The following is the "Welcome & Shepherd's Prayer" message that I presented to the church on January 6, 2013.
1. Good morning everyone! It is great to be together on this fine morning to worship our Lord.
2. Please fill out an attendance card. If you are visiting with us, we welcome you wholeheartedly, and there is a special card for you in the slots on the pews or chairs in front of you. Also, if you are here for the first time, please stop by the Welcome Center for more information and a tasty gift.
3. Brothers and sisters, I have some special thoughts to share with you this morning as we begin our worship. It has been so encouraging and inspiring to witness the young people who have been baptized of late. Three out of the last four weeks, we have been able to enjoy the reunion of young souls with their creator. Isn’t that a marvelous thing? Isn’t it both inspiring and encouraging to us? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could witness those reunions every week? Perhaps even every day? It can be done, you know. I have been in churches where that has happened. But, for us to do it, it will take some intentional changes on each of our parts. We will have to do some things differently, and we will each have to make some personal decisions to change. I want to share now about one of those steps or changes that we can make…a change we could even make this morning…that will put us on that road.
4. A few weeks ago, Ray Carter shared with me that his girlfriend, Melissa had been brought to tears by Craig Hill and I. It was in a good way. She was inspired. The thing was, all Craig and I had done was to briefly look at one another, smile, and sing to one another during our worship time. She was sitting way up top and we were way down there, but she saw it and it inspired her. YOU SEE, THE WAY WE SING CAN HAVE AN IMPACT ON THOSE AROUND US! You can make a difference in someone else’s life by how you give your heart to your praise!
5. Last year, my daughter brought me a book home from Harding University called Pilgrim Heart by Darryl Tippens. There is a passage in the chapter on singing that I want to share. Chapter 12, Singing: The Way to Heaven’s Door.
In her highly original autobiography, Traveling Mercies, Anne Lamott tells the story of how she came to faith. In a period of despair, when she spent long, lonely days in a fog of alcohol, speed, and cocaine, spiraling towards destruction, something utterly unexpected occurred. During this dark time she visited a flea market in Marin City, California; and there she passed by a small, sad, ramshackle church from which she heard the most remarkable music. She called it “glorious noise.” At the time, Lamott was hostile to Christianity. She could not bear to hear a sermon, but the music drew her in, and she returned for more in the following weeks. The singing, she said,
was furry and resonant, coming from everyone’s very heart. There was no sense of performance or judgment, only that the music was breath and food. Something inside me that was stiff and rotting would feel soft and tender. Somehow the singing wore down all the boundaries and distinctions that kept me so isolated. Sitting there, standing with them to sing, sometimes so shaky and sick that I felt like I might tip over, I felt bigger than myself, like I was being taken care of, tricked into coming back to life.
One Sunday in April, 1984, Lamott attended the church again. She stayed for the sermon that day, which she found unimpressive, but the music was mesmerizing:
The last song was so deep and raw and pure that I could not escape. It was as if the people were singing in between the notes, weeping and joyful at the same time, and I felt like their voices or something was rocking me in its bosom, holding me like a scared kid, and I opened up to that feeling—and it washed over me.
According to Lamott, “it was the music that pulled me in and split me wide open.” That day she decided she would become a Christian.
· Primary passage taken from: Pilgrim Heart—The Way of Jesus in Everyday Life by Darryl Tippens. Leafwood Publishers. Copyright 2006
· Anne Lamott passages used by Pilgrim Heart taken from: Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamott. (New York: Pantheon, 1999)
You see, by singing from the INSIDE out, we can touch people’s hearts. We can help them be inspired to make changes that otherwise they would ignore. The heartfelt joining of our voices in praise to God can break through the hardened casings of a troubled person’s soul.
6. I have some challenges for you to consider. When was the last time YOUR singing was of such heart-level intensity that it could make a difference in someone’s life?
a. Young people—Teens—Young Adults: Lead us with your enthusiasm! Sing out! Sing strong!
b. Older folks—Folks who have been here 30, 40, 50 years or more—You are our anchors in the faith. Show us how a lifetime of faithful service can overflow into a joyful heart of praise!
c. Those of you in between—Throw off the inhibitions, those fears that are keeping your mouth quiet! Throw off the distractions! Throw off the lukewarm blanket of comfortable religion! And give your heart to God in song! If nothing else, make a joyful noise!
A Congregational Prayer—Adapted from Psalm 51
Please consider and pray along with these words. At the end, I will say “and the church said.” If at that point you are moved to commit to the sentiments of this prayer, then I want you to say a resounding “AMEN” out loud, together, as a congregation.
Have mercy on us, oh God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion, blot out our transgressions. Wash away all our failings and cleanse us from our sin.
For we know our transgressions, and our sins are always in front of us. Against you we have sinned and done evil in your sight; so you would be right and justified in a calling us guilty.
It seems like we have been sinful all of our lives, from the time we were very little, but still you have desired our faithfulness from our earliest days. You have taught us spiritual wisdom from our birth.
Cleanse us and we will be clean; wash us and we will be whiter than snow.
Father, let us hear joy and gladness; let our crushed hopes be turned to joyful expectations.
Hide your face from our sins, and blot out our failures.
Create in us a pure heart, oh God, and renew a steadfast spirit within us. Do not give up on us, but infuse your Spirit within us.
Restore to us the joy of your salvation! Grant us a willing spirit to keep us going!
Then, we will teach the world of your ways, so that sinners…your prodigal children…will turn back to you.
Do not let us be responsible for anyone’s spiritual death, oh God, dear God our Savior, but let our tongues sing of your righteousness.
Open our lips, Lord, and our mouths will declare your praise! You do not delight in mere money, or we would be satisfied with weekly giving. You do not take pleasure in our outward, physical gifts. But our true gift to you is our broken pride, Lord. It is our broken and humble heart, dear God, that you truly love.
May it please you to prosper Southeastern, to build up the spiritual walls of this congregation.
Then, you will delight in our true sacrifices, our acts of spiritual righteousness, in our offerings given from the heart, and ultimately the souls that we will present at your altar.
In Jesus name,
And the church said: AMEN!
And now, let us SING! Let us sing to make a difference!