Monday, August 26, 2013

Measured by the Cross: Worship

Preached on Sunday, August 25, 2013

Scripture readings: Isaiah 61:1-6; 1 Corinthians 12:1-31

Summer Vacation, June 2013:
Farm Country, Sutter County, CA
(Included Is a Sighting of an Actual Farmer at Work)
My dad liked to create things. I almost would have said that he was a home-improvement sort of creator, but that was only after he married my mom and had a home to provide for. Before he met my mom, my dad wanted to be a creator of race cars.
In the end, my mom became about as obsessive about controlling my dad’s home improvements as my dad was obsessive about making them. My dad would get carried away, and he didn’t always finish his creations. The result of this was that (after nearly forty years) the family home was never quite finished.
Today, every room in the house has furniture, or cabinets, or some feature that my dad personally designed and made himself; or some antique that he rebuilt and refinished. In every room my dad’s creations praise him. Not a word needs to be said. They just point to him and praise him even though he is no longer there.
God is, by his very nature, a creator. And the Psalms say, “Praise the Lord, all his works everywhere in his dominion.” (Psalm 103:22)  Every room in the universe is designed to point to God as the creator and say, “He is Lord.” This is the heart and core of all worship.
God has made us in his image. We were designed to point to God, even without saying a word, and make the message clear, “He is Lord.” Only we don’t quite make that message clear, because of the fact that we have gone wrong. Something is missing from the heart and core of worship in the human house of creation.
Human nature has vandalized itself by sin. In Eden, the human race tried to be like God by eating the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil for their own sake. Instead of becoming like God by imitating his humility we tried to become gods on our own by imitating the devil’s game, and the devil’s pride.
Because our damage went so far and so deep, God started a new creation by means of his humility. He came into our world, in Jesus, and so he became a human being like us, in order to serve us. He served us by carrying our sins, in our place, on the cross. He came to rule a fallen creation by dying for it.
God in his infinite perfection doesn’t need anything, but somehow he chose to make us necessary. In Jesus he says to each one of us: “I want you. I need you. I love you.” In Jesus, God does this so well that (when we truly see it) we must say, “He is Lord.”
By dying for our fallen world, and for our rebel lives, God has begun a new work of creation. Paul says, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has gone; the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17) We have been recreated so that we can say (even if we don’t use words), “Jesus is Lord.”
To be the creation of God is to worship God. To be the new creation of God is also to worship in a new way. We worship the passionate intervention of God in Christ and we say, “Jesus is Lord.”
Paul wrote that for anyone to say, “Jesus is Lord,” requires the power, and energy, and work of the Holy Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:3) In another place Paul wrote that it was the Holy Spirit (working through Jesus) that enables us to call God “Father”. (Romans 8:15) This is all about worship.
There are Christians who will talk a lot about spiritual gifts and it is important to know that, when Paul wanted his friends to understand these gifts, he taught them (and us) that knowing Jesus, and being in Jesus (being one with Jesus), is the spiritual gift from which all other gifts come.
Earlier in this letter Paul wrote about Christians being God’s building, or God’s field, in Christ. (1 Corinthians 3:9) Maybe your home or your shop says, “Jesus is Lord.” Maybe your fields or your garden say, “Jesus is Lord.” But buildings and fields don’t move. They don’t “work”. So Paul gave us the picture of our fitting together into one living thing: the working body of Christ.
A healthy body doesn’t have to work at being many parts in one. Only an unhealthy body really has to work at being many parts in one. Otherwise the heart works against the lungs and the back works against the legs.
There is a way in which a young body made of many individual members also has to learn how to work together. The body of Christ is still a very young body, and so working together (for us) is real work.
The eyes, and the ears, and the head, and the hands, and the feet of a baby learn to work together. Babies spend some of their most important time just looking at their own hands, and feet, and belly button. They are learning to be a body that works together; in which all the parts understand each other.
As adults we try to ignore this. We take our members for granted. We get hurt, we tough it out, and we move on. When one part of a baby’s body is hurting, the whole body cries.
