Have you ever stumbled across a phrase in your reading that was so packed with truth you were compelled to stop and reflect? Like a delectable dessert that needs to be lingered over, or a favorite book or movie you return to again and again, you roll the phrase over and over in your mind.
That’s the experience I had when I came across the phrase “liturgical participation has ethical implications” in Cas Wepener’s article “Solidarity with Christ” (p. 36). It’s not that I’ve never heard that before or pondered its implications, but at this time in this context the words captured my imagination in a new way. And as I thought further about that phrase it occurred to me that this whole issue could fit under the theme of worship and ethics.
So what’s ethics got to do with it? Absolutely everything.
Eyes Wide Open
When we were baptized we were united with Christ in his death and resurrection. That same Christ is now ascended and sits at God’s right hand as our Lord and intercessor. We cannot possibly be united with Christ and not share his burden for the poor and seek to right the injustices that are all too commonplace in this world.
When we worship we remember who we are as people united with Christ. We cannot claim that identity in worship and deny it in the world. We cannot be clothed with Christ in worship and then shed those clothes when we leave.
At Pentecost we remember the gift of the Holy Spirit to the New Testament church. On that day the Holy Spirit was active among those gathered, and 3,000 people became believers. The Holy Spirit transforms lives by revealing truth, by opening eyes that once were blind.
In worship we pray for the Holy Spirit’s presence and ask the Spirit to transform our lives and open our hearts. We ought to tremble as we offer these prayers, because when our eyes are opened and we see as Christ sees, we are changed. We desire change in our own lives, and we want to pursues change in the world around us.
Living in Obedience
When we gather for worship we claim that Christ is Lord of our lives; he is the agenda-setter. It means that we desire to live lives of obedience.
It’s easy to think that obedience consists only of negative actions: not killing, not swearing, not stealing, and the like. But obedience also calls for positive actions. Living obediently is also about doing God’s will. It’s about taking up Christ’s cross and following him. It’s about living ethical lives. It means being more intentional about praying for one’s community. It means encouraging Christians in their worship and spiritual growth—including Christians who are in prison. It means standing in solidarity with the poor and with the defenseless. It means seeking justice that restores. It means working toward shalom here on earth.
It is easy for worshipers to get comfortable in the pew. But as worship leaders, it’s our job to remind God’s people that in worship we come before a Holy God who spoke these words through the prophet Amos: “I hate, I despise your religious festivals; I cannot stand your assemblies. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-ending stream!” (Amos 5:21-24).
Worship, then, is not for those looking for entertainment but for those willing to give over control of their lives to Christ and by so doing to gain the greatest life there is. We need to enter worship prepared to be transformed, knowing that every word spoken, sacrament shared, and song sung has implications for how we are to live. Maybe all our worship services ought to come with this warning: Worship ahead, proceed with caution.
When the Church of Jesus
When the church of Jesus shuts its outer door,
lest the roar of traffic drown the voice of prayer,
may our prayers, Lord, make us ten times more aware
that the world we banish is our Christian care.
If our hearts are lifted where devotion soars
high above this hungry, suffering world of ours,
lest our hymns should drug us to forget its needs,
forge our Christian worship into Christian deeds.
Lest the gifts we offer—money, talents, time—
serve to salve our conscience, to our secret shame,
Lord, reprove, inspire us by the way you give;
teach us, risen Savior, how true Christians live.
65 65 D
Text: Fred Pratt Green. © 1969, Hope Publishing Co., Carol Stream, IL 60188. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Contact Hope Publishing Co. for permission to reproduce these words, 800-323-1049, www.hopepublishing.com. Suggested tune: KING’S WESTON