“Worship” is an Active Verb.


A sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Give unto the LORD, O you mighty ones, Give unto the LORD glory and strength. Give unto the LORD the glory due to His name; Worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness. (PSA 29:1-2)

  1. Modern Western culture has introduced some subtle assumptions into our forms of worship.
    1. So much of our experience of the world is passive.
      1. We sit back in comfort in the privacy of our own homes and watch someone work very hard to entertain and inform.
        1. This has led to “sound bites” instead of real information.
          1. A national leader may give an important speech that involves complex ideas, but all you get on the news is a sentence fragment because they assume that if you have to listen to too much, you’ll get bored and channel surf to something else.
          2. And, ironically, we think ourselves “informed” because we watch the news.
          3. As a culture we’ve lost the patience to listen all the way to the end of a complex sentence.
    2. We have begun to think that our comfort is an essential element of every aspect of life, and its our right to be protected from anything difficult or boring.
      1. Casual Fridays are practised widely now.
        1. Do we believe that we will soon see a movement back to more formal business attire, or will we soon have casual Mondays as well?
          1. Which direction is this trend headed?
    3. This leads us to the question under consideration today, is church supposed to be like that? Bishop W. F. Pendleton wrote in his book Notes on Ritual1
      1. Active co-operation is given throughout the Writings as a prime essential of the regenerate life, and what is prime in that life should be represented in worship. In fact, ritual is reduced to its minimum if the congregation does not take an active part in the service. It is notable, that in those denominations where the doctrine of justification by faith without deeds of the law has been applied to the extreme, there has been a large removal of ritual, or the co-operation by the worshipper. Where man is regarded as a passive recipient in his life, the same is reflected in worship.
      2. It follows, that in the New Church, in which a daily obedience to the Commandments is taught as essential to salvation, there should be a sufficiency of ritual; which, as taken from the letter of Scripture, teaches everywhere the co-operation of man with God in the work of regeneration, or the doctrine of life.
    4. We should reflect, therefore, on some of the basic elements of our worship to see if we can discover and appreciate the importance of an active role in worship as a means of improving our spiritual states, a part of the process of repentance, reformation, and regeneration.
  2. The role of the offertory
    1. Sometimes called “the first thing of worship.”
      1. Not because it is the most important
      2. But because it ought to come first.
        1. It’s not really worship unless there is recognition that the one worshipped is actually superior to the worshipper.
        2. There must be a belief that there is a being outside of oneself that is greater than oneself, or there cannot be any worship
        3. It is not worship to come just to listen to homilies about living a happier life – that’s “instruction” and has its own value.
        4. Worship requires submission to a higher authority.
    2. That submission or humbling of self is represented by giving a gift of something that we ourselves value.
      1. It is intended to be an acknowledgement that God Himself is the giver of gifts.
      2. It is an acknowledgement that God is superior to us.
      3. It puts us in the proper state to receive instruction and direction.
        1. Why would we feel compelled to follow the instructions of an equal?
  3. The role of music
    1. Just as words are the language of ideas, musical tones are the language of affection.
      1. A “good” song is one where ideas expressed in the words are supported by the feelings expressed in the rhythm and tones.
        1. We might also observe that a “good” hymn is one that we are familiar with and are therefore able to join in.
    2. Having a congregation sing the same song helps to bring everyone into a similar state – like a society of heaven.
      1. There is the element of freewill choice – to sing or not to sing.
      2. There is also the need to be acutely aware of what other people are doing – the words, the rhythm, and the notes – and making a concerted effort to fit in with what other people are doing.
        1. In order to act non-selfishly.
          1. These are essential skills for working “harmoniously” with others.
      3. This is how spirits find their eternal, heavenly home when they are ready to leave the world of Spirits.
    3. There is a dual role of music in a church service here in the world
      1. On the one hand to provide appropriate music that stirs affections for the Lord and heaven, to draw on affections stored away from childhood, and to stir many different affections, both joyful and sad.
      2. On the other hand, for the individual members of the congregation to make a sincere effort to take part, for it is a symbol of spiritual co-operation.
  4. The role of the Psalter (or other recitations from scripture)
    1. Communication is not one way. Ideas have to pass back and forth.
      1. Abraham arguing with God in the 1st lesson.
      2. The doctrine of the As-of-self.
    2. The Psalter is important because we have the priest, representing the Lord, reading a line of scripture, followed by the people reading the next line. It is intended to be a representation of the way that we communicate back and forth with the Lord.
      1. He teaches us something.
      2. We try it out for ourselves and learn from the experience.
      3. He gives us a new truth, and we see it from the perspective of the recent lesson and the newly acquired wisdom.
      4. As the cycle continues, we become wiser and move closer to heaven.
    3. This is distinctly different from the use of the lessons read from the pulpit which is intended to represent instruction directly from the Lord.
  5. The role of the prayers on the knees.
    1. There are churches with a tradition of silent prayer
      1. Or prayer sitting
      2. Or prayer standing
      3. They have their own reasons for doing what they do.
    2. In the New Church we kneel in prayer because of what “bending the knee” represents.
      1. This is said of the coming of the Lord; and “every knee shall bow” signifies that all who are in natural good from spiritual good will worship Him, the “knee” signifying the conjunction of natural good with spiritual. This shows that bending the knees signifies acknowledgement, thanksgiving, and adoration from spiritual good and delight in the natural2.
      2. Kneeling is an outward representation of the state of humiliation, which is a fundamental of worship; sitting is a posture of rest and meditative reflection, and is at the same time representative of a state of receiving instruction; while standing represents elevation of thought and affection.3
      3. The act of kneeling is an outward representation of humility of spirit, and by reaction tends to cultivate it.4
  6. All of the elements of worship that have gone before add a special quality to the sermon, and make it a form of instruction unlike any other, because it is delivered to people who are in a sphere of worship and who have made a conscious effort to prepare themselves to receive that instruction.
    1. It’s not television.
    2. It’s not the same as reading the Word at home – or even family worship, although these are both valuable in their own right as extensions of and supports to worship as part of a congregation.
    3. The Lord distinguishes between goods done to family and those done to strangers (2nd lesson), and He asks us to make the effort to bring ourselves into harmony with others – even people we don’t like – because it is good for our souls.
    4. Worship is supposed to be active because it involves spiritual effort on our parts.
      1. To deliberately and specifically put aside the natural and material sides of our lives for the sake of something spiritual.
    5. Sunday worship is distinct from other forms of instruction, such as a study group or a doctrinal class because of the deliberate effort to prepare the will through music and prayer to receive the instruction from the Word on an elevated (or more interior) level.
  7. Worship is not only important to each individual worshipper
    1. It is also important to the life of the congregation
      1. By bringing the diverse elements together in a common purpose, a common voice: harmony
    2. And it is even important to the life of the church in the heavens.
      1. Third lesson described the importance of both internal and external worship
        1. How even purely external worship, as practised by the Jews, could inspire genuine, internal worship among the angels in the heavens.
        2. And how much more profitable it is for us to make the effort to come into internal worship, to prepare ourselves ahead of time by thinking about what we are about to do, by reflecting on the importance of the various elements of worship, and by leaving the cares and thoughts of the world at the door so that the mind is free to enter into the presence of the Lord, and to worship Him in a sphere of peace and holiness so that He may enter in and dwell with us.

