Theme: For a Christian the center of life, is to worship the God who created us. Where does worship fit into your passions?
In the series, “God’s Mission; God’s Method,” we will be looking at the Book of Acts to see God at work in the early church. The series will help us start our life together by looking afresh at what it means to be God’s people, caught up in the world-changing action of the Holy Spirit. I don’t want to “play church,” just going through the motions. I want us to be the church, the church God calls us to be. ~Rev. John Schmidt
and Psalm 95
Let me read to you a few words from Acts. I’m just going to pick out verses from the same chapter we looked at last week, the same verses. Beginning at verse 42. It says
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles.
Let me move down two verses.
Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.
What are you passionate about? Just asked a bunch of people up there and we got all kinds of answers, some people didn’t even know how to express what they were passionate about. I don’t have to ask my brother what he’s passionate about. He is passionate about military history. He gathers books on military history-he reads those books. He endlessly talks about those books. He watches the history channel. If it is in black and white, he is watching it. And then he is the sort of guy that when you go, say you go on a tour of a battleship, he is the guy that correcting the tour guide, and so far, he hasn’t been wrong yet, but it is still humiliating to be with him. But he gets excited about that and he is willing to give his best time to the study of military history. What are you passionate about? And where does worship, where does God fit into your passions?
A.W. Tozer, an American pastor in the 1950’s said this. “We are called to an everlasting preoccupation with God.” Three hundred years earlier our Presbyterian forefathers put it this way. “Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God and fully to enjoy him forever.” That’s quite a view of life, to be preoccupied with God, to want to glorify God in this life and then to enjoy God, to enjoy him fully and forever. That is quite a picture of life, but it is not the picture of life that we get from the culture around us. They worship, they are passionate, they are devoted, but it is not to God all of the time. Think about the things that we worship. We worship football teams. We worship rock stars. We worship movie stars. We worship money. We worship sex. We worship all kinds of things. I was the Urbana Mission Conference in 2000 and there were 20,000 people in this incredible worship service and I noticed how much it was like a rock concert. And you know some people would say, well that is because you are using all that rock music and the funny lights, but I don’t think so. I think it is because there is too much worship at a rock concert. It is natural to worship. We will worship something. The question is, is it worth it? In other words, worship is to celebrate how much something is worth and the question that we have to ask ourselves is, are the things that we are passionate about, are the things that we worship, worth it?
For a Christian the center of life, the thing that we worship is the God who created us. And worship then in an Christian understanding is something that fulfills us and will ultimately be the pinnacle and fulfillment of human history. So, human history ends with worship, where every knee bowed and every tongue confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father, and we will worship God forever. So worship is the fulfillment of history and the fulfillment of who we are and yet so often our experience of worship is a little bit more like Jacob’s experience of God was in a place called Bethel. I won’t go in to the whole story, but at the end of it all Jacob says, “Surely God was in this place, but I didn’t know it.”
And sometimes our experience of worship is like that because we are bored. We are distracted, we are uncomfortable, we are self conscious and we know that this is not the way that worship should be because when we look into the Old and New Testament, when we see people coming close to God they might be scared, they might be fearing for their lives, but they are never bored.
And so we sense that there is something more out there so we need to understand about worship if worship is one of the key things that we are to do and to be as a people. A worship people. So we need to understand that worship is first of all communication. It’s communication. We understand something about God. We know something. We have certain feelings about that and so we express these verbally and nonverbally. Now, this changes from culture to culture. This changes from generation to generation. The forms we use in worship change, but the heart that is behind worship is always the same, and that is our loving response to the incredible things that God has done to deliver us. So we need to understand about worship, and so, just as the early church stepped into the history of Israel’s worship, by worshipping in the temple carts, we can also learn about worship by looking into the Old Testament and to looking into the Psalms because the Psalms are a collection of events of moments in the worship life in Israel. And so this morning, Josie read Psalm 95 and so I would like to go into Psalm 95 today and look at what it teaches us about worship.
