‘There is a lot of a-theism in our church. That is, too much church activity and too many sermons are about us, and too little is about God.’ This striking statement, which could stop us in our tracks, is from Sunday’s sermon at St Paul’s (29 June). Licensed lay reader in the parish, Pamela Criglington, addressed us on the subject of Praise, basing her sermon on Ephesians 1: 3–14 as well as other readings for the day.
A few extracts from the sermon are provided below. [Thank you to Pamela for providing the text of the sermon].
[Reading: Ephesians 1: 3–14]
“I’ll praise my maker, while I have breath”, so said the Psalmist, and we heard Paul’s last words in […] 2 Timothy 4: 18 – “to Him be glory forever and forever.” Today I wish to talk about praise, a topic we don’t often hear sermons on.
[….] Generally, sermons tend to tell us how to live, what WE are to do, how WE ought to think. But there is little about that in this Ephesians passage from Paul. It is mostly about God, what he has done, how he has chosen and called and forgiven and accepted us.
This is something of a problem in a ‘do-it-yourself’ world. We are more ready to hear how to get it right ourselves than to sing songs about what God has done.
There is a lot of a-theism in our church. That is, too much church activity and too many sermons are about us, and too little is about God. People say, “I go to church to find out how to live a better life” and this is true. But sometimes how to live a better life becomes just another set of rules, a self-help technique, a program for personal betterment; and you don’t need God for that.
So the message of the church seems like just one more set of helpful hints for basically well-meaning people who want some fine-tuning of their basically good lives.
Paul would have none of that. His message is large and grand. He begins not with us, but with the Creator of heaven and earth who amazingly, has chosen, adopted, forgiven and redeemed us. That’s where we must begin too, every day, and in every worship service, with remembrance of what God has done.
We love because he first loved us. We sing praise because we have been blessed. Any goodness we have comes first from God, and any achievement we make is our way of saying “Thanks”.
Attendance at service on Sunday morning is not a time to gather with a mental notebook in which to write Hints of the Week. Paul’s letter reminds us that the church service is a place of praise. We are called to a task much bolder than the keeping of rules. We are called through our praise to be a sign, a symbol, a signal and witness of a kingdom where prisoners, the poor and the outcast of the world are royalty and old things are made new. Our worship is not simply a sign that the kingdom is coming but that it is HERE. “The Kingdom of God is among you”.
It is tragic that the business of the church is just that – busyness. A round of programs, youth group games, Lenten studies, finance committees that keeps us breathless and fatigued as we bustle about working,becoming better and better every day in every way. Rather than being a sign pointing to the Kingdom, we become road blocks in a congregation which has forgotten how to have a party. Much of our worship is notable more for dogged persistence than rejoicing. The philosopher Nietzche spoke for many outside the church today when he said –
“You must LOOK more redeemed if I am to believe in your redeemer”.
Whenever the church loosens up and becomes emotional, this praise is our way of showing [our] being in love and, by our love, being a sign, a witness of a new heaven and new earth.
[…]Again, in the words of Paul – to Him be glory forever and forever. AMEN