Smarter than Stones

Delivered October 14, 2001 by Rev. George Antonakos.
Theme: the wisdom of worship, the power of praise.

Sermon Text:
Luke 19:37-40
and Rev. 7:9-12

You’re never going to believe this, but if you were here last Sunday night you would believe it, but if you weren’t here last Sunday night, then you won’t believe it. I was actually dancing in the aisles at the Feast of Tabernacles! How many of you were here last Sunday? A minority, but I am here to tell you today that right around this section of the sanctuary we were joining hands and doing something between a Greek and Jewish dance, around here and I made the mistake of sitting on the inside aisle and somebody grabbed me and there we went around. And the problem was that there was a certain amount of people that we had to keep going pretty fast, if there were more people it would have been a lot more merciful, but since there were a certain number I was really going around, and I started to get a little winded, as I am in such great shape. It only took about a minute for me to get winded, and then I felt the old hamstring that I pulled in softball, start to go. And I thought to myself, I started to fantasize and think maybe I should show up in the emergency room you know, sometime because I asked one of the people back there if there was an ambulance out there just in case? And I started to spin out on it and show up at the GBMC emergency room and somebody would ask me, “Well how did you actually hurt yourself?” And I would say, “Well I did it worshiping at Central Church.” And they would say, “Yeah right, I don’t believe that.” And then I started thinking about it even more and saw the obituary. The Reverend Antonakos dies Sunday night worshiping God at Central Church, and I thought what a way to go. What a great way to go.

Now I am here to tell you today that from the text that Elder Jim Herman read and the text that I am about to read to you, God has something very important to tell us and to remind us of. And so, I want to ask that you would turn with me to Luke, Chapter 19, verses 37 to 40 and there we will see what that thing is that we are suppose to be reminded of or instructed in today. Luke, Chapter 19, Verses 37 to 40. Familiar text.

“When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles that they had seen: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Peace and heaven and glory in the highest!” Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, ” Teacher, rebuke your disciples! “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”

From the text of Revelation and from the text that I just read to you, we see something extremely profound. The centrality of worship in our lives, in this life and in the life to come is God’s intention. In Revelation 7 we have a glimpse of the future. People from every tribe, every nation, every people bowing before God, bowing before the Lamb of God. Eternity marked by praise and adoration. And here in this text where Jesus states that the stones would cry out if the people didn’t praise the one sent from God. He tells us that all creation, you and I exist for the fundamental purpose of offering praise to God with our whole lives.

The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah stated it very clearly. “You will seek me and find me, when you search for me with all of your heart.” That’s what the Lord wants. A searching for God with all of our heart in every aspect of our lives. You see we can’t talk with God, we can’t listen to God unless we start to pay attention to God and when we gather in worship, when we gather in our secret place or stay in our secret place as individuals, we start to build a bridge of attention between us and God, so that traffic can go both ways and we can start to hear. That’s what God’s intent is for us. It’s why we have to start building that bridge from the night before. If we come and try to build a bridge of attention on Sunday morning with only two or three hours of sleep, then we’re one step back.

I use to have a teacher in middle school. I was a boarding student, as many of you know it, at McDonough School from grade 7 to 12. And in my 7th grade year, first year, totally clueless in this semi military school, I had a house parent whose joy it seemed to be to just make life miserable for me, and maybe that’s because that was a two way street also. But my house parent at McDonough he would see me struggling to make my bed in the proper way and he would say something kin to this. He would said, “Antonakos, you just got to be a little smarter than the sheets.” And then he would see me struggling with my footlocker under my bed, and I couldn’t get it unlocked and he would say, “Antonakos, you just got to be a little smarter than the lock.” Well, I carried that with me, I mean that was age 12 and so sometimes when I even struggle today, you know with something, I will just say that to myself, “Antonakos, you just got to be a little smarter than whatever your working with here.” I said it to my kids, “You got to be a little smarter than the can opener or whatever it is.” Jesus said if we do not praise God, and the Son who has been sent from God, then we are a step behind stones. Put it in another way, we are dumber than rocks,if we do not fulfill this purpose for which we are created. Has that truly sunk into your heart? Is that your understanding of why we exist, to enjoy the praise of God?

