A CHURCH SETS UP COMMUNION at the weekly farmers market. It involves a rotating group of leaders. Pastors, women and men, youth who have been trained for this alternative worship.
They bring supplies — bread (including gluten-free) and grape juice, informational packets about God’s love and grace with a link to the church’s website. The teams meet at the farmers market before opening. When they arrive, they turn on reflective worship music — just loud enough to be heard by those who stop by — set up a table with the communion elements and a cross on it and put out the information packets.
They gather and pray for God’s guidance, his voice through their words, that what they do may ultimately lead to people’s lives changing, relationships restored, and sins forgiven.
Professionally printed signs explain who they are, what they are doing, and that all are welcome. No one is turned away. When the farmers market opens, they’re ready to go. With a smile, they speak as people pass. They are welcoming but not pushy.
The church leaders ask those who stop if there is anything they would like to be prayed for. When there’s a yes, they pray in hushed tones right then and there in the farmers market.
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THE TITLE of today’s sermon is a fill-in-the-blank. “Worship Is ____.”
What is worship? How do you define worship? Would you call the farmers market event “worship”?
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THE DEFINITION I’m using today is this:
Worship is deliberately gathering to seek an encounter with God in Christ.
Through that encounter, God pardons sins, restores relationships, and changes lives. Of course, worship also includes private aspects like personal devotions, private prayer, meditation, and study. Community worship and personal devotions reinforce each other. But today, I focus on the deliberate gathering for passionate worship.
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THE PAST YEAR AND A HALF placed pressure on local churches and church around the world to reimagine what gathering to seek an encounter with God in Christ looks like. When we were not able to gather physically for worship, we recorded each worship service and premiered that recording on Sunday.
Then we got back in person, and attendance was low, we live streamed. We still do and we will continue to offer worship online.
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YOU MIGHT SAY we need to get those people back in worship — physically gathered in the same room at the same time. But some people will never be back in person, some can no longer return because of health or distance.
Some worshipers we do not know and may never know. They are not, and may never be, part of a worshiping community anywhere except worshiping with us through Facebook or YouTube.
Worshiping — not watching. People deliberately gathering online seeking an encounter with God in Christ. Is that worship? Yes. Is there something missing? Yes. I won’t argue against the value of physically being in the same room. But, that is not possible for some people, not probable for others.
What constitutes worship is changing. COVID just sped up those changes. Worship is mobile, portable, on the move, going where people live and work and play.
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CONSIDER ALL THE PLACES where Jesus brought people into God’s presence. We read that he led worship in the synagogue. But also, on the hillside, in homes, at dinner tables, in grain fields, on fishing boats, in the marketplace or walking from town to town.
Mobile, portable, on the move.
Imagine worship like that. Worship in city parks. Local bars. Around backyard cookouts. Worship — gathering to encounter God through Christ — on walking trails, at coffee shops, during ball tournaments, and lunch breaks. Wherever two or three are gathered, worship — seeking to encounter God in Christ — can and does take place.
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NOW, TO BE SURE, the pastors can’t be, and shouldn’t be, at each of these opportunities. Again, look to Jesus.
Jesus sent disciples to teach, preach, heal, feed, care for, love. Jesus sends you — modern disciples — to teach and preach in his name wherever two or three gather seeking an encounter with God.
I’m still struck by the worship under the bridge from two weeks ago. Proposed by people of the church, planned by people of the church, and led by people of the church, a group goes down to the homeless camp under the bridge on the banks of the Guadalupe River to worship.
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WHERE MIGHT GOD be calling us to offer divine worship? God pardoning sin, restoring relationships, and changing lives can take place in spaces and places beyond the sanctuary. Online, under a bridge, around the bridge table, on a weekly hike or in assisted living.
A family invites their neighbors for conversation and devotional. One church holds Palm Sunday worship in the park. Another offers Ash Wednesday ashes on the downtown sidewalks. A men’s group meets for Bible and a Beer, where verses of Scripture are read then the group discusses what they might mean for them, for the community.
We can spend our time trying to restore the past or we can look to reshape our future. It’s time we embrace a variety of settings and expressions of worship. As I emphasized the previous weeks, it’s time to take mission and service, hospitality, and today I add worship, to places where people naturally gather instead of expecting them to come here.
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WHO DO YOU KNOW that is seeking God and community but may never feel comfortable in attending a church? What alternative expression and place might attract them? How can you make that happen?
People are open to a deeper spiritual life. People are open to authentic, passionate, creative faith communities — but some just aren’t open to come inside a church building and they won’t join a church.
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OF COURSE, none of this works if we are only interested in how many people show up on Sunday morning.
If worship is deliberately gathering to seek an encounter with God in Christ, then the location of that worship is not fixed, but flexible and fluid.
What’s our response, your response, to this?