Sunday, January 14, 2024 – Second Sunday After the Epiphany
by The Rev. Dr. Richard Burden
Sermon preached by The Rev. Dr. Richard Burden
Below is a DRAFT text of the homily. It may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please excuse typos and grammatical errors, and do not cite without permission.
I’m going to repeat today’s collect…“Grant that your people (that’s us), illumined by your Word and Sacraments (what we are purportedly doing here), may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, (so) that Christ may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth.”
I briefly covered “obeyed” a few weeks ago. To obey first of all means to listen…”obey” shares a root with “to hear.” So to obey is not to simply do as you’re told, but to listen carefully, and deeply, and then act on what you’ve heard.
But what does it mean to worship? And how do you know if you’re doing it? Or not?
We don’t often give this much thought, because worship is one of those Very Important Words that we use a lot in church…and nod solemnly about, but rarely stop to ask what it is that we’re actually talking about…So it easily veers into Inigo Montoya territory…does it really mean what we think it means?
If you are in the choir and chanting the Psalms…are you worshipping? What if you’re more concerned about whether the person next to you will ever be able to actually hit that F-sharp?
If you are out in the nave, listening to Anoma read the gospel are you worshipping? What if you’re not really listening to the gospel but are thinking about what you’re going to have for lunch…or the report that’s due on Monday…or whether the Patriots will be any better next season with the new coach? Are you still worshipping?
If you’re a five-year old over on the rug, coloring or playing with the soft toys while I’m up here preaching…are you worshipping? And would your parents or other adults agree with your assessment?
We can even take it outside the church…What if you are sharing the Monday lunch at the cathedral with the MANNA community? Or housing a refugee family in your home? What if you’re meeting with a friend who is going through a particularly rough time, and you’re just there to listen and be supportive? Or engaged in a lively discussion in a book group? What if you’re preparing a healthy and delicious meal to enjoy with that special someone, or even just sitting by yourself deep in meditation or centering prayer? Are these worship?
Maybe?…Maybe not?…See if we don’t know what worship is…how can know when we are living in such a way that Christ will be known and worshipped?
It doesn’t help that English word “worship” is incredibly vague and covers a huge range of practices. In the bible it often gets used to translate Greek and Hebrew words that mean specifically “prostration”—lying facedown on the ground in an act of complete humility and total surrender…which is a form of worship…but that’s not the way most of us understand worship or feel called to worship on a regular basis…
So what is it? The best definition of worship I’ve come across is from an early work by Raimon Panikkar. He defines it like this: he says, “worship is any symbolic act arising from a particular belief”…IOW it is an action that expresses or somehow symbolizes belief.
So any of the actions that I just described…singing in the choir, coming to church, prayer…even eating with MANNA or being with a friend, coloring on the rug…all of those might be worship…if they are expressing the belief that God is love…that Christ is the light of the world…that the Holy Spirit “searches us out and knows us…knits us together”…any action which is an expression of that…can be worship.
Panikkar says, “All forms of love, praise, thankfulness, adoration and celebration,” [Panikkar, p. 86] could be considered worship.
But, if you’re singing the hymn and you’re also woolgathering or picking at whatever else is swirling in your consciousness…are you really worshipping? Probably not, because the belief you’re more likely expressing is “I’m worried”, or “I’m preoccupied,” or … well some belief other than “God is love.”
We are embodied beings—marvelously made in the depths of the earth and our mother’s womb—all embodied activity has the potential to be worship…but not all of it is, right?
This is where Paul enters the conversation. Paul, today, is using his own first century understanding of Jewish purity codes and metaphors of community as body to respond to a very specific set of practices that was causing division in the church at Corinth. So we can’t take these specifics and turn them into universal principles, but we can say—along with Paul—that just because we can do things, doesn’t necessarily mean we should…or that just because some embodied activity could be worship…doesn’t mean it is.
Our intention, and our truly being present…in the moment…also has something to do with it…and our embodiedness also has a lot of patterns, and habits, and egos…a lot of stuff…that gets in the way and keeps us from being as fully present as worship actually requires.
The good news is that this means that acts of worship are not confined to the sanctuary…and don’t even have to be especially “churchy”.
Any kind of devotion…any true expression of the heart…in closeness, in connection, in music, art…could be worship
Any kind of quest for understanding…Panikkar says, ”Any word can be a revelation of a sort” (Panikkar p.87)…could be worship. Which means we are not limited to the bible for our understanding of God…(but neither can we ignore the bible)…
Any action…again, we are embodied beings…and it is only through action…and through embodiment…that transcendence becomes incarnate…”to worship,” Panikkar says, “finally, implies ‘to do’,” to work and collaborate in the construction of” God’s realm of peace and justice.
So worship is any activity that enables us to be in touch with…and cultivate our connection to…the ground of our being…the essence of who and what we truly are…which is—at the same time—the ground of ALL being…and the essence of all reality…which is God.
Through Word and Sacrament…and obedience (listening)…and worship…we remember our connection to God…and we hone and strengthen our connection—our communion—with one another and all creation…and we come to be more, and more brilliantly expressive of the truth…that God is love…that Christ is light…and that the Holy Spirit is ever present…active…and guiding us into God’s future. Amen.