In the Old Testament, the prophets pictured the new creation as being like a kingdom; the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God was also the kingdom of the Holy Spirit.
In Isaiah, the king of the kingdom of God rules by the power of the Holy Spirit. His work is the work of the Spirit. His kingdom is shaped by the Spirit. In Isaiah, the king says, “The Spirit of the Lord God is on me, because the Lord as anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives, and release from darkness for the prisoners.” (Isaiah 61:1)
Jesus spoke these words and he applied them to himself when he began his mission. (Luke 4:14-21) Jesus is the King of the Holy Spirit.
Because of their king (the king of the Holy Spirit) the people of the kingdom of the Spirit will thrive, “for the display of his splendor,” as Isaiah says. (Isaiah 61:3) They will be like trees “oaks of righteousness.” Sometimes they are strong and silent. Even so, they will all be able to say, “He is Lord,” without saying a word.
Empowered by the king of the Spirit, the people of the kingdom of the Spirit will not just be strong and silent. They will do the work of their king. “They will rebuild the ancient ruins, and restore the places long devastated.” (Isaiah 61:4) They will own the new creation in their work for the king.
Paul is able to talk about the kingdom of Jesus, and of the Holy Spirit, as if it were the living, moving body of Christ, organized and empowered by the Holy Spirit. There are so many gifts, and there are many lists of the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament.
There are two lists of these gifts in the twelfth chapter of 1 Corinthians alone, and (even there) they are not exactly the same list. But Paul said, “All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.” (1 Corinthians 12:11) In other words, the Holy Spirit is in charge of who gets what gift; and how, and when, and why.
The most famous lists of the gifts of the Holy Spirit are in Romans, in 1 Corinthians, and in Ephesians. None of these lists are the same.
Probably it’s impossible to make a fool proof list. Christians have many different understandings of these lists and how they relate to each other; and how they relate to us and to the body of Christ. Maybe our human minds aren’t quite able to sort them out. This leads me to believe that only the Holy Spirit fully understands them. Once again it is true to say, “He is Lord.”
The lists are very strange.  They put the strangest things side by side. There are things in the lists that don’t seem like out and out gifts, but more like talents and skills. The fact that these are gifts of the Holy Spirit tells us that these are supernatural things and not natural things at all. The word that Paul uses for these gifts is a word that means grace: something that is not our own doing, something that is not a result of our own work and effort.
In our civilization we have changed the meaning of gift to mean a talent or a skill. Schools have programs for the gifted.
The gifts of the Spirit are different. They are not talents or skills that you can develop, although your talents and skills are all very welcome in the body of Christ. By all means bring them into the service of Jesus.
In Paul’s lists, one of the gifts is the gift of miracles, and right next to that gift (in the same list) is the gift of teaching. Think of all the planning and preparation that can go into teaching. Yet the next gift is the gift of miracles, and (surely, by very definition) you cannot plan and prepare a miracle.
Yet I think (I know) that, sometimes, teaching is truly supernatural and no amount of planning or preparation can explain what happens. There are many times when you teach a lesson that you have planned and prepared, and all that planning and preparation are good and satisfying. That is the art and beauty of teaching.
But there are other times when something good will come into a class and a good teacher will recognize that it has nothing at all to due with their preparation. It is a moment of the Holy Spirit that gives you the words, “Jesus is Lord.”
There are other undramatic gifts; like knowledge and wisdom, and helping and administrating. You think things through and a thought comes that you can’t account for. You help, and you help, and you organize and suddenly someone responds in a totally unexpected way. It is a gift moment, and you say, “Jesus is Lord.”
The miracle is that there are spontaneous moments of worship. There are these divine surprises that tell you that Jesus is Lord.
Those are wonderful, miraculous moments. They are gifts in themselves, scattered unexpectedly by the Spirit for his own purpose. Some such gifts are occasional and sporadic, but they are so refreshing and renewing. They are truly gifts. They are like drinking from the fountain of the Spirit of God. (1 Cor. 12:13)
Sometimes the gift is steadier. It can be more like a calling; more like a habit or a pattern. They are what you do every day and every week, just as much as they are what the Spirit does.
