‘God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.’
That telling phrase ‘God alone we worship’, somehow suggests a back story. If we say we worship God alone, are we suggesting that others might worship something else? It’s a strong part of our Reformed tradition to work hard at resisting temptation to worship anything less than God, to stand against idolatry. It’s led us down some paths that few respect us for; all those defaced rood screens, those headless statues and empty niches, artworks destroyed and walls whitewashed. Those in whose steps we follow wanted to let nothing tempt them into confining God to an image or a sculpture, or into implying that God could be persuaded by mounting up prayers or good deeds, or that God could be controlled by the levers of our piety. God is sovereign over all, God is more than we can imagine, God alone we worship – nothing else, nothing smaller or lesser or more containable.
We will always need to heed this voice calling us to true worship, worship that trusts God to be God and does not rely on human images or words, that is not so shaped by sacred buildings or holy texts that it cannot go beyond them, that refuses to accept that we can ever fully know the one we truly praise. God alone we worship; in God we put our trust.
In our prayers today, perhaps we could give thanks for all those things that help us to pray; familiar words, glorious buildings, soaring music, Bible verses – but then seek the silence of the praise in which we simply trust God to be with us. Let our worship be emptied of all but praise – our spirits lifted to the Spirit of God. It can’t be done, and we are not true worshippers yet, but the day is coming and is now here….
O God, I long for a prayer where my spirit is touched by yours and lifted beyond the everyday. I long to worship you in spirit and in truth, to catch your awesome wonder. Give me the gift of trust to let you be God, and nothing and no-one else, and to find my place in the community of praise. Amen.
The Rev’d Dr Susan Durber is minister of Taunton URC and Moderator of the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches