Have you noticed a particularly disturbing trend in this era of social media? You have probably noticed several, but we’re not talking about our president’s use of Twitter. At least not today.
Today, we’re talking about announcing an event on social media, so that all of your “friends” or “followers” know about your Super Bowl party or the surprise anniversary celebration. That could be hundreds of people – or even thousands.
The worst has to be cyber wedding invitations. Miss Manner reminds her gentle readers that that is bad form – but it is spreading like a virus. What makes it bad form? Why would most – if not all – of us be put off by a virtual invitation to the joining of two lives together?
Because a special event requests a special announcement – and a specific invitation that says to the recipient that he or she is special to you.
Let me repeat that – a specific invitation says to the recipient that he or she is special to you. Spamming your upcoming nuptials says to people that their attendance at the wedding is no more important to you than you are to a business that fills your inbox with advertising.
Sometimes it is nice to be asked specifically. And nothing says that you are wanted at an event as well as something addressed to you, inviting you to be there.
You can find horror stories of family strife caused when the bride and groom assumed that certain close relatives assumed that they were invited – and therefore, needed no particular invitation. At best, they feel taken for granted. At worst, they are left feeling unwanted.
What is the most important event of the week for the Christian? Worship. The public worship of God by His people. And who is the most important person at that event? God. Should we not go out of our way to make God feel wanted when we worship?
So far in this series on the Worship Service, we have looked at the Call to Worship and singing. The next element in the Order of Worship is the Invocation. Sometimes it is called the Prayer of the Day. Here it says, “Prayer of Adoration and Praise.” Please permit me to explain why.
An invocation is asking God to be present in our worship – we are “invoking” His presence. But God is always present when His people worship together.
He told them as much in Leviticus 26: “I will make my dwelling among you, and my soul shall not abhor you.” God would not drop by for an occasional visit, but would always be among His gathered people. And Jesus told His disciples in Matthew 18: “where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” And we know that the Holy Spirit dwells within us as believers.
It seemed pointless to invoke God’s presence when He was already here. Something like telling guests who are already sitting on your couch to come in and make themselves at home.
So, as a know-it-all seminary student, I decided to reject two thousand years of tradition and replace the invocation with a more generic prayer of praise. Then, I started working on a sermon about an element of worship that I thought was superfluous.
Then I painted myself into a corner with a series on the parts of the worship service – and I found Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the spectacular temple he had built for the Lord.
Then Solomon stood before the altar of the LORD in front of the whole assembly of Israel and spread out his hands. Now he had made a bronze platform, five cubits long, five cubits wide and three cubits high, and had placed it in the center of the outer court.
He stood on the platform and then knelt down before the whole assembly of Israel and spread out his hands toward heaven. He said: “O LORD, God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven or on earth– you who keep your covenant of love with your servants who continue wholeheartedly in your way. You have kept your promise to your servant David my father; with your mouth you have promised and with your hand you have fulfilled it as it is today.”
Ah-hah! This was a prayer of adoration and praise. My vindication! And then Solomon continued by asking God to keep those promises:
“Now LORD, God of Israel, keep for your servant David my father the promises you made to him when you said, ‘You shall never fail to have a man to sit before me on the throne of Israel, if only your sons are careful in all they do to walk before me according to my law, as you have done.’ And now, O LORD, God of Israel, let your word that you promised your servant David come true.
Seems a little self-serving to ask God to make sure that Solomon and his descendants keep their job as king, but we all make our personal requests in prayer. Then he gets to the heart of the matter:
“But will God really dwell on earth with men? The heavens, even the highest heavens, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!”
Solomon is wrestling here with the whole idea of having a house of worship. God cannot be contained in a physical space, but the king knows that there is something special about having a place for the people to worship together and he acknowledges that God is there.
So far, I was feeling pretty good about my anti-invocation position. Until verse 19 hit me between the eyes:
“Yet give attention to your servant’s prayer and his plea for mercy, O LORD my God. Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is praying in your presence. May your eyes be open toward this temple day and night, this place of which you said you would put your Name there. May you hear the prayer your servant prays toward this place. Hear the supplications of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place. Hear from heaven, your dwelling place; and when you hear, forgive.”
Solomon is asking God to do what God is already doing. He is asking God to hear prayers – which God was already doing. He is asking God to see what goes on in the Temple – which God was doing as Solomon was praying. He is asking God to forgive the people’s sins – which God was already doing.
Solomon understands that God is too big to be held in an earthly Temple – but he also understands that God is in the Temple. And that we ask God to do things that we know God is already doing – like being present for our worship.
It is true that the word “invocation” does not appear anywhere in the Bible, but the opening prayer this morning – which was all of Psalm 67 – is an invocation in the strictest sense.
Skip Ryan, the founder of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Charlottesville, Virginia, was interviewed for the Reformed Theological Seminary Ministry journal. He said that in the Invocation, “we are calling upon the Lord to be among his people, to do as he has promised and (to) constitute us as a worship assembly of his people.”
As we have discussed before, “Calling on the Lord” is an act of faith – as we read in Romans 10 this morning. We call on God to save us – even though He did that two-thousand years ago on the cross. But we express our faith when we ask God to do what He has promised to do or has already done. So an invocation is a declaration of our faith that God will be present with us when we gather to worship.
So, in a sense, it is a response to God’s call to us to worship Him: He calls us to worship – and we call Him to be here as we worship.
But beyond that – and this is what we hear in Solomon’s prayer – an invocation is a way of expressing that we want with all our hearts for God to be present as we worship. We want our incomparable God to feel wanted, appreciated, needed.
We do not want to mouth empty words or hum along with hymns or think, “Falcons or Patriots tonight?” during this hour – we want God to be the focus of our worship and to feel that His presence here is wanted.
No invitation is needed for God to be here with us this morning. But a special event requests a special announcement – and what could be more special than being together with God and each other? A specific invitation – a specific invocation – says to God that He is special to you.