One Thing Needed: Worship
He rose at dawn and fired with hope,
Shot o’er the seething harbor-bar,
And reach’d the ship and caught the rope,
And whistled to the morning star.
Nothing is so fervent as the zeal of a young adult eager to explore. A poet captured this zeal in his poem, The Sailor Boy. The youth wakes at the crack of dawn and runs out to the ship. He leans towards the sea as far as he can. He is so excited, he looks up at the stars and whistles. Then a voice cries out from the depths. It is death, taunting him. Go back home. It is too dangerous; too risky. The boy is undaunted, “God help me!” He cries, “save I take my part of danger on the roaring sea.”
St. John was caught up in a vision. Lifted into heaven, he finds himself marveling at the wonder of it all. All the beauty on earth is dull compared to this splendor beyond words. God’s throne shines like the sun, and around him a multitude of saints and angels. What are these saints and angels doing? They are worshipping.
“I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands…They fell on their faces before the throne and worshipped God, singing, ‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honour and power and might be to our God for ever and ever! Amen’” (Rev. 7:9-12).
One word embodies paradise: worship. Worship sums up the existence of the angelic host. Worship is the single, ongoing act of the saints. Worship is the reward of heaven. But what is it?
The cartoons show silly images of men and women sitting on clouds, strumming little harps. The thought of it is terrible. Can you imagine that stretched out for eternity. Boring does not say it well enough. It would be excruciatingly dull. Then what is the worship in heaven? What is happening in the souls of those multitudes falling on their face before God?
“To fall in love with God is the greatest romance; to seek him the greatest adventure; to find him, the greatest human achievement” (St. Augustine of Hippo).
True worship is much closer to the excitement of the sailor boy. He was in enraptured in a vision. For one passing moment, his whole heart was inflamed in anticipation. So eager for adventure, he was willing to risk comfort and even death. Most of us have felt this way, as a youth perhaps, or in a moment of passion. Maybe, just once, we daydreamed about an ideal career, the perfect spouse, or the quiet of retirement. Then we blinked, and the vision passed.
Life lets us down. There are no ideals on earth. But the ability in us to day dream is God given. It comes from that place in our gut, where we know we are not at home. We know we were made for something better. We long for perfection, because we were made for perfection. Joy in this world is always fleeting, but it is also a taste of something real. All pleasure is a foreshadowing of the pleasure of beholding and worshipping God.
In reality, what the young boy was looking for was not the sea at all. He was looking for God. In our own lives, all our dreams and passions are not really about the perfect bride or the perfect career. Our souls are longing for God. King David prayed, “One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to enquire in his temple” (Ps. 27:4). He could pray this way because he encountered God. He experienced what it was like to stand before God, face to face, and nothing was the same again. On the Feast of All Saints, we are reminded about that holy adventure which all the saints share: pure worship.
Where does this leave us now? Worship is work. We do not always want to set aside everything else to simply worship God. Instead, we are tugged in a hundred directions. We get excited about nearly anything else: food, hobbies, romance, drugs…We rarely recognize that when our soul is craving, it can only be satisfied by worship. “As it is in heaven, so let it be on earth” (Mt. 6:10). The Feast of All Saints, when we turn our thoughts to the worship in heaven, reminds us of the ultimate work. We are here to worship.
In our Gospel, this morning, Christ describes the blessed life.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit…Blessed are those who mourn…Blessed are the meek….Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Matthew 5:1-12).
For the Jews, the word ‘blessed’ (ASRE in Hebrew) meant to be like a tree whose roots reached deep and drank from the refreshing waters of paradise. For the Greeks, the word ‘blessed’ (Makarios), meant to be fulfilled. Blessed is the man who is free to truly live the way he was meant to live. We are blessed when all our actions and life focus around God — when every breathe becomes adoration. Worship is more than merely praising God with words. Worship is a whole orientation — one’s whole being in a state of adoration. That is the blessed life.
“They fell on their faces before the throne and worshipped God, singing, ‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honour and power and might be to our God for ever and ever! Amen’” (Rev. 7:11-12).
The sailor boy burned with zeal as he looked out to the sea. We should approach worship with the same zeal. This does not mean we should try to feel zealous. This is not about listening to sentimental music, or trying to stir up emotions. This is about determination; anchoring our hearts on the ultimate purpose. When we wake up in the morning, we have one job to do: to give glory to God.