Rev. George Miller
The Three Rs of Worship"
Feb 7, 2010
"Let everything that has breath praise God!"
That’s a core value of mine. I believe our key role in life is to worship God.
As a child, praising God came so naturally to me that I assumed everyone did it. So I was taken a back when I found folk who wrestled with their faith and didn’t feel the need to offer any praise.
I was taken aback when I went to seminary and a professors said "The church is mission." I wanted to say "No, the church is worship."
I was taken aback when I came across my own rough patches, and couldn’t find the breath to praise God because I felt there was nothing to praise. I was under some much stress that I could barely even breathe. Anyone here know what that’s like?
Praising God during difficult times can be...well, difficult.
How does one say "thank you" when everything around you has come tumbling down? How does one say "Hallelujah" when injustice, oppression or a simple wrong turn have left you stuck in a place you never wanted to be?
How can the people of Haiti or the folk on the unemployment line say thanks to God when everything seems so thankless?
How can one muster up the ways to say thanks to God, when life is a bitter pill waiting to be spit back up?
Sometimes we can’t, so we turn to the words of others who can. Our pastor who leads Sunday worship. Our choir as they sing their song. The words of the Bible, written by people who were always wrestling with the harsh realties of life.
Perhaps no better collection of writing emphasizes the role of praise and worship then the Book of Psalms. A collection of praises, testimonies, tears and sorrows, these writings speak to God from the human condition, seeking out God’s face in the midst of life’s storms and thanking God for when refuge has been supplied.
This marvelous book gives voice to every experience of life that you can imagine, from abuse to loss, from frenemies to victories. It is a songbook of the community who reaches out to God because God has reached out to them.
And they praise, and they worship, and they give thanks, like in today’s reading, Psalm 138. The very first words of the song sets the tone "I give you thanks, O Lord, with my whole heart...I bow down...and give thanks to your name, for your steadfast love and your faithfulness."
This is a song given by an individual, for the sake of the community, praising God who is Lord of all. It is a song of praise for what God has done. It is a song that says "When I called out, you answered. Me, lowly, ol’ me."
But it is more then that. Having come out of a terrible situation, the psalmist breaks it down and admits that although trouble may be resolved for now, there will be many more troubles to face.
As the spiritual song says, trouble last always. But in Psalm 138 the singer is saying "That’s true, but I want to give you thanks ahead of time, because I know you will be with me, you will keep me strong, and your hand will deliver me."
How many here today can say that God’s hand has delivered them?
Oh, it’s a wonderful feeling isn’t it- to be delivered? To come out of those dark moments where you don’t know what you’re going to do, you don’t see a way out, you can barely believe that God even knows who you are anymore.
And then wow! God steps in and does something you never expected God to do. God’s hands create a way out of no way, pointing you to the right person at the right time to find the right solution.
Or God’s hands become like a cradle a parent makes with their arms that holds you gently and rocks you in deep comfort and grace.
When the hands of God enters into our lives, we can’t help but to realize that we’ve been delivered, we can’t help but to feel we’ve been set free, we can not help but to offer up our praises: "Thank you God and Hallelujah."
So we praise, and we worship, and we give God thanks. But what if? What if we are still stuck back there? What if we are still in the darkest night? What if we have lost all hope?
We still find a way to praise God, although it will not be easy. I’m not going to lie: praising God when everything is going wrong is one of the hardest things we can do.
But it can also be one of the keys of our salvation.
How, when we are at our weakest, can we offer up our praises like the voice in Psalm 138? I’d like to offer a little recipe I call the "3 Rs": we Recall, we Raise up and we Reach out. Let me hear you repeat after me.
First thing: we recall. You’re in a situation, nothing’s going right. You want to talk to God but it seems like God is asleep. You know God has done wonderful things for you in the past. But none of that stuff is helping now.
You say "Oh God, how can I praise you? I ain’t got no job. My money’s all gone. I have bills past due."
Or maybe the car is broke down, your family has turned on you, your cat has turned on you. There’s too much snow on the ground. Winter is taking too long. Someone’s mad at you. You’re going through a divorce. Someone has died.
You’re 40, 50, 60 years old and still no idea where your life is going.
"God, I want to praise you, but I can’t."
