The Way Of The Cross - Week 1 "Worship"
Today is the first Sunday of the season of Lent. Lent is a season in the life of the Church that essentially is the 40 days from Ash Wednesday to Easter--give or take a few days. 40 is a significant number in the Bible. It denotes a time of refinement or preparation.
In Genesis, it rained 40 days and nights in the time of Noah.
In Exodus the Israelites wandered in the wilderness for 40 years.
As we'll read today, Jesus fasted and prayed in the wilderness for 40 days before he began his ministry and was tempted during that time...
If you aren't a Christian or if you are new to Christianity, you might get thrown off by the word "worship." It shouldn't. Everyone worships something---even if you aren't a Christian. Whatever gets the majority of your attention, your devotion, your time, money, energy and love---that's what you worship.
Christians say that they worship God, or more specifically Jesus, who we believe is also God (long story).
Christians also talk about worship in the context of church services because it's when we "go to church" that we get the chance to express our worship of God together.
So, I need you to imagine the perfect worship service.
Maybe for you it involves lots of hymn singing---and I'm not talking about some of the dirge-like hymns you find in some hymnals, I'm talking about some hymns---you know the kind that you know by heart and don't put you to sleep when you sing them, or make you feel like you are attending a funeral.
Or maybe it's in a contemporary setting and involves a band leading worship songs that are actually contemporary---you know, ones that aren't fifteen to twenty years old, and sound like people with mall hair, shoulder pads and parachute pants should be singing them.
Does your perfect worship service have lots of prayers, liturgy and creeds?
Or does it have more time for teaching and preaching?
Is the sermon in your perfect worship service no longer than twenty minutes, or is it more like mine and about an hour to an hour and a half?
Am I the only one who imagines that?
Maybe if you aren't really a church going person, you wouldn't really know how you would describe it. You might use words like "not too preachy," "not too boring," "open," or "welcoming."
We all would describe our perfect worship service differently, wouldn't we? But what would be our ultimate criteria for it being perfect? What standard are we using exactly?
Truth be told, we would probably be using the same criteria:
What's best for me?
But what if... what if.... worship wasn't about us at all?
In fact, what I want to lift up today is this one big idea about worship that has nothing whatsoever to do with our preferences and our desires. Our worship should be authentic and excellent to the glory of God.
Not the glory of Leon. Not your glory... or yours... or any of ours. To the glory of God.
There's this key moment in the life of Jesus where he gets pretty clear about the focus of worship. It's after his baptism by John the Baptist--when he goes into the wilderness for 40 days---kind of like we've entered into this 40 day challenge called Lent.
4 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted[a] by the devil. 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”
4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’[b]”
5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6 “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:
“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’[c]”
7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’[d]”
8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”
10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’[e]”
11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.
Notice what happened there. The Accuser forgot something. He's telling the Creative and Expressive Word of God, the One who was in the beginning, the 2nd Person of the Trinity, the living, breathing, in the flesh expression of the Almighty---to worship him.
Or more specifically all that he represents about the temptations of this world.
You see, even though Jesus was the full expression of God in human form--he was in human form. He had frailties, needs, desires--all the things that we are tempted with. And in this moment he's tempted with the original temptation that we find in the book of Genesis with Adam and Eve.
And Jesus comes back with---"Uhhhhh, the only person around here who is worthy of worshipping is God." He doesn't give in to this own desires, he chooses to live a life of worship--pointing to God and God alone.
That very temptation is exactly what you and I are offered each time we consider our worship. We have to choose the object of our worship. Is it us, with our needs and our preferences or is it God?
So what if the purpose of true Christian worship had nothing whatsoever to do with what I get out of it, and everything to do with what God gets out of it?
This leads us to another interesting question. What kind of worship does God really like? What sort does he truly appreciate?
And this is where our big idea comes back into play. I think that God desires both authenticity and excellence. God wants your best.
So are you giving God the best of your everything when it comes to your worship? And remember when I say worship, I am not just talking about "going to church." I'm talking about what gets your attention, your energy, your money, your love. This isn't something that is confined to an hour and change on Sunday morning, as we'll be going over in a bit.
I think we can know that our best is being given to God in worship when:
It's not about the "How" It's About the "Whom"
It's hard to believe, but people still lose their testimony over worship style. You'd think after twenty five years or more of worship wars between Traditionalists and Casual worshippers that the Church would finally be in a different space. No chance. And both groups think their preferred style of worship is the only proper way to conduct themselves in church.
The point isn't "how" we worship, but "whom" we worship, "whom" we glorify.
