Chip Hardwick | Alternative Reality
In worship we glimpse the world as God wants it to be. | Read: Galatians 5:16–26
On page 18 of this month's issue of Presbyterians Today, you’ll find an article by Paul Seebeck exploring how worship is an act of nonviolence. My conversations with Paul got me thinking about worship as a glimpse of the reign of God (or the kingdom of heaven). One way to think about the reign of God is as that place and time when everything is the way that God wants it to be. We don’t have to look around us long to discover that the world is not yet the way that God wants it to be; it will be so only when Christ returns in triumph. However, we can glimpse God’s reign when we have experiences that reflect what God wants for the world and for us.
Worship offers glimpses of God’s reign. When we enter into Christ’s presence in worship, we do not leave the cares of the world behind—rather, we bring them with us and place them at God’s feet. We practice the faith with the saints around us in order to prepare us to live out the values of the reign of God throughout the week.
Study: Reign of God
Galatians 5:16–26 helps us to understand the values of the reign of God, so that we can imagine more easily what it looks like—and what it does not look like. In this passage, Paul contrasts the works of the flesh with the fruit of the Spirit. The works of the flesh include “fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these” (vv. 19–21). Paul warns us not to gratify these desires, which do not point us toward the world as God wants it to be.
By contrast, Paul says, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” He adds that “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (vv. 22–24). As the Spirit works to make us more and more like Jesus, we exhibit the fruit of the Spirit more and more—and others get a glimpse of the reign of God, the world as God wants it to be.
Many of Jesus’ parables begin, “The kingdom of heaven is like … ” (e.g., Matthew 20:1–16; 22:1–14; 25:1–13). How do these parables point to the fruit of the Spirit as ways to demonstrate God’s reign?
Now, let’s bring this back to worship. If worship at its best reflects the reign of God, our worship services help us practice and experience the fruit of the Spirit, together, as community. Sermons proclaim God’s love. Songs of praise evoke joy. The passing of the peace extends, well, peace. Times of silence teach patience. The list goes on through all the fruit of the Spirit as we imagine a worship service that points us toward shalom: peace, wholeness, lack of violence, the reign of God.
This kind of worship offers an alternative reality to the works of the flesh. More important than what happens in that hour, however, is how worship shapes our week. As we live lives of worship, formed by the gospel and pointing to the reign of God, the hour we spend on Saturday nights or Sundays becomes over time the dominant reality, and the works of the flesh that we see around us and inside us the rest of the week become the alternative. Then those around us see increasingly clear glimpses of the reign of God in the world.
Pray: For empowering worship
As you approach worship this week, spend some time in prayer. You might pray for your pastor and others who are crafting the service, that the Holy Spirit will infuse their work so that it will evoke the reign of God. You also might pray for yourself and other worshipers, that you would experience, recognize and practice the fruit of the Spirit in worship. Pray that God will empower the community in worship to be a glimpse of the heavenly reign.
Remember: Galatians 5:22–23
“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.”
Live: The fruit of the Spirit
The Holy Spirit challenges and empowers us to live out in the rest of our lives what we practice of God’s reign in worship. How can the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control that we experience in worship replace the works of the flesh that often shape our lives throughout the week?