Henri Nouwen said that if we don’t understand this then we enter into what is called absurd living. And he defined that a little bit by saying that the word absurd comes from the roots “serdis”, which means death. And so absurd living is a life in which we remain death to God, and where we are never silent enough to truly hear worship or praise. It’s something like exercise to the human body. And all of us can grow in our worship capacity, our praise capacity. We all have bodies; we all have a praise capacity. Some of us are in pretty good shape, others are in bad shape. That’s true for worship, as well as for physical health. But, we can all grow and improve in our praise capacity. Because you and I were created to appreciate, to affirm and to acclaim that which is good. Our first parents were created to praise God. They looked around in Eden and you can imagine in this context how easy this would be. Everything they saw they knew was from God, look at those trees. Look at those animals. Look at you, they would say to each other. Wow, thank you God. We know that everything we have and everything we experience is from you. Bless you. Praise you. You’re the source of all life. But then a problem arose, when they disobeyed. And just parenthetically think about that for a moment. That everyobedience in the kingdom and in the garden was a form of worship, because they followed what God said. And as soon as they didn’t listen, they failed to worship God. And every time you or I obey God, even in the smallest way we are rendering worship to almighty God. But they went their own way. Now listen to this. Their praise capacity didn’t die. Their praise capacity got redirected. No longer did it turn naturally toward God and God’s glory and goodness instead, creatures took the place of the creator.

If you will look, if you are following along, or just have your Bible open, if you will look at Romans, Chapter 1, you will see Paul explain this. I wish we had time to go through it all, but I just want to hit a couple of verses from Romans 1, where Paul is talking about why human kind is not aligned with God properly, and why the wrath of God many times rest upon the sons of disobedience. But he says in Verse 21 of Chapter 1 in Romans, speaking of those who don’t understand the purpose of their praise capacity, “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God, nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds, animals and reptiles.” Now Verse 25. “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator – who is forever praised.” Amen

Look at what Paul did there. On one hand he talked about why people don’t praise God, their foolish hearts are darkened. They don’t understand that that’s why they exist and that as he is expounding all of this, he starts to think of the creator God and he has to say, “who is forever praised Amen.” There is a person who understands his reason for being. Just thinks of the Creator and says, “Praise the Lord.”

Our praise capacity increases when we affirm that everything exists from God’s hand. The Old Testament says our life breath is in his palm. Let me ask you this. This can apply to either spouse, although I think about it from my perspective as a male, but men if your wife asked you, “Do you like me?” What would be a good response? “Yes, dear I do.” That would be an average response. That would not be a real good one, but it would be average, ” Yes, of course I do.” What would be a bad response? A bad response would be, “I married you, didn’t I?” But she would persist and she would say, ” But do you like me?” “Of course I like you.” “Well, you never tell me.” “I am telling you now. I like you.” She says, “But I had to ask you.” Sometimes, just out of the blue wouldn’t it be great if you would not only tell me that you like me, but you would tell me why. “Okay, I will.” “Okay, so what do you like about me?” You see if you sit there and you say everything, you don’t get it. Or if you say, “I don’t know,” you really don’t get it. Or, you could fall back on the grand fallback line of all husbands everywhere, “I work hard, I pay the bills, I bring in the bacon, that should tell you that I like you and that I love you.” You still wouldn’t get it. We need to be told, we want to have communication that expresses why we do the things we do. I think the Lord loves that to. You see when our praise capacity gets focused on its original purpose, we not only bless the Lord, we get refreshed in our spirit. Just like with our spouse. We must understand that God intends praise to be the spontaneous overflow of our delight in God.

C.S. Lewis struggled with this whole concept of praise. He asked in one of his books, “Is God on an ego trip?” “Is God a vain being who wants compliments?” But then he realized something very important about human joy. And this is what he said about delighting in God. He said, “I have never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise. The world rings in praise, lovers praise their beloved,readers, their favorite poets,walkers, praising the countryside and players praising their favorite games. I think we delight to praise what we enjoy, because the praise not merely expresses, but completes the enjoyment. It is an appointed consummation. Our praise of God, not only as an expression, it is a completion of that which we praise. The simplest proof of this is our habits at sports events and symphonies. This past Friday night we went to hear Tony Bennett at the BSO, at the Meyerhoff. And Tony Bennett, anybody who knows Tony Bennett, knows what a great entertainer he is. He has been singing for 50 years. When he just walked on the stage, people started to… he didn’t do anything. He just walked on the stage. And people just spontaneously started to applaud. And then he started to sing all his great hits and people applauded again. And then he sang, “I left my heart in San Francisco” and the four guys who were behind him, little quartet who he said during the course of the concert, had won 10 Grammy’s just for their own work instrumentally, and then the BSO behind him, with those four guys, can you imagine him ending “I left my heart in San Francisco with all that going on and people not praising, not clapping. It would be impossible. Well, that’s the way it is. Well, that’s the way it ought to be with the Lord. It’s the same thing with the Ravens. You know we go over again and again what they did, great plays and hours and hours after the game they are still talking about it on television. They are completing their enjoyment. It’s not just expressing, it’s completing the enjoyment by praising. It’s the same way with God as we rehearse over and over again, what God has done. We get reenergized; we get lifted above our fears. There is a lot of fear today in this world. A lot of concern about what will happen next. When we praise God, when we worship God, we get lifted above; we get strengthened and given hope.

