Plates – think about a pot-luck – how is your plate filled?
Intro – who am I? HONOR – love Craig! Welcoming community, desiring to love, serve, grow and be now and into the future – it’s so encouraging!
Hebrews 10:24-25 (NRSV)
And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
“Worship” is an Old English word – actually means “worth-ship” – the state or condition of WORTH – we consider God to be worthy – of what? Adoration, homage, praise. The word is both a noun and a verb, but in the true Christian context, it has always, until the last 70 years or so, been used as a VERB indicating ACTION (movement) to engage in actions that show the WORTH-SHIP of God. To prove the WORTH or value of someone else requires self-sacrifice – this is why everywhere we see teaching on worshipping or following Jesus with imperatives of action on just what that entails. The best example of this we will be looking at today is in Hebrews 12 and 13.
What is the purpose of the church? To bring praise and glory to God and remember His promises (worship, re-enactment, Sacrament); to bring before God our thankfulness, our confession of sin, and petitions for mercy (prayer); to equip the people of God for service (discipleship); to send the equipped out to serve the world bringing the Light and Love of Jesus to all people (mission)! 2
There are some things we do when we gather that have been done by God’s gathered people for thousands of years! (more later…)
Stories? Story Based Worship
Deuteronomy 6:4-5 (ESV) “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”
Matthew 22:36-37: Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 He said to him, ” ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’
Matthew 6:33 (ESV): “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
As we consider the corporately gathered part of worship, there are a few things to keep in mind generally before we look at specific elements.
First, we must understand that the WHO of the relationship (non-narcissistic worship requires at least 2…) and the HOW are what make up worship – where is not important under the New Covenant of Jesus as we shall see in a bit.
Origins? Ten Commandments! First four focus on how God’s people are to worship the God who delivers them, the following six show HOW this worship would be manifest in the conduct of God’s people in every aspect of life. (Ex. 20) – and guess what? The commandments are NOT limited to 3
a set time or place of worship it is ASSUMED that this is a lifestyle – integrated into all of life, not just temple ceremonies or modern Sunday morning “services.”
Non-negotiable guiding principal: God is the primary focus of worship.
Worship, like true love, is a gift shared within a relationship with no strings attached. If a man or woman gives a gift or serves only with the intention of getting their spouse to do something in return, it is not true love, it is self-love. Now listen…When we seek to “gain” something from our worship, we make our life and relationship with God conditional. Seriously ask yourself – is God worthy of praise even if there are no further guarantees? Look around…
The traditional elements of a gathered group to “Worship” corporately:
Call to Worship
Why? In Israel’s early understanding, GOD is the one who calls His people to worship. Post-resurrection, Christians assemble at God’s invitation (Holy Spirit moves in those whom He calls – it is not a mistake you are here TODAY). It is the height of presumption to think anyone has the right or ability to initiate the worship of God. Only by God’s preeminent call and grace, given to us through the person and work of Jesus Christ, can a congregation of God’s people come to worship. Have you noticed that we use a call to worship? Now, a leader or speaker might welcome the congregation, but it is God who has called us to assemble and who has gone before us as the mediator of all that is said and done. The Call to Worship is not just used to get attention and focus – it is a surrender to God’s will at whose sole pleasure and calling we gather to give Him thanks and praise!
Exaltations of Praise
We have typically used music to express our thanks and praise to God – but it can happen in other ways, too – now listen – thanksgiving and praise is a condition of the heart, not brought on by external factors! 4
Psalm 100:1-2,4 (NRSV)
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
come into his presence with singing…
Enter His gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him, bless His name.
In addition to music – answered prayer, testimony (story), expressions of the Spirit that celebrates God’s character.
Gathered times of worship that omit a personal or corporate confession of sin fail to express the full scope of the Gospel – if we don’t admit we need a savior, then we don’t confess that Our Savior is worthy – which defines worship, right? For all have sinned and fall short of God’s glorious ideal (Romans 3:23). Read the Psalms for a pattern of praise and confession – it’s fascinating.
Declaration of God’s GOOD NEWS!
Another essential element of the whole Gospel story – God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). Again, we sometimes do this today more subtly through music lyrics – but every well patterned time of corporate worship will have this element (it’s in our call and prayers at the beginning!)
