September 13, 2020 – Essentials of the Way 2: Worship
Essentials 2 – Worship
Gospel John 5:19-28
Today we’re going to talk about worship. But first, we’re gonna talk about us. Who are we? I don’t mean us in this church, or us as Christians, I mean us as human beings? At their core, what is kind of the organizing principle, or the primary action, of human beings? There’s a couple different ways you can look a at that.
The philosopher Rene Descartes said, “I think, therefore I am.” In his sketch of humanity, we are primarily THINKERS. And there’s something to that. Humans are capable of logic, rationality, abstract thinking, problem solving, and complex language. So, we might say that someone like Descartes would say that we are primarily thinkers.
In the musical Sunday in the Park with George, the main character of the painter George Seurat at one point says to his girlfriend, his girlfriend who is frustrated that he spends all his time painting, “I am what I DO. Which you knew, which you always knew.” And boy does that resonate in our society. Americans are seen worldwide as DO-ERS more than anything else. We get stuff DONE. People from other countries will say that an American, within 30 seconds of meeting a new person, will ask them what they DO. This is considered pretty rude in most of the world. But we do it all the time. Not, “where are you from” or “what do you enjoy doing for fun,” but “what do you DO?” We value hard work, we value the ideal of a meritocracy, where the best results are rewarded the highest. But, at our core, is that what we are as people? Are we primarily DO-ERS? Certainly, if you combine THINKERS and DOERS you get some pretty spectacular results. We sent people to the moon. We figured out that bread mold, otherwise known as penicillin, is really good at killing bacteria, and we figured out how to make synthetic versions of it and distribute it around the world. That’s what thinking and doing can do. And those are both great. But are either of those who we are, at our core?
Well, there’s a writer named James K.A. Smith, or Jamie Smith. And Jamie Smith wrote 3 incredible books on the liturgies of everyday life, Desiring the Kingdom, Imagining the Kingdom, and Awaiting the Kingdom. These are dense and scholarly books. He combined books 1 and 2 into a more approachable book called You Are What You Love. And in these books, he makes the case that human beings are, at their core, not thinkers, that they are not do-ers, but that at their core, human beings are worshippers. You Are What You Love. And I think he’s absolutely right. At the center of what makes us human is our capacity for worship. What do you center your life on? What do you give praise and adoration to, what do you sacrifice for? Look at what you worship and that will tell you a lot about who you are. So, today, we turn to the second of our Essentials of the Way, the idea of Worship. Three things to look at as we consider the centrality of worship to Christianity.
Point 1 – What is worship?
Point 2 – Who worships?
Point 3 – What does worship do to us?
Point 1 – What is worship?
Worship is what the creation does in praise of its creator. Even the earth and the sky worships God in its own way. Psalm 19 tells us that the heavens declare the glory of the Lord. Worship is what the creation does for its creator. In Isaiah 6 we see the prophet Isaiah taken up into the heavenly throne room of God. And we see the Angels and Archangels and all the company of heaven, who forever sing a hymn to proclaim the glory of His Name. Isaiah is recounting this vision that he had: “In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke.”
And that’s a good illustration of what worship is. It’s praising God for who he is. It’s easy for us to try and put ourselves and our experience at the center of worship. Thank you God for saving me. Thank you God for rescuing me. Thank you God for blessing me. Thank you God for sending Jesus to die on the cross for me. And those are good things to say. Gratitude is a key part of worship. But it’s not all of worship. A huge part of worship is just praising God for WHO HE IS, for his attributes.
Elizabeth and I just celebrated our anniversary this past week, and she has a birthday coming up in 2 weeks. But what if, on either of those two days, if I was saying what I LOVED about her, what if I only said stuff like this: I love how you take care of me. I love the way you rub my back. I love that you moved 3 times in the last 4 years just for me. Like, those are all great things… but those are all things she did FOR ME. You know what I mean? “You are incredibly kind to me” is different from “you are an incredibly kind person.” The first one is personal to me, the second is about who she is as part of her identity.
When we focus on the first, we end up with a faith that is centered on our own salvation, rather than on Jesus. Or, to quote a theologian named James Torrance, the center of our faith is too often on the effects of the work of Christ, that is, our salvation, rather than the person of Christ. Do you know what I mean by that? And, again, gratitude for our salvation should make us raise our hand with joy and fall to our knees in humility. But the center of our faith is not the WORKS of Jesus, it’s the PERSON of Jesus.
