Holy Habits Reconsidered: Worship Acts 2: 36-47

How many of you have been part of worship and had a genuine encounter with God; producing lasting results?  We usually think of revivals when we think of those kinds of experiences.  Unfortunately, the word revival comes with some modern baggage.  The word “revival” is a good word.  It comes from a Latin word meaning “to bring back to life.”  The image is a person wandering in the desert and they stumble upon an oasis and they’re revived.  The history of faith is a series of revivals.  God gave the world life at creation.  Sin chipped away at that life and we grow stale in faith.  Along comes someone or something to remind us it is God who gives life.  That reminder revives new life by the power of the God.

The Spirit of God has been at work since Genesis.  Yet, it seemed the Spirit had taken a 400-year hiatus prior to Christ coming.  The time was ripe for a revival of the Spirit when Jesus made his exodus from the grave after Passover.  The Jews were gathered in Jerusalem for the festival to celebrate the giving of Law on Mt. Sinai to Moses.  At Pentecost, the Spirit revives a slumbering generation as they were thanking God for the external guidance system of the Law.  God’s Spirit becomes the internal guidance system.  This was a moment revival and things changed dramatically.

The disciples were huddled together in a upper room again, and a sound like a hurricane blew through the room.  Tongues of fire rested on each head; they spoke in other languages.  They begin to tell of what God had done through Jesus.  People thought they were drunk.  Peter denies it.  Using no theater, he tells the history of Israel in sermon lasting no longer mine;.  He concludes by telling Jesus is the fulfillment of Israel’s history.  It must have seemed like Peter was trying to pin the blame when he delivers his punch line; accusing each of them of being guilty of the death of Christ.  These people were not in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus death.  They accept judgment; their past makes sense and they have reason to trust in their future.  They ask, “What should we do?”

“What should we do” is the Pentecost question  It is also the question we ask in worship as we re-enact the story of salvation.  Each week, we speak and sing of the rhythms of life, death and life again.  Each of us should ask the Pentecost question-“What should we do?”

People think the worship question is “What is in it for me?.”   Worship is not about our personal preferences.  There is no evidence at Pentecost they griped about not knowing the hymns or understanding the preacher’s sermons.  We do not enter into this place daring worship leaders to make us feel good.  Those who plan and lead worship do their part to make worship as meaningful.  In the end, each of us is responsible for the worship experience. There is a church in Houston decided they would take serious the word liturgy, which means “the people’s work,” and decided that even when worship did not suit their personal preference they reminded each other each Sunday, someone else may be being saved.

Worship asks for a response to the activity of God’s saving work because we’re telling a scandalous story.  We’re declaring something fundamentally has changed in our existence because of the story of salvation.  We believe anyone can be changed who hears and responds to the old, old story.   It happens in worship when we take responsibility for what we do upon hearing the story again; placing our lives under the power of Christ’s death and resurrection.  None should leave here after hearing again this life changing story and say “Not much happened in church today”.

We like to tell stories that locate us in the broader stream of history.  When something big happens, we share where we were and what we felt.  These events cause us to regale others with the story.  We have done recently; telling again where we were when the towers went down.  Will you regale others with tales of the morning worship while we’re downing Sunday lunch.  Or will we leave here having gone through the motions of worship again, unable to on Monday to remember what happened on Sunday.

Things happen each Sunday that look similar to any day.  It’s not unusual to see people gather in large groups all over our city.  It is a little unusual to see people singing in a large group, but we see it when national anthem is sung or at a concert.  Preaching is its own form of discourse, but it can look like a stump speech.  The reason outsiders wonder why we waste our time here on a Sunday morning is sometimes we make it look like what we do each week is no different than what we do the rest of the week.

So how do we claim what happens in worship is dissimilar to what happens in a public gathering.  We can’t make that claim if we make worship a showcase for the activity of the church; celebrating more about what we are doing than what God is doing.  We can’t make that claim if treat worship as a tool for attracting lots of people; like filling the seat of a football game.  We can’t make that claim if we expect worship to make us feel better about our lives; denying the reality that real growth comes from facing real truth.  Worship that is about congratulating us for great activities, jamming halls with people, or making people feel good is not unique.

At times I don’t think we fully consider the power we blithely invoke.  There are Sundays, when I feel like we’re children who don’t realize we’re playing with a batch of TNT that could blow us up.  We wear straw and velvet hats, when we should be wearing crash helmets.  Ushers should issue life preservers, signal flares; and lash us to our pews if we fully appreciate the life-changing power in this story.  We should ask, what are we to do?

Watch this video and consider what should you do in worship as you respond to the retelling of salvation’s story?

When fishing on the flats, the tide can go out quickly and you are stuck in the mud.  Humans cannot budge the boat.  Not until the tide returns is the boat freed.  The tide accomplishes what human power can’t.

The spirit can accomplish what humans cannot in worship.  We have to be willing to be shaken out of our mundane ways of worship.  The spirit of Pentecost can blow into our worship if we come ready to hear the story of salvation; expecting God to unleash power.  We can experience God transforming lives in worship if we will set aside our preference and take personal responsibility why we are here.

The first way we take responsibility in hearing of salvation’s story is to spend our week making strangers friends; telling them about the power of Christ’s story in your life.  It begins with a  witness.  The second way we to take responsibility in hearing salvation’s story is by devoting ourselves to word and fellowship.  It continues as we nurture our faith.  The third way we take responsibility in hearing salvation’s story is by letting go and generously sharing our lives with all in need.  It always ends with stewardship.  We will reconsider those next two habits in the coming weeks.  None of us this just happens.  It occurs when we take serious our personal responsibility in worship each week.

I was playing golf and came up on a par three requiring a perfect shot to a green surrounded water and growth.  A marshal said hit one more club than we might think.  I thought his advice was misguided.  I used an eight instead of seven.  I hit a good shot but it fell into a watery grave.  I tried his advice on my third shot and hit a seven iron, and landed squarely on the green.  The marshal shot back: “I can’t hit’em for you, that is your job.”

Worship is the job of each of us. It always involves answering the Pentecost of question:  “What should we do?”  If we will take that seriously, then when someone asks at lunch, “What’s happened at a church today?  We can say, “Let me tell you; something life changing happened today at First United Methodist Church Irving today!

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