Sermons from St Faith's

Christian 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 he?

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 our worship!

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 God-send.

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 them!

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 with them.”

…”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 various reasons…

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 Christian lives.

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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