Point 2 – Who worships?
Everyone worships something. Jamie Smith says everyone has something that is at the center of their world that everything else is wound around. You worship God, or you worship something else than God. There are no neutral parties. Even Jesus worships. John 17, in what’s called Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer, Jesus prayer earnestly to God. Prayer is a form of worship. Luke 11, Jesus looks upward to heaven and thanks God. The Psalm we read together – this is the same Psalm that Jesus quotes on the Cross. Remember? In Matthew 27, verse 46, he quotes the first line of Psalm 22. He cries out in a loud voice as he is dying on the cross, dying for the sins of all of the people of God everywhere forever, he cries out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?!” That’s the first line of Psalm 22. A good way to read the psalms is to think of them as Jesus saying them. And so, later on, in the part that we read, we can therefore hear Jesus himself say through Psalm 22 that HE will tell of the name of God to my brothers;
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you: You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him, and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel! He says, from God comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will perform before those who fear him. The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the LORD! Jesus is praising God and performing vows in a congregation. Sounds like the actions of a priest. And, in fact, it is. The entire book of Hebrews, for example, is based on the idea of Jesus as our high priest. Oftentimes we think of the high priest making sacrifices on our behalf – we look at that role as a forgiveness of sins thing. And it is! But in the Israel temple system the high priest was also the chief worshipper. And that’s Jesus. So in this church, who is the worship leader? That’s a term you’ll hear thrown around sometimes. Worship leader. What is usually means is music leader. Some pastors will get sniffy that the senior pastor is the worship leader, since every single thing we do when we gather together on the Lord’s Day is worship. All our prayers, the reading of scripture, singing, celebrating the Lord’s Supper – all worship. But that’s not really the answer either. So who is our worship leader? James Torrence, in his book, Worship, Community, and the Triune God of Grace says it this way, and this can sound strange and a little radical to our ears. Here’s what he says worship is: “Worship is the gift of participating, through the power of the Holy Spirit, in the Incarnate Son’s communion with the Father.”
Worship is really trinitarian. Christians have what is called Union With Christ. We are united with Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit and as we are united with Christ, we participate with his continual adoration of the Father. That’s worship. We are invited into a divine worship service that is already happening because it’s always been happening. Within the Godhead, within the 3 persons of the trinity, is perfect love, perfect adoration, perfect harmony, and perfect glorifying each person of God by the other two. And then that spirals outward. The heavenly throne room of God – the cherubim and seraphim echo the same song that the persons of God sing within himself. Every Sunday, we are invited to join that worship service that is already in progress. Expanded bigger, even the rocks and stones worship God, Jesus said. The earth and everything in it. All creation praises its maker. But it all begins with God. Sometimes you’ll hear that when we worship, we have an audience of 1. And that’s a good way to think of it, because it keeps us from looking at worship as being about US. But it’s not even that we have an AUDIENCE of 1 – we are joining an enthusiastic bandleader who is already making his song. And so our worship really is a participation. We participate in the worship within the three persons of God by hearing from his Holy Word, inspired by the Father, Spoken through the Son, through the Word, and breathed out by the power of the breath, the Spirit. We are drawn more into the story through hearing his Word. and we participate in the worship within the three persons of God by being fed at his table. We participate in the trinitarian story of redemption which was set forth before time even began, and which will be fully and finally realized at the end of the age. Our prayers, our songs, our fellowship with one another – everything we do here is a participation in a trinitarian worship already happening within the Godhead.
Point 3 – What Worship Does To Us
Last week I said that the absolute heart of Christianity was the Gospel – King Jesus as Lord and Savior. And, if the heart of Christianity is the gospel, and Christian worship is the primary response to the gospel. Therefore, what we do here on Sunday is the fundamental way we are transformed more and more into the image of Christ. The heart of the faith is the Gospel – it’s at the heart of our identity, of who we are. Worship is the primary response to the Gospel, it’s at the heart of what we DO. Think about it this way – of all the commands that God gives us about how we are to live – worship is the main one we will be doing after Jesus comes back. Think about it; after Jesus comes back – the Great Commission – spread the good news of Jesus to all the corners of the earth: Won’t need to. That’ll be done already. Care for the widows and orphans, bless those who are less fortunate than you are. Won’t need to – Micah 4:4 says that in the day of the Lord, in the new heavens and new earth, that everyone will sit under their own vine and under their own fig tree, and no one will be afraid. So, there won’t be any poor left. Bear one another’s burdens – won’t need to. No burdens left to bear. No, what will be left is worship. We get a picture of this in the metaphor from Revelation 7 of all the martyrs and saints bowing down before the throne, crying out “Salvation belongs to our God and to the Lamb!” We see this in the picture of the untold multitudes that come from every tribe, tongue, nation, and people, streaming into the new Jerusalem, praising God. And we see this in passages like Isaiah 25, where we are all feasting together on God’s holy mountain. Because that’s another thing to remember about what worship does to us. Worship is not ABOUT us but it does AFFECT us. It changes us and shapes us into the image of Christ. And one of the ways it does this is by expanding our scope of worship. Hebrews 13:13 says that we are to continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God. What was a sacrifice? Something physical that you grew or tended by the sweat of your brow, and then gave up to God.
