Sermon: "The Potency of Praise"

Delivered February 24, 2002 by Rev. Jerome D. Cooper.

Sermon Text: 2 Chronicles 20:15-17,21 and 2 Samuel 6:12-16

This past Fall, our Choir Director Tom Brantigan got an unexpected phone call. It was from Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld. It turns out that he was calling select choirs in the Baltimore Washington area, looking for volunteers to be the front line assault on the Taliban in Afghanistan. His plan was to have them parachute in, in full worship garb, singing praises to God. The hope was that this would guarantee victory without needing to fire a single shot. My understanding is that the choir was up for it, but that the Joint Chiefs got cold feet at the last moment.

Sound preposterous? In every conceivable human way, it is lunacy. How could I even think up a crazy story like that? The answer: I didn't. It comes straight from the Bible. Listen to what happened when the Moabite and Ammonite nations declared war on King Jehoshaphat of Judah.

2 Chronicles 20:15 Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jahaziel ... and he said "Listen, King Jehoshaphat and all who live in Judah and Jerusalem! This is what the LORD says to you: 'Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God's. 16 Tomorrow march down against them. They will be climbing up by the Pass of Ziz, and you will find them at the end of the gorge in the Desert of Jeruel. 17 You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the LORD will give you, O Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the LORD will be with you.'" ... 21 After consulting the people [calling a council of war strategy], Jehoshaphat appointed men to sing to the LORD and to praise him for the splendor of his holiness as they went out at the head of the army [the front line, before any of the soldiers], saying: "Give thanks to the LORD, for his love endures forever."

The results of this tactical maneuver? The total defeat of their enemies before the army of Jehoshaphat could even reach the battlefield.

Today, the church is in a struggle - we might even call it a battle. Not to gain territory or fame for ourselves. But a battle for the world, a struggle for the lives of every person God has created. A battle not only raging outside our walls, but inside as well. Inside the church and inside of ourselves. It is the struggle between good and evil, between life and death, between short-sighted self-centeredness and eternal significance. It is not a battle we chose, but it is a battle we find ourselves in nonetheless.

Just like in the days of Jehoshaphat, it is above all, God's battle. In this struggle we are agents of the King of the Universe. In this battle we have been given, in the pursuit of our God-given mission - which can be found on the front of every bulletin, and the front of every News & Views - "Moving People Toward Christ" - what strategies are we to employ that we might return victorious?

Often, with a question like this, we think of the ministries we can put together. The creative ways we can work on discipleship and evangelism. How can we harness the energies of every person, fitting them for the battle according to their personality, experience, giftedness, passion and present life placement (sound familiar?)

Where we really need to start is not with action, but adoration. Not work, but worship. Not Proactivity, but Praise! Don't Just Do Something, Sit There!

If we are to be victorious, we must realize at least two things:

  1. It is not our battle - it is God's
  2. We do not have the resources to win. We aren't smart enough or strong enough.

Listen to the end of the Prayer of Jehoshaphat in 20:12, as he is confronted with the situation of the attacking nations:

O our God, will you not judge them? For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you.

Central's Third Core Value says: We value Worship as the center of church life.

As our eyes are focused upon the Lord, through prayer, praise, repentance, God's Word, music, silence, the sacraments. As in worship we catch new glimpses of the face of God and his purposes and his power at work in and through us - we are propelled out into the world to have the words of Ephesians 3:20-21 fulfilled in us:

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

But it all starts with humble worship, as we come together and submit ourselves to him, giving him all that we are and all that we have - for His purposes.

With praise and worship as the essential foundation to winning the battle for the world, there are perhaps a couple more encouragements we need to hear. For these further lessons, I would like to turn to the life of another King - the one whom God himself called, "A man after my own heart." King David, who himself wrote more songs of praise and worship than any other biblical writer. In fact the Bible records him as the first person to sing the words "Give thanks to the Lord, for his love endures forever." The refrain that won the battle for Jehoshaphat.