I read about a little boy who was drawing a picture and his mother asked him what he was drawing. "A picture of God," he replied. "No one knows what God looks like," she told him. "They will now," he said.
That's why we worship---to glorify God and point to him. To show the world what God's like by the way we give him our everything when we worship. And I should add this: According to one of our historic confessions, our job in worship is to "glorify and enjoy God." Far too many Christians act as though they aren't enjoying God at all when they worship.
Once I had a church member tell me that they wished I acted more in Sunday morning worship like I did when I conducted a funeral. I actually asked them, "So, you want me to act like I am at a funeral on Sunday morning?" "Yes," they replied emphatically.
That's a true story.
You can worship reverently without acting like you're at a funeral. Lots of people do it.
But however you worship--you need to do it authentically and with as much excellence, as much of your energy, talent, joy, enthusiasm as possible.
It Isn't Confined To An Hour (or so) On Sunday Morning.
If you think that God is confined to one hour on Sunday morning, your God is too small.
Elizabeth Browning wrote this: Earth's crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God, But only he who sees takes off his shoes--the rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.
That's some straight up sermonizing there. Worship is something you do wherever you happen to be because that's how you should roll if you call yourself a Jesus follower.
It doesn't matter how awesome the Sunday service is if you don't leave with a mission.
So what exactly does it look like when you give God the best of your everything in worship?
It's when you point to God by giving your best in worship wherever you happen to be. When you not only sing, pray and preach about how you have a mission, but are actually prepared to live out that mission every day of the week, day in and day out.
It's Better When It's Done With Other Christ-Crazy People
So in case you're thinking to yourself, "Okay, I see you Leon. I can worship anywhere, so that means I don't have to come to church any more. Thanks for the solid, brother."
I have a friend who told me, "I'm just going to watch your sermon videos on Youtube, man. I don't need to go to church anymore."
Listen, I realize that God is everywhere, but you can't tell me that God's not more present in some places than others. And for me one of those places is when a group of believers gather together invoking the name of Jesus Christ.
A friend of mine was traveling on Easter Sunday morning and decided to attend a worship service at a small church in the little town he was passing through. When he showed up there was no one there even though the sign said that a service was scheduled. Finally, a man came out of the church and swept off the porch. My friend got out of his car and asked the man (who turned out the be the pastor) what was happening. The pastor said, "I'm just sweeping up in case anyone shows up."
No one showed up except my friend. On Easter.
The pastor and the people in that church lost the plot.
In Hebrews 10:25 we have this: "Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching."
Even in the first century people were already starting to say, "I think I'm going to sleep in today and watch Joel Osteen on TV..."
It Actually Transforms You Because You Met Jesus
In the book of Revelation, John the Revelator has a vision of a worship service in Heaven. There are angels, strange beasts, rulers of the world and 24 elders who fall down and worship at a throne.
That's how I know there are Presbyterians in heaven. The Greek word for "elder" is presbyteros.
Here's something awesome about that whole worship service that John the Revelator saw and described. The Lamb was on the throne. The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, as John the Baptist described him. Jesus.
And since that took place in Heaven, which is an eternal place, we can say with all confidence that the Lamb is on the throne. Which means for those of us who are Christians: Jesus is risen, alive, in charge, and the kingdom of God is crashing in all around us if we have eyes to see it.
And this same Jesus who is alive, well and kicking kingdom butt is ready to encounter you whenever you gather in his name. Check that. He WANTS to encounter you. He's TRYING to encounter you. "Behold," he told his disciples, "I stand at the door and knock, if anyone would just let me in I will come inside and live there and make that my home."
A lot has been said in the news media lately about how young people 18-30something years old are not in church. I know why they aren't. They've been to one. Their expectations of awesomeness when it comes to church are pretty stinking low. Let's face it. Not many of us really expect anything awesome to happen when we come to church.
Here's a timely question about your worship experience in church and one that sort of paraphrases a question politicians are asking nowadays: "Are you better off than you were one hour and fifteen minutes ago?"
Did anything happen?
You may have come into the worship service with a bunch of mountains in your life that needed moving, and you were told once that if you had enough faith you could move mountains, but you don't feel like you have a lot of faith, so you were hoping you would find some, receive some, or feel some when you came to worship.
What if instead of actually just singing, praying, reciting and proclaiming all of that stuff that you are supposed to believe...
you actually left and lived like you believed it?
What if instead of saying, "nice sermon," you left wrecked, messed up, mad, elated, but changed forever because you encountered Jesus?
This is how we give God our best in worship... when we know
It's not about the how it's about the whom.
It's not just about Sunday morning.
It's better when you do it with others.
It changes you because you met Jesus.