Week 5 - Encountering God in Worship over Millennia

St George Cam & St Cyr Stinchcombe 

August 6th 2023. Trinity 9.


Exodus 33:12-23 - Moses’ Intercession 

12 Moses said to the Lord, ‘See, you have said to me, “Bring up this people”; but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, “I know you by name, and you have also found favour in my sight.” 13 Now if I have found favour in your sight, show me your ways, so that I may know you and find favour in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.’ 14 He said, ‘My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.’ 15 And he said to him, ‘If your presence will not go, do not carry us up from here. 16 For how shall it be known that I have found favour in your sight, I and your people, unless you go with us? In this way, we shall be distinct, I and your people, from every people on the face of the earth.’ 

17 The Lord said to Moses, ‘I will do the very thing that you have asked; for you have found favour in my sight, and I know you by name.’ 18 Moses said, ‘Show me your glory, I pray.’ 19 And he said, ‘I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, “The Lord”;[a] and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. 20 But’, he said, ‘you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.’ 21 And the Lord continued, ‘See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; 22 and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; 23 then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.’ 


R2: Psalm 73: 23-28  

23 Yet I am always with you; ♦ 
you hold me by my right hand. 

24 You will guide me with your counsel ♦ 
and afterwards receive me with glory. 

25 Whom have I in heaven but you?  ♦ 
And there is nothing upon earth that I desire in comparison with you. 

26 Though my flesh and my heart fail me, ♦ 
God is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever. 

27 Truly, those who forsake you will perish; ♦ 
you will put to silence the faithless who betray you. 

28 But it is good for me to draw near to God; ♦ 
in the Lord God have I made my refuge, that I may tell of all your works. 

Gospel - Luke 2:25-32 

25    Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, 

29  ‘Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
    according to your word;
30    for my eyes have seen your salvation,
31     which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32    a light for revelation to the Gentiles
    and for glory to your people Israel.’ 


Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, my Lord. God and Redeemer. Amen. 

I’m going to begin with a question about worship, and hopefully, it will make you think. Okay, so, what do Christians and mice have in common? They both worship cheeses.

What do we talk about when we talk about worship? Well we worship here now, because, like church mice, we have Jesus in common.

So worship, God and faith are inseparable, but what is worship?

Worship is certainly personal, perhaps we come seeking God, perhaps hoping to find God, perhaps, it’s an escape from everyday life, or perhaps it’s where life is truly real, perhaps it’s
where we can encounter God, bringing with us all we have collected since our last encounter, hoping to leave it with God, to help carry the load.

I wanted to understand it, which for me means research, and as I looked at worship in more depth, the more rabbit holes I disappeared down, so like the white rabbit, we don’t want to be late, so let me lead you down some tunnels and along the way we may find some fun facts!

The word worship comes from old English, of worth-iness or worth-ship, becoming worship, defined as; to show regard with great respect, honour, or devotion to an object, person or deity, of great worth.

What we are engaged in here, is Divine Worship, showing great respect, honour, or devotion to God.

Perhaps it’s helpful to know that any prayer, is worship. It’s possible to say worship can be one or more of;
Non-liturgical, or
Private worship.

Liturgical worship is what we are doing now. The whole service follows an order, or liturgy, for the prayers to use and the order they are in. It will be authorised by the church of England. We even share similarities with the Catholic church, including the weekly readings and many prayers. Although we don’t use Latin anymore.

Informal worship has less structure and no set prayers. Music, prayers and talks are free flowing or spirit-led. This can encompass charismatic or evangelical worship, with modern music. New Wine and similar free churches have this style. Our Life Group’s are also informal worship and so is a Quaker meeting, which is mostly silent, with no amplified music at all.

Private or personal worship is just that, what we do on our own. It can be liturgical, like morning or evening prayer, or freer, like saying the Lord’s Prayer, an arrow prayer or making up your own prayer. There are no rules and we are each our own worship leader.

So where did our worship begin?

Thousands of years ago, worship of our God began as a tribal gathering of middle eastern tribes. As the first cities began to grow, alongside the growth of shared agriculture, these gave people more freedom to explore faith and philosophy, with questions like where do we come from, why am I here and who is in charge? 

People moving to cities meant that the population needed to be managed and resources controlled. Who should live where and own which land was key, and religion helped, so if leaders could say their power came from God, then who could argue? The ancient Gods of Greece and Rome came first becoming the focus of their nations until Christianity came along.

The origins of Christianity go back to pre-history with Adam, Eve and Noah. Then Noah’s descendent, Abraham in about 2000 BC, who is also revered as the father of Judaism and Islam. Abraham’s grandson was Jacob, whose son was Joseph and was sold into slavery in Egypt. Joseph became governor and in a famine was reunited with his brothers and Jacob and his family all came to Egypt to survive. This was about 1800 BC.

Three hundred years later the Israelites had grown in number and become enslaved. They left Egypt with Moses and in the wilderness their God became a much more active presence.