Our whole lives are a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. Romans 12 calls us to live our whole lives in a posture of worship. I urge you therefore, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Our whole lives are worship. This is the transformation that happens as a result of Union with Christ. This is the sanctification that happens when we have made the Gospel central and foundational to life. Our whole lives and everything we do are being changed and refined into a sacrifice of praise and worship – what we wear, what we eat, how we spend our time, how we spend our money. Do they reflect the divine truth of guilt, grace, and gratitude that is our worship?
That’s a phrase you’ll often hear when we talk about the Anglican form of worship. It’s a cycle of guilt, grace, and gratitude. You could also call it sin, grace, and faith. We are presented with God’s command for our lives – love one another and do not sin. We are moved to understand the guilt of our sin. In the reading of God’s word, we hear about grace. And in our offerings of prayers, thanksgivings, time and treasure, and in our prayers for the church and for the world, we are moved to Good Works in Jesus’ name. This cycle of guilt, grace, and gratitude, or sin, grace, and faith, this actually plays out in the structure of Morning Prayer, of Evening Prayer, and in the way the Anglican church service is traditionally structured, that cycle actually repeats 3 times throughout the service, pressing down into us even deeper the truth of who God is, who we are, what he has done through Christ, and what we do in response. At some point this fall or winter I hope to do an interactive, guided, instructional Eucharist service, which is worship, but is also a detailed explanation of where stuff comes from, why we do what we do, and how it all fits together.
Worship is crucial, foundational, and central. But it is not performance. Excellence in worship is a great goal to have as we are offering up a sacrifice of praise to our great and holy God, but it is not a show. I was talking to Bishop Steve this past week; if you haven’t met him, you’ll have a chance to on October 4th. Bishop Steve is a man of deep faith who loves to worship God. He loves gathering together with the saints on Sunday for worship. But even he said, “Ya know, I’d take slightly scruffier worship if it left us more time and energy for mission.” If this stuff interests you, you can read James Torrence’s Worship, Community, and the Triune God of Grace. It’s only 110 pages but it is not a quick read. And if you like the idea of our Christ-centered liturgy of truth pushing back against all the false liturgies of the world, then read Jamie Smith’s book You Are What You Love. I can’t encourage you enough to do that. Because the Christ-centered liturgy that we share on Sunday is also portable. It’s a movable feast and it should impact each of the liturgies in our life. It’s basically a slightly different way of thinking about the passage we heard in Colossians – put on love. “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.” And so we can consider how we would craft a house liturgy – how are we when we are at home? A vocational liturgy – how do we approach work, our coworkers, our bosses, our clients? A neighborhood liturgy – how do we live as salt and light for the people of our neighborhoods? How do we increase the joy of the city? A parenting liturgy – how do we talk to our children? How do we train them up in the knowledge of God, the love of God? How do we contextualize the idea of guilt, grace, and gratitude for a 12 year old, for an 8 year old, for a 3 year old? These are all worship.
We worship because we are worshipping beings. It’s who we are at our core. Before we are thinkers, before we are doers, we are lovers. Who and what we worship will impact every aspect of our lives. Worship that is centered on Christ, soaked in scripture, empowered by prayer and singing, and made physical and tangible at the Lord’s Table, that kind of worship reminds us where we fit in the story. That grand story of redemption that i talked about last week – creation, fall, redemption, restoration – it reminds us about how we fit into the grand story of redemption that God is telling through Jesus Christ. By him and with him and in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all honor and glory is yours, Almighty Father, forever and ever. Amen.