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  • Shawn Swinney

Worship - Virtual or Real by William Challis

I have just watched the Virtual Grand National, which was great fun. Now you may be thinking that clergy shouldn’t be interested in Horse Racing, but it’s OK – I grew up in Epsom surrounded by horses, which are magnificent creatures and provide very exciting sport, never more exciting that the Grand National. The odd thing about the virtual Grand National is that you could have a real bet on it…not sure I can get my head around that.

What about our worship tomorrow morning? Will that be virtual? No, it definitely won’t be, even if it is live-streamed. Our worship will not be virtual as long as we bring to it the attitudes that we are meant to bring to all worship. Here is what Hebrews 13 vv.15-16 says: Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise – the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. 16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

Worship is real when we make it a ‘sacrifice of praise.’ Old Testament worship involved a literal sacrifice; to show how thankful people were to God, they brought something of value, something that diminished their own wealth and sense of property and sacrificed it. New Testament worship, our worship still involves a sacrifice, because when we truly praise God, we put him in first place, we recognise that he is over all – and therefore that we are not in first place. We have to give up something, sacrifice something of our own concern to ‘look after No.1’ in professing that God is No.1.

Worship also flows out into doing good and sharing, putting others’ needs first when our natural desires might be self-centred; doing good involves the sacrifice of time and energy; this sacrifice flows from the sacrifice of praise, which shows us how much God has sacrificed for us ‘through Jesus.’ If we bring to our worship this desire to make the sacrifice of praise, it does not matter where we worship or how many other people are really present, we are entering into real worship.

Another key passage for worship in the New Testament is Ephesians 5 vv.19-20: Speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Worship involves both ‘each other’ and the ‘heart.’ We can encourage each other and speak to each other online, even if we are missing just a little bit of the immediacy of worship in the same space as others. Let’s be aware of others as we share in worship. And worship involves the ‘heart’ which in the New Testament often is shorthand for the whole self. We bring to worship not just the outward recitation of words, but the deepest parts of our being, our attitudes, pains and joys. When we bring those deep things within us, when we actively remember that worship is about the whole of life, worship is never virtual, and always real.

We are looking forward to joining in real worship with you all tomorrow!


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