Yet these gifts are not your doing. These gifts are truly grace from the Holy Spirit when they become that calling-place (or meeting-place) in your life where Jesus is Lord (over, and over, and over again) like the gift of prayer. Those gifts in your life are the calling-places (the meeting-places) where other people may also find that Jesus is Lord; because of that gift of the Spirit.
I am not sure that those places where you find that Jesus is Lord will always be in the same places where you do well, or in the places where other people agree that you do well. There were many Christians who knew Paul; they knew how he worked, and thought, and spoke, and wrote, and lived; and they were not impressed. The gifts were there but went unnoticed.
In Second Corinthians Paul wrote his reaction to some people’s criticism. “Even if I am unskilled in speaking, I am not in knowledge.” (2 Cor. 11:6) What I like about this line in Paul is that the Greek word for unskilled, here, is the root for our word “idiot”.
Even though (in this case) it’s not accurate to translate the word (literally) as idiot, I see, in this, the joke that some people thought that Paul was an idiot as a speaker. I firmly believe that it doesn’t matter if you are good at something, or not: that idiotic thing can still be the place where you see that Jesus is Lord. Maybe someone else will see it too.
Paul writes about a crazy debate between the head and the feet in the body. In Paul’s world, the head was noble and the feet were an obscenity. Pointing the sole of your foot at another person would be like giving them “the finger” or “mooning” them. The debate that Paul imagines taking place in the body of Christ is about contempt, and scorn, and disrespect.
Paul wrote this parable of the body to describe the crazy behavior of the people of the Holy Spirit who are oblivious to the presence and the message of the Holy Spirit. It happens.
The body of Christ can only say, “Jesus is Lord,” when diametrically opposed members, as different from each other as the head from the feet, love each other, and know in their heart that they need each other. The body of Christ can only say “Jesus is Lord” when its members are moved to bridge a gap that seems as wide and as deep as the gap between heaven and earth: a gap that only the cross can bridge. The cross is the humblest, most desperate plea in the world; where God himself says, “I want you. I need you. I love you.”
If the members of the body act like they don’t belong to each other, if they act as though they don’t need each other, then the Holy Spirit does not say “Jesus is Lord.” This is for the very simple reason that Jesus is not the Lord in such a body. At least he is not allowed to be the Lord. Can anything be clearer than this?
Sometimes the body of Christ seems like an awfully crotchety place. I think that we suffer, more than we realize, from all the divisions in the body of Christ. I think that we live in a world where the body of Christ has been divided for so long that we think that our present, divided way of being the church is normal.
As Christians, we are living, all our lives, in a body where amputations have taken place, beyond living memory, and there are phantom pains. There are the pains of limbs and organs we have never known. A lot of the dysfunction in the church is due to this. We will see this when we go to meet Jesus, or when he comes to meet us.
The Holy Spirit is present in the way that he wants to be when there are members saying to the others, “We want you. We need you. We love you.” In such a body, Jesus is Lord.
In First Corinthians, chapters eleven through fourteen are all about worship. They all go together and say many great things about worship.
Right here, in chapter twelve, we are taught this central thing about worship. Worship happens every time we say that Jesus is Lord, but this will never quite ring true unless we can all say it together. And we can never truly mean what we say about Jesus being Lord until we can truthfully say to each other, with all our heart, “I want you. I need you. I love you.” Then we will have listened to the message of the cross.

Then, all his works will praise him. Then his body, the church, will truly be the place of his dominion.


  1. Estou alegre por encontrar blogs como o seu, ao ler algumas coisas,
    reparei que tem aqui um bom blog, feito com carinho,
    Posso dizer que gostei do que li e desde já quero dar-lhe os parabéns,
    decerto que virei aqui mais vezes.
    Sou António Batalha.
    Que lhe deseja muitas felicidade e saúde em toda a sua casa.
    PS.Se desejar visite O Peregrino E Servo, e se o desejar
    siga, mas só se gostar, eu vou retribuir seguindo também o seu.

  2. pastor dennis, i love you. thank you for teaching us so much, our lives have been changed better than we ever imagined. God bless you so much.

    yet another inspirational post!
    let us love one another...we should reach out to others more and not just worry about ourselves.

    have a great week ahead!