Worship is a Relationship
by Alan Murphy-Crouso
Sunday Experience Director
Have you ever been sucked into a conversation with someone that will not stop talking? It is not a particularly engaging experience and I think is an annoyance of which many of us are familiar. We try our best to sneak a few sentences in here and there, but we find we cannot get through the endless stream of thoughts, experiences, and opinions that the speaker feels are important enough to pummel us with in order that they can feel valued or understood, but in the end we are the ones walking away feeling undervalued and misunderstood. We find that we didn’t engage in a conversation at all and a true relationship was not developed.
These types of experiences can be really helpful in our attempt to understand worship, because while they are extremely frustrating, they shed light on what a relationship is by showing us what it is not. This is integral to us in our Christian faith because worship is often characterized as a relationship. My former professor and mentor, Dr. Constance Cherry, defines worship in this way: “Worship is the expression of a relationship in which God the Father reveals himself and his love in Christ, and by his Holy Spirit administers grace, to which we respond in faith, gratitude, and obedience.”
In corporate worship, what we do on Sunday mornings, a relationship is ever unfolding and developing between God and God’s people, the Church. It is not a static event, but a dynamic one in which God speaks and we respond, God moves and we move, God acts with truth and love and we are transformed and sent back out into the world to live lives through the power of God’s spirit. One of my favorite biblical models for worship is found in the sixth chapter of the book of Isaiah and gives us a beautiful insight into the innerworkings of this relationship.
Isaiah sees a vision of the Lord, “high and exalted, seated on a throne; and his robe filled the temple” (vs. 1). As creation started with God, worship always starts with God reaching out to us, God’s creation. In the midst of God’s revelation Isaiah responds with awe and holy fear, confessing, “’Woe is me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty!’” (vs. 5). After Isaiah’s humble response to the glory of God, God again acts and speaks and grants Isaiah pardon for his sin by sending an angel to touch Isaiah’s lips with a hot coal, “’See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for’’ (vs. 7). Having purified Isaiah, God then asks Isaiah a question, helping move Isaiah from his sinful complacency into greater obedience and participation in God’s work, “’Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’” (vs. 8). At this point Isaiah has a decision to make and in the light of the glory of God he responds, “Here I am, send me’” (vs. 8).
In this biblical expression of worship we see a relationship made manifest before our eyes. God reveals Godself, Isaiah responds, God pardons, Isaiah is healed, God invites, Isaiah responds with obedience. There are countless examples of expressions of worship throughout Scripture and throughout the history of the Church. Time and time again we see that God is not some grand king, sitting on his throne “wielding the bolts of Jupiter” against his children, but is a holy and loving Creator that is always making things new and that desires to come close to people like you and me that we might follow Him more closely that we might love Him and every living creature on this earth more fully. This is worship, and this is what we are invited into personally every day, but also each week as a worshipping Body, the Church.
I encourage you all to begin to transform your understanding of what is happening when we meet on Sunday mornings, whether you are joining us in-person or online. When is God speaking in the service? What is He communicating through each part of the liturgy? When are there opportunities to respond on how should you respond? I hope that as we continue to journey together that we would be able to remember that we worship a God that is active in our lives and in the life of Chapel Hill. Every week we have the opportunity to respond to God’s invitation to come and meet together with Him, that we might continue to know God better and to be transformed more into God’s loving likeness so that we may more fully join into the song of redemption that is being sung in every nook and cranny of the entire created cosmos. God has invited us, may we respond in “faith, love, and obedience.”