Sometimes I look at folks in the church and I see what God has done in their life and it’s like I am watching a football game. I say, “Lord, what a great move, you did in that person’s life. How wonderful.” We praise you for that. At the third service last week, a young man came to the front; we did what we call an open mic at the EPIC service. Sometime we ought to try it here. But, we did an open mic and anybody who feels inclined can come up and share what God has done. And this guy came up and he took the mic and he was standing right there and he says, “Hi, my name is Bob, and I am an alcoholic. And I just want you to know that I have been coming to this church for only about a month and God has helped me and saved me and my family.” When he was done, what do you think happened? They clapped for 45 seconds at least. It was just the spontaneous overflow of delighting in what God had done. And that’s what delighting in God and God’s deed does. It provokes praise. It’s not enough just to say, I praise you, I praise you, I praise you. We have to connect words and heart and the fullest understanding of praise, of all the things we can praise God for is in the cross. It’s understanding that God has saved us from ourselves. That he has created us and he has redeemed us and he is coming again for us.

A few weeks ago, not shortly after the terrorist attacks, there was a broadcast on television and it showed a guy who was suffering from burns as a result of the Pentagon attack. And it also flashed over to a Navy lieutenant who had saved this man. He actually carried him out of the Pentagon. And now the man had recovered from some of his burns and he was at home and the news broadcast was showing how the Navy lieutenant was now coming into the front yard and for the first time, meeting both the man and his wife. His wife came out the front door and saw this young Navy lieutenant, she just starting crying. She came up and she had never met him before, she hugged him and she said, “thank you” and she just started saying “thank you, thank you.” It was because of a person saving her husband. Now, when we think of the cross and we think of what Jesus has done, our heart starts to fill and we say, ” Thank you Lord.” “Where would I be if it weren’t for you?” You see to sing hymns or songs or say words of praise without it being from our heart is like bringing a big, beautiful gift box into the sanctuary and opening it and showing it to God and there is nothing in it. If I say to you, “Did you go shopping?” And you say, ” Yes.” And I say, ” Did you buy anything?” And you say, “No, I was shopping, but I didn’t buy anything. I just looked and walked around.” “Well, then you just used the word shopping. Somebody says to me when I go home today, ” Did you worship today?” I say, “I went to church.” “No, did you open the box of praise?” “And did you offer your heart again to God?” “Was your heart in it?” “Well, I went to church.” “Well then, that’s all you did.” “You just went to church.” Now let me be quick to say, that offering our heart to God can be exuberant or it can be quiet. But it’s the heart that God is after. You know parents when little children honor you on Mother’s Day or on Father’s Day, on birthdays and they bring you burnt toast and overcooked bacon and rubbery eggs and they bring it to you in bed, you don’t care about the product, you care that they took the time. If they are a little older and they bake you a lopsided cake and the writing is hardly legible, it doesn’t matter. They were offering their heart. The product doesn’t matter that much. That’s why the scripture says, “make a joyful noise unto the Lord.” Some folks say I can’t really sing. I really don’t want to project too much because people might hear it. The joyful noise is about the heart reaching the voice and expressing it to God. Listen again. Listen again to maybe one of the greatest examples that we will see in print of the heart rejoicing in God.

“They cried in a loud voice. In a loud voice. Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the lamb. All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. And they fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God. Saying amen, praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God forever and ever. Amen” Thank you.

When we remember and consider all that the Lord has done, can we do any less? Let us now apply this sermon and give praise to God and express the reason for our being. We will do that by singing the insert hymn. It’s one I am sure you all know and in fact it is the #1 hymn according to surveys, of all North Americans, “How Great Thou Art”, let’s sing it with understanding and with wisdom.