What Does Passionate Worship Mean to Me?”

By Karen Schwartz

The Psalms113 -- Praise for Exalting the Humble

Praise ye the LORD.
Praise, O ye servants of the LORD,
praise the name of the LORD.

Blessed be the name of the LORD
from this time forth and for evermore.

From the rising of the sun
unto the going down of the same
the LORD's name is to be praised.

The LORD is high above all nations,
and his glory above the heavens.

Who is like unto the LORD our God,
who dwelleth on high,

“What Does Passionate Worship Mean to Me?”

I am passionate about so many things…

I love my family – five kids – dearly.

I love my farm – seven generations – sincerely.

I love to read…I love to hunt mushrooms…I love to play volleyball…I love history… I love to attend and put on plays…I love rock music…I love watermelon…I love to be outside…I love to plant flowers…I love to write…I love the Fair…I love to shop at Goodwill…I love Mark Twain, Edgar Allan Poe and Sherlock Holmes…I love to learn new things…I love to kayak…I love to teach…

Wow…that was easy…In the space of less than one minute, I was able to rattle those passions off without any hesitation. These seemingly superfluous preferences represent core level, instinctive passions.

But, when considering the topic, “What Does Passionate Worship Mean to Me?” that’s a completely different experience on many levels. Do I love worship? Am I passionate about the worship service? Well… I enjoy it when the preacher plays the guitar, I like putting on “Charlie Brown Christmas,” I feel positive about being a greeter… but am I passionate about the church experience? Well… when you get right down to it… That’s a much more difficult quandary requiring deliberate, intentional examination…

What does passionate worship mean to me? I think many times the two terms – passion and worship – are viewed as a non sequitur. We often don’t see any connection between the two. Conversely, the two terms seem to be at odds with each other. To get in touch with my feelings about passionate worship, I decided to approach the topic from two perspectives. On Saturday, I snatched a brief moment of respite and made a private journey to my empty church. The next day, as usual, at 10:00 am on Sunday morning, I attended regular worship services. The point of the visits was not to compare and contrast the two experiences, but rather to investigate and clarify the elements of the church scenario that are vitally important to me.

I thought it might prove useful to have a framework on which to hang my observations, so I designed a quick P-A-S-S-I-O-N chart. While these letters certainly do not encompass all the components of the worship experience, they do serve as a graphic organizer to help me organize my thoughts on worship. As a result of this narrowly focused scrutiny, I truly believe the anagram analysis helped me sort through my feelings concerning the significant portions of my worship experience.

“P” has to be for Peace. On Saturday afternoon, I found incredible peace as I sat silently in the quietude of the deserted church sanctuary. No communication with fellow worshippers, no music, no distractions – just meditation about what worship in this church means to me. This little white church has stood as a beacon in the valley since Indiana’s earliest days. Ironically, the foundation stones for our church came from the still house of William Henry Harrison, an early settler, who went on to become the ninth president of the United States. Since its inception as a German Reform Church in the mid 1800s, then evolution through the mergers, first as the Evangelical United Brethren, then United Brethren and ultimately United Methodist, faith marches on at Fountain.

“A” represents the altar. This is particularly significant to me because three years ago our historic church was flooded (We barely missed a repeat performance this spring.) The congregation, community and the conference came together to help us rebuild. This year, we were successful in reinstalling the altar. I don’t think we realized how much we had missed this piece of wood. Now that it is back in its rightful place, it seems to call out to me every week, especially when we take communion. I feel as if we all need to kneel and gather together at the altar to draw strength from one another.

The next pair of letters -“S” and” “S” form the backbone of most traditional worship services. The first “S” represents scripture. The best definition I have heard of the words from the Bible come from the Junior Bible Quiz definition, which is the first piece of knowledge that every student had to master before moving on to the next level. The comprehensive definition is given as: “The Bible is the inspired word of God and his revelation, to man of himself and his plan of salvation.” This rhythmic definition pretty much sums up our rock solid faith in the written word inspired by God. The quote has stuck with me for a lot of years, considering that my oldest son is now twenty-five years old.

The second “S” represents song. Singing is an integral part of the worship experience for me. I can’t begin to express how much the old familiar hymns mean to me. God has blessed me with the talent to remember all the virtually all verses to all those old hymns I grew up singing. I often feel sympathy for the worshippers who feel they have to keep their noses hidden deep within their songbooks. I feel incredibly free to belt out the songs, not well, but always with the gusto that expresses how I feel about praising the Lord. It’s not a performance, but an act of praise.

“I” is for inspiration which resides in the Bible especially in that most awe-inspiring “I” book, Isaiah. Although I passionately enjoy every part of the Bible, I am especially partial to Isaiah. Isaiah Chapter 3 gives us the perfect template for the inspired way we should live our lives: “Come let us go up to the mountains of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” Another favorite is “Isaiah 9:6 “For unto us a child is born…” All our hope springs from that verse.

“O” is a line item straight off our church bulletin. Following the Children’s Sermon, we always share Our Joys and Concerns. We begin by sharing the triumphs and good times of the week. These range from generic “Glad to be here!” to the smallest triumph, such as losing a tooth or winning an award. This is immediately followed by the concerns of the people, where the corporate body of the church unites together in prayer for those who need support in times of ill health, either physically or mentally. This is a vital component of the worship ceremony as we demonstrate our concern for one another.

