Monday, March 13, 2017

Seven days a week

Sev’n whole dayes, not one in seven, I will praise thee. Last week, I had the pleasure (having got comprehensively lost en route!) of giving
an address to Shipston Deanery, as part of their Lent series. My brief was to work with their theme "Our life as God’s People: thinking of life as one holy offering" and focus on

"Life as worship. Praise in every event." As I thought and prayed, and prepared and wrote, Herbert was never far away. Here's part of what I said:

I’ve always loved psalm 150…As a musician, I’ve spent time wondering just what that growing orchestra might sound like – would the lute and harp be completely lost as the cymbals, both loud and not QUITE a loud – got going…would the flautist want to go home if the trumpets praised too exuberantly
I’ve been carried along with the sense of mounting excitement, as I’m sure was the psalmist’s intention, til we reach that glorious conclusion
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.

Everything. The whole of creation.
Including you and me.
And sometimes that is so easy and wonderful that we can really know with every fibre of our being that truth expressed in the Catechism,that the chief purpose of humanity is to glorify God…in both life and worship
And at others, I’m very conscious that mine might be a discordant voice, and not part of that great chorus at all.
I feel not unlike Isaiah, after he had had that amazing vision of God enthroned in glory
Woe is me, for I am a person of unclean lips, and I dwell among a people of unclean lips”
I can’t contribute to this song of creation in praise of its maker.
I’m out of tune and out of step…simply because I’m a flawed, fallible human being.
Or worse still, I feel completely unlike singing, for it seems that my voice has been stifled by events in the world or in my own life, that for the moment I just don’t feel much like praising at all. Things are hard for me or for someone for whom I care – and I might manage to cry out for help….but to PRAISE God? That’s beyond my capabilities altogether.

Which is completely reasonable from a human viewpoint…but trickier when you remember that we’re not supposed to be working by those standards at all.
Rejoice in the Lord always, said Paul to the Philippians…and I’m sure you’ll all have come across those truly shining Christians who genuinely seem able to praise God in the most impossible circumstances. I find it very easy to reduce myself to a state of near panic by my own failure to achieve anything even faintly similar…though I’ve found things a bit more manageable since reflecting that we are not necessarily called to praise God FOR the hard times – but to keep alive that flame of hope that reflects the “measure of faith that God has assigned”, and keep on praising God for BEING God no matter what.
And I find it hugely comforting that it IS God who has given that gift of faith – so knows what I might or might not be capable of…and sees my longing to get things “right” for him, even as I fail once again.

So – it becomes far more manageable if I reflect that I’m not called to celebrate the situations that make me sad…but to celebrate that God remains God in all God’s amazing glory. Remember
The chief purpose of humanity is to glorify God…
That’s what we are for, you and I.
We are made for praise and worship.

A long time ago I found myself embroiled in a group discussion about which style of worship in church was most edifying or helpful – or, if we’re honest, which one those in the conversation liked best…And one of the group decided that we needed a definition of worship – and came up with one that I found really helpful.
How about this?
"Worship is the giving of love, admiration, sacrifice and commitment to the thing that is the idea that your heart and soul longs for",and those elements of total commitment (present your bodies, a living sacrifice) and longing are central to the experience of Christian worship. And in Christian worship, the one for whom our heart and soul longs is of course God himself
The thing is that we tend, for the most part, to live deeply disordered lives...disordered, at least, where it REALLY matters.
While we may feel that we are quite secure from the breaking that first commandment “You shall have no other God before me” when we think in terms of idol worship – the truth for me is that I find it distressingly easy to put other things ahead of my relationship with God…Good things, of course. Things that absolutely come as gifts FROM God….but sometimes in our pleasure in the gift – family, friends, the beauties of nature – we may put those gifts ahead of the giver. It’s easily done. But it’s not the way things should be.
You see, if worship is all about "giving worth" to God then its role is to ensure that He is in His proper place, at the centre of all things. Though this may seem to be stating the obvious, through the centuries we have repeatedly lapsed into the idolatry of placing something else, something less, at the centre of lives and our
celebrations. So the words of the Te Deum
"We praise you O God, We acknowledge you to be the Lord"
are a more profound statement of worship than their familiarity through endless more or less joyous repetitions of Matins might suggest. Equally, the doxology (from Greek doxa (glory), is another reminder of God's supremacy in all things. When we say or sing it, we’re not doing it to make God feel better but to acknowledge the most powerful reality there is.
Praise God, from whom all blessings flow.”
That’s what we’re for
We are called to "Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name; worship the Lord in holy splendour"and in practising this we are freed from the egotism that puts “me” at the centre of my universe, and become more fully our true selves, who exist above all in relationship with God..
To be fully oneself, as God intends, is to be one who worships (for worship is the hallmark of a being fully alive in God ), but though it is our natural response to God's pre-existing generosity, his outpourings of the gifts of life, love, forgiveness and transformation, the act itself is only possible through his gifts. If worship is about the whole of life and how we live it, it must also be about our whole selves, bodies as much as minds and spirits,- for it is to be a complete outpouring of ourselves to God.And it absolutely is NOT limited to Sundays – though it matters to have times set apart to ensure that we really do attend to this defining business for which we were made.
Seven whole days, not one in seven I shall praise thee”
In other words, a full time calling.
Seven whole days, yes?

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