Sermon: May 29, 2016
1After Jesus had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. 2A centurion there had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death. 3When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave. 4When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy of having you do this for him, 5for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.” 6And Jesus went with them, but when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; 7therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. 8For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and the slave does it.” 9When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” 10When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.
Grace and peace to you, beloved of God, in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
It’s that time of year again – the sun gets up early, the world warms up quickly, and the sanctuary begins to feel a little stuffy. It’s that time of year again, as you heard in announcements, that we will be moving outside next week for worship. It’s not only that time of year again, but it’s also a very interesting and exciting time at St. James. Come around during the week and you’ll hear the buzzing of power tools (don’t ask me which ones, because I honestly don’t know that much about tools) and the treading of footsteps on the roof and scaffolding around our steeple. As we change our worship space and as our normal worship spaces is being changed, we ask ourselves something: What is worship really all about? What does worship do? What is worship for? That’s what we’re going to be thinking about for a few weeks. During this time, we are going to be thinking about worship.
Now, I know this is a pretty vague topic. It’s not overly dramatic or outwardly interesting. It’s not like we’re tackling the end times or going verse by verse through Exodus. But try to explain to someone who doesn’t go to church why worship is important and you’ll find it’s hard to come up with a very satisfying answer. It’s hard to put our finger on exactly why worship is important sometimes. It’s hard to explain what it is that draws us here and what happens here. For some, it’s a joy. For others, it means dragging yourself out of bed when you’d rather be sleeping. And why we do it is a difficult question to answer.
Now, I’m not saying that I have the exact answer. I know that I have a lot left to learn and even if I live to be 150, I’m confident that I’ll never fully nail down what worship is all about. But I know that it changes me and that is enough for me for now. A class I took last fall really made worship come alive for me. It was called Theology of the Congregation and it was taught by Dr. Craig Nessan. In the book for the class, he wrote (yes, the professor the class wrote the book so I had to make sure I was paying attention when I read), “Of the many qualities that make for excellence in worship, none is needed more urgently than a profound sense of imagination.” A profound sense of imagination. Not good music. Not excellent preaching. Not perfect worship leading and liturgy. Not keeping the worship service to under an hour (you know who you are). It’s imagination. Imagination. Why? Because, to quote Dr. Nessan again, “At worship, we become parables of the kingdom, imagining our lives in the community as Jesus would have them.”
What we do in worship, the prayers, confession and absolution, readings, preaching, songs, liturgy, and even the sharing of the peace, is an imagining and a reimagining of what the kingdom of God is. Worship is taking part in the great imagining of what the kingdom of God is. Everything we do here points to the kingdom. Everything we say, everything we sing, everything we hear helps us imagine what the kingdom is.
Through the readings, we find our imaginations fueled. In our gospel reading alone, we find so much fuel for this process of imagining the kingdom. Just like Jesus came to the centurion’s aid, Jesus comes to us. Just as Jesus reached out to someone outside the umbrella of Jewish orthodoxy, Jesus reaches to us. Just as Jesus makes the sick healthy, the broken whole, and the weak strong, so Jesus does for us. For that we praise God, offering thanks, and then we imagine. We imagine what it would look like for us to beg for healing from Jesus. We imagine what it would look like to follow Jesus example and comfort those who are sick and hurting. We imagine what it would be like to witness these miracles. We imagine what it would look like to see the kingdom of God come alive right here and right now.
And after we’ve come here and imagined together, dreamed together, worshiped together, we go. We live it. We love each other with the same love we have received from Jesus himself. We care for each other with the same care and concern Christ gives us. We stand up for others, we serve others, we do for others as Jesus has done for us. And it doesn’t just end with the people in this room and it doesn’t end with the dismissal because God’s love for you, seen through Jesus’ death and resurrection, doesn’t end.
What we do here in worship is more than simply a good thing to do on a Sunday morning. What we do here in worship is more than simply checking off a box of one of the many things we all have to do each week. Worship is more than a motivational talk, a bandage for a wound, or a social gathering. When we worship, we recognize that the world isn’t all that it should be, but God will make it so. When we worship, we remember that the kingdom of God challenges us. When we worship, we imagine and we reimagine what the kingdom of God is. Then, we go. We live our worship out as we serve others, as we work toward rebuilding relationships, as we nurture, protect, love, and challenge those around us.
As we live in the world of God the Creator, in the light of the Son’s resurrection, empowered by the Holy Spirit, may be begin to imagine and be part of the kingdom of God now. Amen.