Please turn with me to 2 Samuel 6:12-16:

12 Now King David was told, "The LORD has blessed the household of Obed-Edom and everything he has, because of the ark of God." So David went down and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-Edom to the City of David with rejoicing. 13 When those who were carrying the ark of the LORD had taken six steps, he sacrificed a bull and a fattened calf. 14 David, wearing a linen ephod, danced before the LORD with all his might, 15 while he and the entire house of Israel brought up the ark of the LORD with shouts and the sound of trumpets. 16 As the ark of the LORD was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD, she despised him in her heart.

Now the ark of the Lord, or the ark of the Covenant was the most important symbols of God's presence and God's faithfulness to his people Israel. It had traveled with them through the wilderness after their release from slavery in Egypt. It held the Ten Commandments, the staff of Moses and some of the manna. David wanted to have it back in Jerusalem, but their enemies, the philistines had captured it.

He had brought it half way back, but tragedy had struck, when a man was killed for touching it. And the reason was that David had not followed God's rules for carrying it.

At that time, they left it at the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite. Now his sole claim to historical fame was that for the three months which the ark stayed at his house, he and his whole family were blessed. And that made David jealous. In many ways this is a good jealousy. It is not that David does not want anyone else to have God's blessing. In fact, verse 18 says that after the ark was safely home, David blessed all the people in the name of the Lord.

David wanted God's blessing - He wanted the blessing that God wanted to give to him. And God wanted to bless him through the presence of the ark. In the same way, as we come to worship, as we approach God's presence, we are to want blessing as well. That is a good thing. We must only remember that God blesses us in order that we might pass that blessing on to the world. It is in this way that we are equipped for the battle. It is by blessing others that we win the battle.

The first lesson is - desire the blessing of God that His blessing might flow through us.

Now David wanted the blessing of God. And scripture tells us that David's heart was fully devoted to the Lord! So what does he do as the ark is entering Jerusalem? We are told that he "danced before the Lord with all his might!" He was not concerned with what people thought of him - he was dancing for God. David was worshipping, and in worship there is only one true audience, and it is an audience of one - the Lord God Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth!

The second lesson we learn from David is - don't worry about what anyone else thinks - the only thing that matters is whether you are worshipping with all your might before the Lord - we have an audience of ONE.

The final lesson is one that is particularly important for Central, and has a specific application for today. It is a negative lesson that we learn through David's wife, Michal.

When Michal saw David dancing she had an understandable reaction - she despised David in her heart. She thought, "How can he debase himself by dancing and making a fool of himself before the common people. How undignified. How beneath him - and what kind of reflection does that put on me, his wife? He debases me by his vulgar actions!"

When David returns home, he gets an earful. His simple response is. found in verse 22: I will celebrate before the LORD. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor.

David's focus was on God. And if God was pleased, then no other human reaction had any meaning. But poor Michal. She was too stuck in her own world. She could not step out of her own cultural understanding of how a king was to act. Consequently, while David lived a life of blessing, Michal lived a life devoid of the one blessing most prized by the culture of that time - we are told in verse 23 that she had no children to the day of her death.

The reason this is important for us is obvious. Today we are combining three worship style into a single service. Most people at Central have a preference for one service over the others. For some it is a mild preference, for others it is a strong preference. I want to be clear - there is nothing wrong with a preference.

Sin enters when our attitudes about preferences takes the character of Michal and we judge others for the ways they worship. And that takes away our own blessing.

Notice that David did not tell Michal "Hey, you should have been out there dancing with me if you were really a Christian!" He did not demand that anyone join him. His was an audience of ONE, and he knew that others had their own ways of worshipping with all their might.

The third lesson is - worship God with all your might, and don't judge others for the ways they express their devotion.

In the rest of this service, we will each have an opportunity to experience a variety of worship styles. Check your heart now. Is your focus on God? Are you seeking his blessing?

Don't just tolerate the parts of today's service that are not as comfortable for you. Rejoice!

Rejoice with those who rejoice! Rejoice that God brings people to himself in all sorts of different ways. Rejoice in the diversity that God has given us. Rejoice that as different as we are, we have unity in one thing here at Central. God has called us to be his very own, that we might be his agents of transformation and blessing to win the world to him.

Amen.

© 2002, Rev. Jerome D. Cooper
Central Presbyterian Church, Baltimore, MD 21204 410/823-6145
www.centralpc.org