The Lord is present in a very different way with those within the church who are in spiritual love and thence in faith. With these there are good spirits and angels not only in their external worship, but also at the same time in their internal; and therefore with them there exists a communication of heaven with themselves; for the Lord flows into them through heaven through their internals into their externals.5 Amen.

First Lesson: GEN 18:17-33

And the LORD said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am doing, {18} “since Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? {19} “For I have known him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of the LORD, to do righteousness and justice, that the LORD may bring to Abraham what He has spoken to him.” {20} And the LORD said, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grave, {21} “I will go down now and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry against it that has come to Me; and if not, I will know.” {22} Then the men turned away from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the LORD.

23} And Abraham came near and said, “Would You also destroy the righteous with the wicked? {24} “Suppose there were fifty righteous within the city; would You also destroy the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous that were in it? {25} “Far be it from You to do such a thing as this, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous should be as the wicked; far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” {26} So the LORD said, “If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare all the place for their sakes.” {27} Then Abraham answered and said, “Indeed now, I who am but dust and ashes have taken it upon myself to speak to the Lord: {28} “Suppose there were five less than the fifty righteous; would You destroy all of the city for lack of five?” So He said, “If I find there forty-five, I will not destroy it.” {29} And he spoke to Him yet again and said, “Suppose there should be forty found there?” So He said, “I will not do it for the sake of forty.” {30} Then he said, “Let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak: Suppose thirty should be found there?” So He said, “I will not do it if I find thirty there.” {31} And he said, “Indeed now, I have taken it upon myself to speak to the Lord: Suppose twenty should be found there?” So He said, “I will not destroy it for the sake of twenty.” {32} Then he said, “Let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak but once more: Suppose ten should be found there?” And He said, “I will not destroy it for the sake of ten.” {33} So the LORD went His way as soon as He had finished speaking with Abraham; and Abraham returned to his place. Amen.

2nd Lesson: Luke 14:1-14

Now it happened, as He went into the house of one of the rulers of the Pharisees to eat bread on the Sabbath, that they watched Him closely. {2} And behold, there was a certain man before Him who had dropsy. {3} And Jesus, answering, spoke to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” {4} But they kept silent. And He took him and healed him, and let him go. {5} Then He answered them, saying, “Which of you, having a donkey or an ox that has fallen into a pit, will not immediately pull him out on the Sabbath day?” {6} And they could not answer Him regarding these things. {7} So He told a parable to those who were invited, when He noted how they chose the best places, saying to them: {8} “When you are invited by anyone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in the best place, lest one more honourable than you be invited by him; {9} “and he who invited you and him come and say to you, ‘Give place to this man,’ and then you begin with shame to take the lowest place. {10} “But when you are invited, go and sit down in the lowest place, so that when he who invited you comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, go up higher.’ Then you will have glory in the presence of those who sit at the table with you. {11} “For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” {12} Then He also said to him who invited Him, “When you give a dinner or a supper, do not ask your friends, your brothers, your relatives, nor rich neighbours, lest they also invite you back, and you be repaid. {13} “But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind. {14} “And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” Amen.

3rd Lesson: AC 4311:2

That nation which is here treated of, was in such a state as to good and truth, or as to love and faith. In order however that they might serve as the representative of a church, it was miraculously provided by the Lord that when they were in a holy external, and were at the same time surrounded by evil spirits, the holy in which they were might yet be uplifted into heaven; and this by good spirits and angels not within but without them, for within them there was nothing but emptiness or uncleanness. Communication was therefore given not with the man himself, but with the holy itself in which they were when they fulfilled the statutes and precepts given them, which were all representative of spiritual and heavenly things of the Lord’s kingdom. This is signified by the Lord’s being present with that nation representatively. But the Lord is present in a very different way with those within the church who are in spiritual love and thence in faith. With these there are good spirits and angels not only in their external worship, but also at the same time in their internal; and therefore with them there exists a communication of heaven with themselves; for the Lord flows into them through heaven through their internals into their externals. To these the holy of worship is profitable in the other life, but not to the former. Amen.

1Pages 42 – 43

2AE 455:14

3Ritual, W F Pendleton, p. 20

4Ritual, W F Pendleton, p. 34

5AC 4311:2

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