A couple of days ago, I asked a not-so-innocent question on facebook, "What is worship?" Not so innocent because I know that the word "worship" is notoriously difficult to define, and also because the theme this Sunday (when I am, coincidentally, preaching), is Shining in our Worship. That's not the Sermon Title, but that's the theme.
One of the first commenters was one of my Lutheran friends (I am Lutheran) assserting that "we don't do anything" and that "we have totally mixed this up." She actually had some really good points about what God does in worship, coming to us and "making us Christian." I totally agree. There is a sense in which "we can't do anything." As a good Lutheran, I am forced to admit that "I cannot believe in Jesus Christ or come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel...." In worship, God is coming to us, saving us, working in us.
And yet.....I'm an English major, and I have to make this sentence.
"We worship God." It's not the other way around. "God worships us." (typing that just made me shudder, a little.) (I do suspect that my friend's point, though, is that often the sentence becomes, "we worship ourselves", sadly.)
Be that as it may, we do something. We worship. We worship God. Or, sometimes, we worship other stuff. You know. football. money. success. our ability to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. ourselves. We worship. And I would even hazard an opinion that it is necessary to worship, just as it is necessary to serve, to work, to pray, to do justice, to love kindness.
I have always counted the verse in Matthew about how "not one jot or tittle of the law will pass away" as one of the most vexing, most puzzling, until suddenly, recently, it came to me: it's absolutely true. Not in a micro-every-verse-in-the-Old-Testament sort of way, but in a more macro-do-justice-love-kindness-walk-humbly sort of way.
Our responsibilities to our neighbor, to care about and work for our neighbor's good never end. There's never a time when we can say "we're done, it's all right now." Our responsibility to worship God, to give honor and praise to God (and not the other way around) does not end either. So just because we came to worship this week, doesn't mean that we're done now; we don't have to do it any more.
In Lutheran language, we call this "first use of the law."
Or, "we do stuff, but doing stuff doesn't save us."
And our obligations don't end -- Jesus saved you now, so you don't have to help your neighbor, or honor your father or mother, or practice stewardship of your resources.
Sorry. Not one jot or tittle....You're not off-the-hook for your responsibilities as a human being.
But, this 'stuff' we do, whether it is tithing, or singing our guts out, or shoveling our neighbor's walk, or feeding the hungry -- doesn't save us. Whether we are abject failures at doing these things, or whether we think we're pretty good at all or some of them, none of this stuff saves us.
In worship, we raise our hands and voices and hearts in offering to God. But the Offering has first gone the other way. God comes to us, gives himself to us, saves us, sets us free, makes us God's own people. All of the important things in our lives are being done, have been done, by God.
All of the important things in our lives are being done, have been done, have been promised by God, in Christ. Including the promise of a new creation where justice will be done, where the hungry will be fed, where death will be no more, where we will worship at the throne of the Lamb, singing our guts out.
And because of this, because of this gift, because of this grace, because of this promise, we do stuff.