[Jesus said] "A time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth" (John 4:23-24).
[The Apostle Paul wrote] "Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God — this is true worship" (Romans 12:1).
We don't like to stand in them, but despite all our protests, we really do like them ... in fact, much of what we do depends upon them. I am talking about lines.
We have foul lines in baseball. We have sidelines and yard lines in football. We have sidelines, baselines, three point lines, and free throw lines in basketball. We have all sorts of lines in tennis. We have center lines and dashed lines and double yellow lines and double white lines and solid white lines and crosswalk lines for our highways and streets. We have lines to show us where to park and lines to guide us when we exit the freeway. We depend upon these lines for games, life, and safety.
So we shouldn't be surprised when we so easily draw a line between the secular and the sacred in church. Folks have been drawing this religious line far longer than we've had baseball, football, basketball, and motor vehicles. This line has been a huge struggle those who claim to follow God in every generation.
Part of our eagerness to draw this line between the secular and the sacred is our convenience. If we can confine God to a religious box at a religious time, then we begin to feel like we can control God. God-stuff doesn't intrude our stuff — fun stuff, friend stuff, dating stuff, office stuff, political stuff, language stuff, driving stuff ... We can sing and say one thing on Sunday and live a different way Monday through Saturday.
We want to say this is not true, but our language betrays us. We "go to church" rather than "being the church." We have a "worship service" or "go to worship" so we can "enter to worship and leave to serve." There is a clear line.
We want to claim that we are better than this, but our daily ethics betray us. A number of surveys over the last several decades reveal there are only a few percentage points difference in the ethical behavior of professing Christians and those who are not. "Bible believing" Christians are often not much different than our unbelieving neighbors in their dating relationships, their marriage behaviors, their on-the-job ethics, and their attitudes and actions in the grocery store, at our kids' games, or on the roadways.
We often find it easier to live the way we want as long as we can keep this line between secular and sacred in place. God stays on His side of the line and we go visit Him every now and then. We can get a taste of the sacred; then we can go back to doing what we want to do the rest of the week on the other side of the line. But, when we draw this line between the secular and the sacred, the line eventually blurs, fades, degrades, and disappears. The values of the secular invade and rob the sacred of its authenticity and vitality, eroding any sense of the sacred. All of life becomes secular, leaving us with nothing more than a trip to the religious box.
God in human skin, the incarnation of God in Jesus of Nazareth, teaches us that this dividing line between the secular and the sacred is deeply flawed. Our loss of the sense of God's holiness, and our loss of our role as God's holy people, doesn't happen because the line between the secular and the sacred has become blurred. No, our loss of the holy happens when we draw a line God does not draw. We lose the essence of what holiness means in our day-to-day world and we forget our purpose as God's holy people.
Instead of seeing holiness as something powerful, invasive, and transformational, we draw a line and make our sense of the holy into a visit, an experience, a segmented piece of our deeply fragmented lives. Instead of seeing holiness as daily, pervasive, and integrative, we choke the life out of a daily faith and turn it into a "god-in-the-box" event.
The whole theme of worship in Scripture, and the intense focus of worship in the New Testament, remind us that we are a holy people, a kingdom of priests (1 Peter 2:9-10) placed in the world to live out our holiness as salt and light in a world of darkness and decay (Matthew 5:13-16).
One of the clearest declarations of the continuity between our sacred worship and the sacred nature of our daily lives occurs at the end of the book of Hebrews (Hebrews 12:28-29; Hebrews 13:1-16). We often miss this point because of the chapter and verse divisions that mask the continuity of what is said. (Remember the chapter and verse divisions of the Bible were added hundreds of years after the last book of the Bible was written!) The passage is framed by a call to worship God:
Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our "God is a consuming fire" (Hebrews 12:28-29).
Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise — the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased (Hebrews 13:15-16).
These bookends* that begin and end this thought on worshiping our holy God remind us that God is holy. We honor and celebrate this sacred holiness in the praise of what we say and sing. We also honor and celebrate God's sacred holiness by doing good and sharing with others. These latter acts of kindness are not merely service offered to others in the secular world, but are the invasion of the secular world through our everyday worship. Notice that both the praise of lips and the sharing and serving of others are described by the phrase, "with such sacrifices God is pleased."
Even more powerful, between these section-framing calls to worship, we find a list of ways to "worship God acceptably with reverence and awe":
- Loving one another as brothers and sisters in Christ (Hebrews 13:1)
- Showing hospitality to strangers (Hebrews 13:2)
- Caring for those in prison (Hebrews 13:3)
- Keeping our marriage relationship healthy and holy (Hebrews 13:4)
- Not getting caught up in greed, but trusting in God's presence (Hebrews 13:5-6)
- Honoring our spiritual leaders (Hebrews 13:7-8)
- Not getting caught up in strange spiritual teachings, but remember our roles in the world following Jesus' example (Hebrews 13:9-14)
This Sunday, we have our annual WATS Day. WATS is an acronym for "We Are The Sermon." We have all of our services and our home gathering groups meet for a communion service, then we spend the rest of Sunday worshiping in the community by doing acts of kindness. This is especially directed toward those who are economically disadvantaged, aging, or ill. We paint, roof, build handicap ramps, clean, wash, move, pray, and serve those who desperately need some help. However, we try to make it clear that this is not a day of service projects, but a day of worship. We want to remind each other that these acts of kindness in the real world away from our church building are really what we are called to do with our lives.
More churches, all over the world, are joining us in WATS day every year. (You can learn more about WATS by going to the WATS links listed below.)
Of course the goal is not to have one day a year where we do something like this, but to help our folks and our community remember that worship is an everyday gift done in everyday acts of kindness to share the grace of God.
Why do you think that humans have always struggled with confining worship to a place and time rather than an everyday lifestyle?
How do we infuse each day with a sense of worship of God? (Romans 12:1-2)
What makes it difficult to see our time at work or school or with our families as part of our worship of God? (Ephesians 5:21; 1 Peter 2:9-10)
How does seeing our behavior at work, at school, at our kids' events, during our time driving, or in our recreation time, change our behavior, attitude, and influence in these areas of our lives? (Matthew 5:13-16)
If worship is something we are to do in our everyday activities, then why is meeting with other believers important? (Hebrews 10:19-25)
* The technical term for this way to indicate a rhetorical unit of thought is called inclusio.