and are straining to believe – that the last Word is the first Word, the Word who existed before creation, the Word through whom all things were created, the Word who became flesh and joined creation.
We are here because Christ is here, because God is here, because the power of the Holy Spirit is here. We are here to immerse ourselves in the goodness of this God, to fall into the love of this God, to give ourselves over to the power of this God: rehearsing our faith, practicing the presence of God, allowing it to wash over us. We are here so that we – washed in the waters of baptism and nourished at the Table of our Lord –  may rehearse the Divine Comedy, stand with each other in times of tragedy, and give ourselves in praise and thanksgiving to the God who has held nothing back.

© 2003 by Susan C. McGhee. All rights reserved.

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