What can you do? First, you can begin to recall. Don’t recall the moments of deliverance in your own life, because that will be too hard to see. But recall the stories you learned when you were in Sunday School. Recall the stories you heard your grandmother tell.
Recall that when the Hebrews called out to God, God heard and set them free. Recall that when their backs were against the Red Sea God found a way to part those waters and lead them through.
Recall that as they wandered in the wilderness for 40 years God gave them manna from heaven, quail from the sky and water from a rock.
Recall that when Daniel was in the lion’s den God kept him safe. Recall that when the three boys were thrown into the fiery flames, God sent an angel to keep them well. Recall how the walls of Jericho came tumbling down.
Recall that when there were only 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish Jesus was able to feed all the people. Recall that when the disciples were tossed to and from at sea Jesus was able to walk on water and calm the storm.
And recall that a crown of thorns could not stop the Son of God from being raised on Easter morn.
I guarantee that as you recall the stories of old, you’ll begin to recall the ways in which God has blessed you. How God made a way out of no way. How God saved you when things got hot. How God brought down the walls in your life. How God let your little stretch into enough.
And how God took the thorns on your head and replaced it with resurrection joy.
Which leads to step two of praise: raising up. As in raising up our praise, raising up our testimony.
Now each church does this their own way, each person does this in their fashion. There’s no right or wrong or better way. But it’s the way in which you are able to stop containing what you feel and letting it go to where it can be shared.
We raise up when we sing, we raise up when we say our prayers, we raise up when we laugh at something funny, we raise up when we cry at something sad, we raise up when we all say amen.
Some churches raise up by speaking out and talking back to the pastor. Some churches let the choir and liturgist do the raising up for them.
Of course, we don’t need to be in church to raise up. We can raise up on our own. In our home, with music playing and dancing round the living room saying "Thank you God." Raising up while we are driving in the car, think of something that makes us laugh and we say "Thank you Jesus."
Raising up while we are out walking amongst nature and we feel the cool breeze or hear a bird’s song and we look up at the skies and thank the Spirit for all that we have received.
Those times when you feel stuck in the dumps and in a hopeless situation, you’ll be amazed at how much better you may feel if you are able to set aside time to find a way to say "Thanks."
Recall and raise up. Those are two ways in which we can worship. The third, reaching out.
When my professor said "The church is mission" I thought he was wrong. But being in my own wilderness these past few months, I’ve come to discover just how much of worship is reaching out. It began when I read "Moby Dick."
There is a line in there that says "What is worship? To do the will of God. What is the will of God?- to do for my brother what I would have him do for me- that is the will of God."
It continued as I experienced churches reaching out to me, helping to pay my rent, checking in to see how I was doing, inviting me to their events. I had non-profits reaching out to me through food and clothes assistance. I had friends and family who reached out by sending money, gas cards, treating me to dinner and calling me up.
And I realized the churches, non-profits, family and friends were the hands of God. And as the hands of God they were reaching out, to me.
In verses 7-8 the Psalmist states "You stretch out your hand and your right hand delivers me...do not forsake the work of your hands."
Hands. The hands of God reach out to deliver us, to deliver you to deliver me. Who are the hands of God? We are. You and I.
We become the hands of God when we offer someone assistance, when we donate our time, when we place our money in the offering plate. That is when we are the hands of God.
When Haiti was devastated, the UCC mobilized and raised more money then ever had before, and continue to do so. That was us as a denomination, acting together as one, becoming the hands of God, and worshiping God through our actions.
Recall, raise up and reach out. They are all aspects of worship. Of recalling all that God has done. Of raising up thanks to God. And looking beyond our own situation into becoming God’s hands, where we are not only the recipients of God’s saving grace, but vehicles for it.
We worship when we do the will of God. If God’s hand is stretched out and delivers us, then part of our being able to worship God, even when times are tough, is to ask how we can become God’s hands for others.
Let everything that has breath give praise. Let everything indeed. As humans, let us learn how to worship, even when we are at our darkest, by remembering our 3 Rs. As Psalm 138 reminds us, God’s hand has reached out to us. How then can we reach back in worship and thanksgiving?
Thanks be to the Spirit that makes all things new, for God whose hands have delivered us and for Christ whose hands were wounded for our sakes.
Amen and amen.