Today’s sermon is going to be about worship.
But what it is not going to be about me wishing that more people would come to worship.
This is not going to be a sermon about how worship is marginalized in our society.
It is not going to be about stores being open on Sunday, or sports programs that overtake the importance of God.
Mainly because I am tired of the culture wars (I am sure most of you are too!), and I feel that would be a wasted sermon.
Today I want to declare peace.
Instead what I want to talk about is why worship is a gift to us.
In this season of giving, I want us to remember that God gave us worship not as a punishment, not to bore us with old fashioned hymns, and long winded sermons, but as a gift.
In the midst of our busy over productive lives God has given you and me permission to stop and take a break.
God has set aside time for us that is holy and special.
It is time that we have to simply be.
That is the great gift of worship.
This morning’s Gospel from Luke we are told the historical circumstances of Jesus time.
We are told the year and the rulers, and the religious leaders.
And then we are told that in the midst of this there will come a messiah who will make things straight.
We are told that there are powers in this world.
And we know from the story that those powers are corrupt, they are unjust, and they are bent on making lives difficult.
All those powers expect something from us.
The political powers expect us to produce to pay taxes.
The religious powers expect us to be holy and keep the cultic practices alive.
What are we to do in such a world?
Where can we go?
This morning the crowd is ready to follow John into the wilderness.
They are ready to escape and get away.
They need John’s message of repentance.
More than this they need to know that something greater lies ahead.
They are filled with hope and expectation.
This morning I am suggesting that our worship is a gift because it allows us to flee into the wilderness into the secluded places where we can clear our heads and see the greater picture.
This week on Facebook I asked people to tell me what worship meant to them and why it was important.
Here are some of the responses:
“Worship is where I'm given the vision of God, so I can see with that vision everywhere else.”
“I remember that I am a small part of a big world and it puts things in perspective for me....”
“Worship for me is giving my body, soul, heart and mind to God.”
“It is a time when I have a chance to think, listen and reflect. I feel at peace.”
“A chance to reflect, gain perspective and prioritize what's important in my life.”
“For me it’s fellowship and strong renewal of faith, spirit, and love.”
“It helps to center me and to realize what is truly important in life and what I can let go.”
“Feeling of community. Singing praise. Forgiveness.”
“Communion that enfolds, forgives, challenges, and connects me with Jesus.”
“Phones off. Tv off. Radio off. No baseball talk. It's all about God and only God.”
“During worship I feel like it is my time to learn grow and to be reminded of what is important.”
“Gives me comfort, strength, and guidance.”
Interesting that in the 22 responses I received on facebook no one said, “I worship because I have to…”
All of the responses I received about worship have something in common.
All of them have a sense that worship is a gift.
They all talked about worship as a special time that allows them to receive something important.
Peace, perspective, comfort, love, strength, guidance, renewal, all of things that are important in our lives.
For the rest of the time we spend here we are running around, getting things done, working, paying taxes, shopping, fixing things, being productive.
Here in this place, for this time, there is nothing to do, nowhere to go.
At the end of worship there are no report cards, no performance reviews, no bills to pay.
There is only space to be ourselves and to allow God’s grace to be sung, spoken, tasted, given unto us.
Before every worship service I take out my calendar, my wallet, and my phone and I stick them in a drawer in my office.
I do this partly because it reminds me that this is time when I don’t have to worry about anything except being present with all of you and with God.
This is not the time to worry about those other things; they will be there when I get done.
But this separate time is God’s time.
I am thankful for the gift.
I am thankful for that space in my life to reconnect, to recharge, and as many people said on Facebook to gain perspective about what is really important in my life.
During advent that is what we do.
We gain perspective.
We go out into the wilderness to hear that God is at work even among the busyness of life, even among the turbulent historical moment; even now we are called to be in this special sacred space, in this sacred time.
Sure things look bad, but God is filling in all the rough spaces, God is making the crooked straight.
It is important in our lives to have that perspective and we gain that in worship.
Worship is not about earning points with God.
But it is about a choice we make each and every week.
I bet that all of you are busy.
There are a million things that need to be taken care of or tended too.
But here you are, because it is important to you.
You have carved out this time to be here because you need the time to sit and reflect, to sing with joy, to hear the good news that God is here.
And every week in worship we are given the advent that God is here with us, among us, in us.
Of course worship is partly about our participation, but this morning I want you all to see that is more about how God acts on us.
In this time that we set apart to be with God, God does something to us.
God tells us yet again that we are forgiven.
God tells us in songs of praise that we are loved.
God calls us out in the world filled with corrupt leaders to act for justice and truth.
God reminds us that every hill shall be made low, every valley filled, and every path made straight.
In other words we don’t have to climb a mountain to get to God, because God is right here in our midst.
We don’t have to worry when life brings us into valleys of despair because God is right there with us.
When our lives get blown of course, when we stray down crooked paths God is on that path with us.
In worship we are reminded of that and brought back to equal footing.
What a great gift we unwrap together every week.
God knows we need it.
God knows that we need saving, and God has sent his son for us.
This sacred time and space is our reminder that God is with us.
It gives us strength to go back out and in the world, it gives us perspective to remember what really matters, it gives us forgiveness to love ourselves and others, it gives us comfort when things go wrong, it gives us God’s vision to see that vision everywhere else.
Thanks be to God for the gift of worship!