Psalm 95 was used in a particular time of worship in the life of Israel called The Feast of Tabernacles. It happened about this time of year and people would go outside and live in little booths, or little huts that they made out of palm branches, and they would live there for seven days to remember that they had 40 years that they wondered through the wilderness. And they would remember their mistakes and they would remember God’s grace during that festival. And so this particular Psalm was used in that festival, and the Christian church has used it for centuries since because we realize that it tells us so much about worship. Verses 1-5 teaches about rejoicing. Verses 6 and 7 teaches about reverence. And verses 7-11 teaches about our response to God. So the Psalm begins,
“Come, let us worship, come let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song.”
Look at the verbs that are there. Sing. Shout. Extol. I am going to go on and read the rest of the Psalm and we will come back to this.
“For the Lord is a great God, the great king of all gods. In his hands are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land. Come, let us bow down and worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; for he is our God and we the people of his pasture, the flock under his care. Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did at that day at Massah in the desert, where your fathers tested and tried me, though they had seen what I did. For forty years I was angry with that generation; I said. “They are a people whose hearts go astray, and they have not known my ways.” So I declared an oath in my anger, they shall never enter my rest.”
That is the whole Psalm. Now we go the first five verses. Come. Shout. Extol. Sing. The people of God come into God’s presence with praise and we exhort each other to do it so that we won’t miss it. This is too important. Let’s praise God. It’s appropriate to shout. It’s appropriate to sing. We can feel the joy and show that joy.
Now, I want you to imagine with me a Ravens game. That shouldn’t be too hard for you all. Okay? You are in the fourth quarter. It’s the end of the fourth quarter and you are down by six. You are about forty yards out. The time is almost gone and all of a sudden the quarterback goes out, throws a pass and it is caught in the end zone, they kick the extra point and the Ravens win by one point. The entire stadium stands up and goes, (speaks softly) “Yeah Ravens”. Now, can you imagine that happening? No. No. That doesn’t happen. People who paint their bodies might be throwing beer up as they stand up and wave that little foam finger, you know we are number one. And yet so often we as a church we act as if the things that God has done for us are no more exciting than a 25-yard pass. It is worth it to cheer what God has done.
Now, I am not talking about a forced cheerfulness. I don’t like cheerleaders in worship, you know. Where you know if the people aren’t singing again, can I hear that again? You know? And I don’t like that dynamic and maybe you don’t, maybe you are comfortable with that, I don’t know. I am not talking about a forced cheerfulness. There are sometimes when we are not ready for that because there is something going on in our life and that’s okay. We can be real. And I am also not saying that it has to be loud because if you can just imagine the joy a mother feels at the birth of her child. Sometimes that joy is shown more as she just has tears in her eyes holding that baby close, silently, than when the Dad is slapping the back of somebody saying, “Hey see that kid”, you know. So it doesn’t have to be loud, but it can be loud. But the important thing though in all of this is that there really is joy and there is joy because we really connected with the reality that God has done something amazing. We were down by more than six in the last quarter of something much more important than a football game and God has won it for us. And that’s good news. It really is. So we can shout about it, “Hallelujah” says get ready folks, I am going to brag about God. That is what it means. So it is okay to get excited about worship.
But we go on into the Psalms and we come in to verses 6 and 7 and there the tone changes. Look at the verbs now. Let us bow down. Let us kneel before God our maker. The tone changes. There are high notes in worship and there are base notes in worship and reverence is that underlying base note in worship.
You know people when they came into the presence of God, think of those of you who know these passages, Daniel Isaiah, Moses and John, each one of these people came close to God in a vision or some kind of experience and do we find them dancing at that point, no. They fall on their faces. They are afraid they are going to die. It is appropriate to come before God with dancing and praise and joy, but yet when we grow close to God we start to realize that he is God, that he is the creator and that we are created by him and for him and we are answerable to him as his people. And that reality humbles us.