The Word of the Lord
Understanding our sin and forgiveness, we can now hear the Word of God with hearts and minds cleansed anew by God’s grace. Now listen – here is what I celebrate when I hear someone say, “I never really understood the Scriptures that way! That really came alive for me!” – it’s a proof that worship of God has taken place – not my teaching. If we leave a corporate gathering wrestling, enlightened, equipped, challenged, all of these are indictors of worship having taken place and the posture of allowing the Holy Spirit to have its way with us! Use of Scripture – why we’re doing it the way we do…. 5
There must be a response…”I gotta get you outta here” doesn’t count! Some response will be part of every gathering, some only on occasion. The Sacraments of Baptism and Communion are a response. Blessing is a response. Testimonies are a response. Offering each other peace in the name of Christ is a response. Tithes and offerings is a response (note this…)
Each act of worship symbolizes the congregation’s unity in Christ by the Spirit – corporate gathering SHOULD BE a commitment of the entire community to bear one another’s burdens, not just one’s own. A congregation should hear the Word of God read and preached as a community of believers accountable to each other for obedience and steadfastness…
The gathering concludes with a strong reminder that the triune God, who has mediated the worship of the congregation and has received the good and acceptable offering of his people, blesses us who gather for the mission to which we are called – we receive God’s blessing and we are commissioned for work and witness of the Gospel in the world.
So, in short summary, the gathering of God’s people for thousands of years has followed a pattern, from CALL to praise, from PRAISE to CONFESSION, from confession to FORGIVENESS, from forgiveness to the WORD, from the Word to RESPONSE and from response to BENEDICTION. This rhythm is embedded in biblical narratives and in the whole of the story of Scripture.
Here’s the kicker on worship – gathering together on a Sunday or at Small group is only one ingredient in a large recipe. You see, in a broader sense, 6
worship is the recognition that we are not the stars of our own stories – God is the author! To worship is to surrender to God in ALL areas of life. Confining worship to an hour or two a week is insane – how it happened (Wesleys in England, Jonathan Edwards in US).
The Trivialization of God by Donald McCullough:
Visit a church on Sunday morning – almost any will do – and you will likely find a congregation comfortably relating to a deity who fits nicely within precise doctrinal positions, or who lends almighty support to social crusades or building programs, or who conforms to individual spiritual experiences. But you will not likely find much awe or sense of mystery. The only sweaty palms will be those of the preacher unsure whether the sermon will go over; the only shaking knees will be those of the soloist about to sing the offertory.
The New Testament warns us, “Offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe; for indeed our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:28-29). But reverence and awe have often been replaced by a yawn of familiarity. The consuming fire has been domesticated into a candle flame, adding a bit of religious atmosphere, perhaps, but no heat, no blinding light, no power for purification.
When the true story gets told, whether in the partial light of historical perspective or in the perfect light of eternity, it may well be revealed that the worst sin of the church at the end of the twentieth century has been the trivialization of God.
“Why do people in churches seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute?” asks Annie Dillard.
We prefer the illusion of a safer deity, and so we have pared God down to more manageable proportions. Our era has no exclusive claim to the trivialization of God. This has always been the temptation and the failure for the people of God. Pagan gods have caused less trouble than the tendency to re-fashion God into a more congenial, serviceable God.
So sadly, worship in our N. American context has become a thing we go to instead of a constant condition of our heart which manifests in praise, mission, witness and service to the God who has already demonstrated his faithfulness to us! 7
Please, join me in helping the church to maintain a proper perspective on worship – it is a movement of God’s people. Let’s be careful that worship does not become an attraction to a preference rather than an invitation to follow Jesus. Worship is not a program of the church, it is not a department, it is a movement of heart and mind in response to the God who saves.
WHO and HOW…what about where? Explain OT centripetal vs. NT centrifugal. What has happened? We have become OT empire builders! Where do these things happen? What is a lifestyle of worship? Back to Hebrews!
Hebrews 12:28-30: Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for God is a consuming fire.”
Unfortunately, there is a chapter break in our modern NTs – but hear what Hebrews 13:1-5 (paraphrased) has to say about the imperatives of how worship happens: let brotherly love continue; show hospitality to strangers; remember those in prison and in need; stand up for the mistreated; honor your marriage and promises; support those who lead you in your faith; reach out to those outside of the gates (on the margins); do good; share what you have.
These are the elements that show a posture of worshipping God – they are considered faithful sacrifices that are pleasing to God! So the next time you’re tempted to have an opinion on the “worship” provided by a team at a church, ask yourself if you’re sensing God’s presence and pleasure as you serve your spouse and family, as you visit and tend to the sick and imprisoned, as you love your neighbor, as you welcome the stranger – for these are the marks of worshipping God in Spirit and in Truth.
O God, who through the grace of adoption chose us to be children of light, grant, we pray, that we may not be wrapped in the darkness of error but always be seen to stand in the bright light of truth. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the 8
Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. – Amen.
May the Lord bless us, protect us from all evil and bring us to everlasting life. – Amen.
Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.