In the life of Moses, in Hebrew folklore, there is a remarkable passage. (1) Moses finds a shepherd in the desert. Moses spends the day with the shepherd and helps him milk his ewes. At the end of the day Moses sees that the shepherd puts the best milk he has in a wooden bowl, which he places on a flat stone, some distance away. So Moses asks him what it is for, and the shepherd replies, “This is God’s milk.” Moses is puzzled, and asks the shepherd what he means. The shepherd says, “I always take the best milk I possess, and I bring it as an offering to God.” Moses, who is far more sophisticated than the shepherd with his naïve faith, asks, “And does God drink it?” “Yes,” replies the shepherd, “God does.” Then Moses feels compelled to enlighten the poor shepherd, and Moses explains that God, being pure spirit, does not drink milk. Yet the shepherd is sure that God does, and so they have a short argument which ends with Moses telling the shepherd to hide behind the bushes to find out whether in fact God does come to drink the milk. Moses then goes out to pray in the desert. The shepherd hides, the night comes, and in the moonlight the shepherd sees a little fox that comes trotting from the desert, looks right, looks left and heads straight towards the milk, which the fox laps up, and disappears into the desert again.
The next morning Moses finds the shepherd quite discouraged and downcast. “What’s the matter? he asks. The shepherd says, “You were right. God is pure spirit and God does not want my milk.” Moses is surprised. He says, “you should be happy. You now know more about God than you did before.” “Yes, I do” says the shepherd, “but the only thing I could do to express my love for God has been taken away from me.” Moses sees the point. He retires into the desert and prays hard. In the night, in a vision, God speaks to him and says, “Moses, you were wrong. It is true that I am pure spirit. Nevertheless I always accepted with gratitude the milk which the shepherd offered me, as the expression of his love, but since, being pure spirit, I do not need the milk, I shared it with this little fox, who is very fond of milk.”
The shepherd was expressing, in his own way, the very thing that we are doing here this morning as we gather: worship. Our word “worship” comes from two Old English roots:
worth – that to which we give highest value;
ship – which is exactly what it sounds like: a ship, a means for transport.
Worship: a means by which we transport, deliver, express, offer what we give our highest value, what we recognize as having the greatest worth. Our worship of God must ever be at the center of our prayer and practice in life. It’s all about God, our worship of God, who is the beginning and end of our lives. Worship is our ascribing ultimate worth to God, who gives us breath, whose praise we breathe, whose life we bear.
But here’s a “heads up.” It’s not as if there is an on/off switch in our soul when it comes to worship. It’s not as if we either worship or we don’t worship. We are going to be worshipful, no matter what. We will worship. We will ascribe ultimate worth to something. We can’t help but do this, because we’ve been created in the image of God. Our first lesson today – from the Acts of the Apostles – speaks of St. Paul’s experience in Athens where there was this pantheon of gods to be worshiped. (2) It’s not as if, by chance, Greek culture had a spiritual element, as do some other cultures, a spiritual side to their identity, and therefore have worship as an element of their life and practice. Not at all. Every human being will worship – give ultimate worth – to something, because we’ve been created in the image of God whose essence is infinite. If our worship is not toward a higher power, it will be toward a lower power. If our worship is not knowingly God-directed, our worship will go in another direction, a misdirection, and we will give ultimate worth to – what? – to how many “Friends” we can have on Facebook, or how many degrees we can earn, or how much money we can make, or how beautiful and wrinkle-free we can appear, or how much food we can eat, or how sophisticated we can act, or how much real estate we can own, … or, whatever… To how soon we can buy a Rolex watch or a new iPhone, or have the next drink, or exert the most power and influence, or try to ensure we do not die. Something. It’s absolutely inevitable that we will ascribe the highest worth to something – whether we do this consciously or not – and then build our own pantheon of descending lesser worths for which we may fight tooth and nail, be absolutely consumed in obtaining, or hoarding, or guaranteeing we will have within our grasp. We will give ultimate worth to something or somethings.
And so I say this is both a “heads up” and an invitation: that we ascribe ultimate worth in life to life’s source – to God who is the beginning and end of life. And Jesus presses the point. We are no longer talking of a God whose name is unspeakable, and whose ways are unknowable, and whose face is unseeable, and whose power is unapproachable. The God whom we worship has not only created life, has not only come to live among us in Jesus, but to live within us. We hear Jesus say, “I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” (3) The God of all creation has come to live within us.
If we don’t get it right, that is, if we do not choose to align the satisfaction of our needs, our love, and our power with God, with the source and end of life, then we will misalign the satisfaction of our needs, mistake our love, and misuse our power with a lesser god to whom we give ultimate worth. We see the shadow side to God’s having come to live within us is our infinite capacity to misuse power and to destroy life. We human beings have the capability of ending life on this earth. Through our armament, through our desecration of the environment, through so many other misaligned channels of power, we human beings can bring existence in our world to an end. And that’s not because there is no God. To the contrary, that’s because there is a God who has formed and filled us. What we have in our hearts and hands is power, and that’s because we’ve been created in the image of God. That’s the “heads up.” The invitation is to surrender ourselves to the source and end of this power, to align ourselves to what Jesus called the building of God’s kingdom on earth as it will be in heaven.
Two spiritual disciplines will help align ourselves with God – the beginning and end of life. Two spiritual disciplines will help keep the satisfaction of your needs, the sharing of love, and use of your power aligned, not misaligned, to God. Two spiritual disciplines: a prayer and a practice. I suggest a daily prayer, of surrendering all that we are and all that we have to God. It’s to acknowledge that we’ve been given life by God, on God’s terms, and we align ourselves to God’s purposes, on God’s time, to God’s end. That is a prayer of oblation, of self-offering, a posture of aligning ourselves with God’s purposes and power. Secondly, a practice: some outward sign so that what we pray, we live. Do something, do something every day – your equivalent of the shepherd in the desert offering to God his best milk – so that what you pray, you live. You are not God; and you are not shopping for God. You are a creature of God, in whom you live and move and have your being. And with that kind of alignment, you will be fully alive; fully, amazingly alive.
Almighty and eternal God, so draw our hearts to you, so guide our minds, so fill our imaginations, so control our wills, that we may be wholly yours, utterly dedicated to you; and then use us, we pray, as you will, and always to your glory and the welfare of your people; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.(4)
- A story told by Anthony Bloom in Beginning to Pray.
- Acts 17:22-31.
- John 14:20.
- A Prayer of Self-Dedication, Book of Common Prayer, pp. 832-833.
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