Guiding them to the promised land and being a focus for worship because the people's situation was so dire.

The first passage we heard today is from Exodus, the story of that journey from Egypt.

Here, in his private prayer, Moses is asking to be closer to God. But is also complaining because he doesn’t feel up to the calling which God has given him. To lead the people.

Which is one of things worship is for, to help us get closer to God, to know God more dearly, to make the relationship deeper.

However, God knew his presence was going to be too much for any mortal to bear, so found a way for Moses to be kept safe in while God passed by. When Moses later received the ten commandments, his face was burnt bright red from the experience. But Moses knew the people needed God close by, so the Ark of the Covenant was made to carry the ten commandments.

Being in the wilderness, they carried the ark with them. When stopped, the Ark would be in a Tent of Meeting, or Tabernacle, a Holy place where only a few people were allowed to enter, becoming a focus for people in worship, they could gather and worship God.

Sacrifice was an important part of worship. The Levitical priest’s role was primarily to sacrificing animals as a petition of prayer to God.

There are whole chapters of instructions in Deuteronomy and Leviticus, but in Exodus 29:38–39 it says “38Now this is what you shall offer on the altar: two lambs a year old regularly each day. 39One lamb you shall offer in the morning, and the other lamb you shall offer in the evening;”

This is the first record, in about 1400BC, of morning and evening prayer, which is much less messy these days. The first psalm was written around this time as well, Psalm 90.

This rather haphazard history continues as King David came along and so did most of the Psalms around 1000 BC (1013 BC and 979 BC).

The Judean people were then exiled to Babylon in 597 BC, but they had the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) and Psalms.

In exile, they could no longer offer sacrifices, but at fixed hours of the day a pattern of readings, psalms, and hymns began to evolve. This "sacrifice of praise" began to be substituted for the sacrifices of animals. After the people returned to Judea around 100 years later, prayer services were incorporated into Temple worship as well.

Psalm 119:164 says: "Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous laws."

This was adopted in Judaism, and also by the first Christians and later Islam. Early Christians, including Jesus, were followers of Judaism, so it made sense to carry on what they knew.

The church evolved, praying the Psalms and by 60 AD praying the Lord’s prayer three times a day as well.

Early church writers in the 2nd and 3rd centuries, instructed Christians to pray seven times a day, "on rising, at the lighting of the evening lamp, at bedtime, midnight" and on "the third, sixth and ninth hours of the day, hours associated with Christ's death.

Monastic communities by the fifth century, also adopted these hours for prayer. St Benedict learned that being in community required discipline, so fixed rules, prayer times and work kept them from arguing, which at first they did, quite a lot. In many ways, nothing changes!

The western church by the 9th century had developed seven hours; Matins, is morning prayer. Vespers is evening prayer and Old English translated vesperas to æfensang which became Evensong.  

Which includes the Nunc Dimitis, which is taken from the Gospel or New Testament reading we heard earlier.

All of these prayer times can be prayed if you wish. Monastic communities publish some and there is also the Catholic Divine Office, although the Universalis App is a much easier way to explore them.

Up to now, worship has been in Latin, and could only be observed by the people.

Following the gradual split from Rome, initiated by the Pope’s refusal to annul Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon. The Church of England was born and the first Book of Common Prayer was produced in 1549 by Thomas Cranmer, revised in 1662 and it was the first prayer book to be published in English.

It also had all which was needed to lead morning and evening prayer (combining the previous seven offices), communion, ordinations, a baptism or wedding, previously needing at least five books, all in Latin.

It also has all the Psalms at the back and it remains the only official prayer book in the Church of England.

The printing press and the King James Bible also made worship and scripture available to many more people.

Common Worship and all its editions are the only Authorised alternatives. Any other prayers or liturgies (like Celtic, New Zealand or free church styles) can only be for occasional services and not part of the main regular services.

So why have I been telling you all this?

Well, it’s where we come from; our history and tradition inform our present. After all, one of the three Anglican tenets is tradition, along with reason and scripture.

To me, it’s fascinating, that people have prayed the same prayers for centuries. That the roots of our faith go back to the beginnings of civilisation on this planet, which is truly amazing.

Our worship comes from millennia of experience gathered from faithful people before us, who have worshipped and shown great respect, honour, or devotion to God. One God, three in one with Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

So what do we get in return? We do all this worshipin and prayin, what’s the point?

Well I firmly believe that we do not pray into a vacuum. By coming together to worship and praise God, we form community. In community, we are a faithful people supporting each other in our daily lives.

God wants us to worship, partly because, well, God is God, but worship brings us together, it brings us closer to God, into relationship with Him. Generations before us have found rescue, comfort and love in God.

But also know that God loves each of us deeply. God wants us to worship, because he loves us, God is glad in all He made, that the whole of creation sings in praise for the life which bursts forth every day, grateful to be alive, for the life we have been given from first cry to final breath, when we return to him.

So let us worship, be loved, praise God and be glad and rejoice!


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