“N” represents new life. Coincidentally, this was the topic of our minister’s sermon this morning. All of the above mentioned items – the peace, the altar, the songs, the scriptures, our joys and concerns and even inspiration and Isaiah, don’t mean anything without the new life which we have through Jesus Christ. Jesus died on the cross. That’s what this is all about! Last week was Easter, but don’t lose the feeling. Instead, grasp the message. Christ is risen indeed.

Christians today face the same dilemma which confronted the early disciples…Just as Andrew Lloyd Weber voiced in “Jesus Christ Superstar,” incredulously they sang,“This was unexpected – What do I do now? Could we start again please?” The early Christians were terrified for their future. Jesus gave them, and Christians today, overwhelming power through his resurrection. We have the new life breathed on us by the risen Christ. Jesus has given us the power to share the good news of our new life through Jesus Christ. Easter’s not over. The challenges of our daily lives are still there, but so is the risen Christ.

Sadly, this clash – between religion and society - is a perfect embodiment of what’s gone wrong with today’s world. How did the two – religion and our daily life experiences - ever get separated, compartmentalized? In our minutely scheduled, restrictive view, we have our religious experiences on Sunday (with possibly a Wednesday night service, Holy Week, hymn sing or midnight service) thrown in. The rest of the time, we are definitely of this world. Paul calls us to be in this world, not of this world, but we think we don’t have time for that. Again, how did this happen?

I remember a book I read back in the seventies. It was one of the most memorable and influential readings I did in college. The title was “Black Elk Speaks.” (It wasn’t even my assignment – it was my sister’s, but I truly can’t recall anything I was ever required to read that made such an impact on my life.) I distinctly remember Chief Black Elk’s skepticism about the White Man’s religion (among myriad other things.) For Black Elk and his people of the Sioux Nation, all of life was a circle. There was no distinction between his everyday life and what he did to “be” religious. His life was his religion and his religion was his life. It was all one eternal, seamless loop.

Somehow that circle has been broken down into categories in today’s modern society. Monday through Friday, we dash through our work week from 9-5, then rush from activity to activity after a full day of work or school. We live for the weekends and Saturday is classified as either our catch up on chores and/or relax day or, often, both. It is, indeed, the proverbial, frazzling rodent race.

But on Sunday, everything is different. On the Sabbath, we act THIS way. It’s like the old children’s tune,

“This is the way we go to church, go to church, go to church. This is the way we go to church so early in the morning.”

Now, this is the way we act at church…We pray, we sing, we dress “nicely,” we listen quietly, we respond appropriately to the preacher’s jokes, we drop some money in the collection plate… If we’re feeling especially “holy,” we may even go to Sunday School. We’re all anxious to share our spiritual insights and feelings within the safe confines of our “religious” harbor.

As soon as services are over, it’s, “See you next week.” We say it orally to our fellow parishioners but we are also, maybe even subconsciously, saying it to the Bible, the church, prayer and the application of religious principles in the context of our daily life. Our religious calling is replaced with, “We’re just too busy…I’ve just got too many things to do.” This makes me think of another children’s song, “Are you too busy?”

“Are you too busy, too busy, to read your Bible and pray? Then you’re too busy, too busy, much too busy I’d say!”

One of the major changes I have seen in society in the last few years is that many events - sporting competitions, school functions and other social activities are actually held on Sundays these days. Elementary basketball practice at 3:00 pm on a Sunday afternoon seems just a bit much for me. My school secretary told me she wouldn’t be able to get together with her family on Easter because her granddaughter, an elementary student, was participating in a volleyball tournament on Easter Sunday! In fact, one of our local elementary schools had “School Pride Night” on Maundy Thursday this year. I was shocked, but I don’t know why I should be. (We skipped the school event. I went to Holy Week services, but my ten year old went to Tae Kwon Do. Obviously, I certainly am not in a position to judge anybody, because, I too, am a practitioner!)

So, what’s the answer? How do we get back on track?

I truly believe the first place to start is with our children. I remember when my oldest son was young, it suddenly occurred to me that he knew all the nursery rhymes, all the Dr. Seuss books, and many of the other pre-requisite children’s classics, but did he know the Bible as well? I remedied this discrepancy by acquiring a copy of the “Beginner’s Bible” and we studied that intentionally. I carefully avoided classifying the material as religious reading vs. reading for “fun.” I know those lessons are still ingrained within my children’s consciousness.

Christian of all ages should take the same approach. Going to church on Sunday morning should not be a separate activity, disengaged from the rest of our existence…It shouldn’t be just something that we do…It should be something that we passionately want to do. But our religious experience shouldn’t end there. It should carry with us throughout the week and throughout our lives.

I heard an interesting statistic on the radio this morning during my morning commute to school the other morning. The commentator announced that we forget eighty percent of what we learn on any given day. At first, this percentage seemed somewhat surprising, but I suspect the retention statistics for sermon material might be even lower than twenty percent,

. So, what did your preacher talk about last week? Many of us would be hard pressed to come up with the title without consulting last week’s bulletin. This is in no way intended as a slap at my minister – his sermons are great! No, I’m the problem.

We’re often just not ready to shut the world out and focus on the worship experience. The middle school students I teach are convinced that they are the masters of multi-tasking. I, on the other hand, contend that, although they may be able to do many things simultaneously, they do not do any of them well. The same holds true for the rest of us. Not just on Sunday – not just during church activities, not just when we are feeling spiritual. We ARE spiritual!

I would like to close with the words from the song “From the Rising of the Sun…” which gives us the parameters for exactly when we should praise God…

“From the rising of the sun,

To the going down (of the same)

The Lord’s name…Is to be praised.”

In other words – All the time!