from St Faith's
Living and Worship
Fr Neil Kelley, Sunday
24th February, 2008
What you would say is missing from our worship? I think there are three
things lacking in our worshipping life and I want to think a little
about them this morning.
There is a saying of the desert Fathers: “He who loses gold or silver
can find more to replace it, but he who loses time cannot find more.
We are slaves to time. In Africa they say “In the West you have watches
but we have the time”.
I don’t know about you but I am a very, very busy and important person.
I have many demands on my time and quite frankly I can’t afford to
waste any! I have so much to do, most of it is important. It’s not that
God isn’t important but does he really need so much of my time?
In his essay “Here and Now” the writer Henri Nouwen says:
“One of the tragedies of our life is that we keep forgetting who are
and waste a lot of time and energy to prove what doesn’t need to be
proved. We are God’s beloved daughters and sons, not because we have
proved ourselves worthy of God’s love, but because God freely chose us.
It is very hard to stay in touch with our true identity because those
who want our money, our time, and our energy profit more from our
insecurity and fears than from our inner freedom”.
Do those words ring true for any of you or for your life? What is
missing from our worship? Time – very often. Just think about your
reaction when it is one of those Sundays when…
The Readings are too long – of
course the Bible is important but do we really need so much of it…? The Sermon goes on for15 minutes –
very interesting perhaps, but my life is actually OK and I have no
intention whatsoever of being changed in the slightest by anything
anyone could say, no matter how clever or sincere…. Prayers…. We know what is wrong in
the world and I expect God does too… why do some people turn the
prayers into a mini essay or second sermon? Honestly, haven’t they
Sunday lunch to cook…? Sunday School….
We must smile at the children and encourage them, yes, of course, but
so long as they don’t keep us from getting to the end of the service on
time…. Music – it’s one of
those days when the choir gives us a performance…. I like hearing them
sing a setting but it does take a while.
Are you the sort of person who gets twitchy if we haven’t finished by
12noon? Or are you happy and content to give your time in praise of the
Lord? Think about it…. If we give 1hr a week to worship that is 0.59%
of a week. However if the Sunday service takes an hour and a half, then
that means we are giving God 0.89% of the week. He doesn’t need it does
How much time is it worth giving to God? We never give God as much as
1% of our week in Sunday morning worship and yet we still begrudge
giving Him too much at times? I would say Time is one thing lacking in
Sense of expectancy
We are very clever these days: computers can do wonderful things,
particularly when it comes to putting service sheets together. Not only
can we print words of hymns and readings but we could, in fact, print
the sermon in full on the service sheet too. Of course a very serious
point which needs to be made is that for those who have little or no
ability to hear what is said in church, words on the page are a
But as is often the way there is a downside to many good things. One
such downside, I believe, is that we have lost a sense of expectancy in
worship. I often glance around the church while the readings are being
read and all I see is tops of heads. We bury our heads in service
papers and watch the words rather than listen to the words these days…
except this morning, that is, and that was to make a deliberate point.
When did you last listen to a reading without knowing what was coming.
I am not saying that having the readings to follow is wrong – please
don’t misunderstand me. In his Four Quartets, T.S. Eliot says We had
the experience but missed the meaning…
We might say, We saw the words, but failed to hear them. And of course
if we don’t really hear them, there is little chance we can act upon
Have we given up expecting anything from silence…. This could take a
whole sermon in itself…Silence before mass – for other people and in
any case, we don’t come here for that! If we have given up expecting
anything in worship then why are we bothering to keep this building
afloat? It is as if we want the building to be used for everything but
silence and prayer!
Don’t underestimate the time given to prayer, even when it feels like
we are talking and not being heard. Sometimes the answer to prayer is
not that it changes life, but that it changes you.
The last thing I would suggest is missing in our worship is money! The
writer Peter Gomes says that money, among Christians is a bit like sex.
We know we need it but we don’t like to make too much of it in public!
Do you recall the hymn “Take my life and let it be?” I wonder if any of
you stop singing when we get the offending lines? What do we think we
are doing when we sing:
Take my silver and my gold, not a mite would I withhold?
Do we sing it and place all we have on the plate? Or do we not sing
that verse? Or, do we sing it with no intention of doing what we say!
It’s amazing how us clever and intelligent people can say or sing
things in worship we have no intention of actually doing!
The American writer I mentioned, Peter Gomes, says…”Historically, most
Protestants in the West, particularly in the United States but
certainly also in England, have simply refused to accept that what
Jesus and the New Testament have to say about wealth has anything to do
…”wealth is not what you have; wealth is what you have been given that
enables you to give to others.”
…”how one uses wealth in this life will have significant consequences
in the life to come, and that is important because the life to come
lasts longer than this one”.
We know we need money, the treasurer tells me we need £2,095 each
week of 2008 to meet the costs we know of! You don’t need me to tell
you we don’t get anywhere near that. If everyone on the electoral roll
put £19 per week on the plate we would be OK…. but we don’t for
But hang on, you say, this sermon is about worship, not money! I think
that is part of the problem of our financial situation is that we see
money as something divorced from worship. Worship is about offering the
best we can to God and it is about offering what God deserves too. That
doesn’t just apply simply to music, or flowers, or well-rehearsed
ceremonial, but our whole being.
We actually don’t speak the truth when it comes to worship and money.
We often say, there simply isn’t enough money, we are short of it.
Visit Malawi and Sierra Leone, then try and say that we are poor!
What we don’t have the courage to say is that there is plenty of money,
we just choose to spend it on things other than the Church! That’s the
uncomfortable raw truth. Yes we live in an expensive world and the cost
of living doesn’t get any easier for any of us. But somehow we find
money for the things that are really important to us… it’s just that
the Church doesn’t necessarily come top of the list. Let’s have some
more honesty in the debate and in the way we approach money in our
Take my silver and my gold, not a mite would I withhold? You must be
having a laugh…
What price can you put on your worship today?
I will finish with these words of the Bishop of Durham, Tom Wright,
from his book “For All God’s worth” (with thanks to St. Paul also…)
Though we sing with the tongues of men and of angels, if we are not
truly worshipping the living God, we are noisy goings and clanging
cymbals. Though we organize the liturgy most beautifully, if it does
not enable us to worship the living God, we are mere ballet-dancers.
Though we repave the floor and reface the stonework, though we balance
our budgets and attract all the tourists, if we are not worshipping
God, we are nothing.
Worship is humble and glad; worship forgets itself in remembering God;
worship celebrates the truth as God’s truth, not its own. True worship
doesn’t put on a show or make a fuss; true worship isn’t forced, isn’t
half-hearted, doesn’t keep looking at its watch, doesn’t worry what the
person in the next pew may be doing. True worship is open to God,
adoring God, waiting for God, trusting God even in the dark.
Worship will never end; whether there be buildings, they will crumble;
whether there be committees, they will fall asleep; whether there be
budgets, they will add up to nothing. For we build for the present age,
we discuss for the present age, and we pay for the present age; but
when the age to come is here, the present age will be done away. For
now we see the beauty of God through a glass, darkly, but then face to
face; now we appreciate only part, but then we shall affirm and
appreciate God, even as the living God has affirmed and appreciated us.
So now our tasks are worship, mission and management, these three; but
the greatest of these is worship.
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