So, true worship can’t happen unless we are humbled as a people, because we realize that we are no longer a fan of God, but we recognize that we are a creature accountable to Him. And so it is appropriate that there is a reverence and awe. If we don’t have that, then worship, the joy in worship becomes self indulgent and we end up just having a pep rally. So we need to remember that when we come before God, we come before holy, holy, holy God, creator of all that is, the one whose character defines what good and evil is, the judge of all, and we are his people. Praise God. Praise him for that. And we know that reverence is okay. It happens naturally at certain times when we just encounter human things that strike a certain amount of awe in our lives. If you go to a cathedral in Europe, you can see the lines of people outside and they are eating their sandwiches and they are talking and joking and all and then they come into the sanctuary and when they come in they grow silent and they look with a sense of awe at what people have offered to God, and if somebody walked in and said, “Hey Mildred, can you get a load of this? Great job, wasn’t it?” it just wouldn’t feel right. Also in our worship there are those moments that it is appropriate for us to be in awe. In fact it says this in Hebrews. “Since we are receiving a kingdom that can’t be shaken, let us be thankful. And so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” So we learn about reverence.
Then we go to the final verses. And here we learn that there is a call to response. A call for obedience in worship. Again, the words change because by the time we get into verse 9, we start getting first person words from God. Where it says, “Your fathers tested and tried me, though they had seen what I did.” At this point in worship, they are hearing a word from God. It is still communication, but it is not us communicating to God. It is God communicating back to us. And so it calls them to remember Israel’s hard times where they didn’t respond well to God and they ask God to prove himself and they didn’t believe. And so using this in the Feast of Tabernacles they remembered again and again that God was gracious, but then they messed it up. And they hear this call from the priest as they sing this, don’t do it again. And so it uses some strong words about God’s response to their sin where it says, “For forty years I was angry with that generation.” The word here for anger talks about him being disgusted and angry. And then in verse 11 using the strongest possible words, “They shall never enter my rest.” A strong rebuke to God’s people. Just in case we don’t relate to that, I need to point out that verse 11, which talks about they shall never enter my rest, comes three times in the Book of Hebrews talking to us as Christians. In verse 8 that talks about do not harden your hearts to God, comes two times in the Book of Hebrews. We as Christians too can get harden to the word of God and yet it is such an integral part of what it means to worship. To worship means to wait before God for a word back, to hear what he says and then to hear means we have an obligation to obey, to respond.
So, we have these three things going on in worship. We rejoice because God has done it. We revere God and stand in awe because there is such a gulf, he is so incredibly different and then there is that responsibility that as we hear the word of God, we respond to it with faith, with hope and with obedience. It’s only as we do these things that we really, really understand what worship is.
Annie Dillard is a writer who reflects on God’s place in the world and the beauty of nature and the nature of the church and she writes something in a book called, “Teaching a Stone to Talk.” She talks about how lightly we treat worship, how we just don’t seem to take it that seriously. And so reflecting on the church she says, “Does anybody have the foggiest idea of what kind of power that we are dealing with here in worship?” That is the first question that she asks. And so then she looks at the church and she says, “Or do I suspect that no one believes a word of it? The churches are like children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. But there is a power there they don’t even realize.” And then it talks about how people get all caught up in what they wear to worship and she suggests this. We should wear crash helmets to worship. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares and they should lash us to our pews for the sleeping God may wake someday and take offense or the waking God may draw us out to where we can never return”. Worship is serious stuff. Worship is a sort of thing that if we understand the gravity of it, we are going to be wearing crash helmets and asking to be tied into the pews because God might come with power and our world will never be the same. Worship can be exciting. It can move you. Worship can be dangerous because it may change you. Are you ready? Are you ready to worship?
Let’s pray. Gracious God, Lord none of us are really ready for your presence. We are undone at the thought of your holiness and your greatness, but we do pray that you make us in this life, in this place, a worshipping people, for we ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Sermon Outline Notes:
“We are called to an everlasting preoccupation with God”. A.W. Tozer
Worship is the center of the Christian life.
Worship an act of communication.
verbal and non-verbal
Psalm 95 gives us a model of Worship:
Worship is showing in appropriate ways what’s going on inside
convictions and feelings
Without reverence, joy can be self indulgent-just a pep rally
God responds, and makes Himself known in their worship.
To hear God’ s holy word is presented as one of the prime acts of worship
Rejoicing, Reverence, Response
“It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should wear crash helmets.” ~Annie Dillard
Worship can be exciting
It can move you
Worship can be dangerous
It can change you.
Are you ready to worship?