Monday, July 21, 2014

The Great Ends of the Church: The Maintenance of Divine Worship

Preached on Sunday, July 20, 2014
Scripture readings: Psalm 104:10-35; Colossians 3:1-4; 12-17; Matthew 21:12-16
A Sunday school teacher, during class, asked her students to write a short letter to God. One child wrote this: “Dear God, We are having a good day at church. Wish you could be here.”
We are spending a number of weeks thinking about the purpose for the existence of the Church. We are doing this by looking at a rather old list of purposes that goes back a hundred years, in its present form. But the ingredients on that list go back much farther: even as far back as the Bible.
Sentinel Gap, on the Columbia River
Seen Looking North from Desert Aire, Washington
The ingredient we are thinking about today is, “the maintenance of divine worship.” Now, “divine worship” means “worshiping God”. “Maintenance” means “keeping it up”; or “keeping it going.”
Maybe maintenance implies understanding how it is supposed to work, so that we can keep it going like an engine running on all eight cylinders. So, one of our purposes, as the Lord’s people, is to make sure that worship doesn’t stop; to make sure that worship keeps going on in this world and that we keep it running according to God’s specifications; running at its best.
The presence and maintenance of worship in this world is essential for the health of the world. Worship is a healthy relationship between creatures and their creator. God creates all things and keeps them in existence. That is just a small part of the relationship, on his side. Worship holds creation in a posture of kneeling and looking up to God.
Humans hold a special place among the countless creations, or creatures, that God has made in his universe. As far as we know, all the other creatures (the galaxies, the sun and moon, water and rocks, plants and animals, molecules and atoms) worship God without any self-conscious thought or communication. Only humans (so far as we know) are capable of consciously thinking out their relationship with God, and consciously living it out and expressing it.
We give voice to the worship that flows from creation to its maker. We form the bridge or the anchor line of the worship that connects the creation with its God.
We see in Psalm 104 the world as it should have been. We see creation as it might have been if we hadn’t torn the pattern by turning from the worship of God to the worship of ourselves.
We see the rich pattern and the order and beauty of it. We see us humans as a peaceful functioning part of it. We hear our human voice as the voice that puts the whole pattern together as praise.
When God created the first human beings, in his image, it was so that whatever they did, in word and deed, they would be the tie that consciously bound heaven and earth together. Worship was the relationship that humans would have with God to make this link possible.
Before the human race rebelled against God, the words, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” were not a prayer, they were simply a description of human life as part of God’s good creation.
The words, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” were not a prayer. They described the whole universe. Even though we live in a fallen and disturbing world, there is still so much evidence of the original patterns of a whole, good creation that says “Thy will be done.” This is why we experience wonder.
God has got the whole world in his hands. It is his job to take care of the world. Our first job, at the beginning of the human race, was to take care of the world, as God’s assistant care takers, in his name. That was the other half of our the worship that human beings carried out in the Garden of Eden. Being caregivers after God’s own heart was this half of worship that was special to humans, in their role as the image of God in creation. It was also a part of the worship that the Psalmist imagined.
We can read in Genesis that the Lord walked in the garden in the cool of the day. (Genesis 3:8) The point was for the first humans to have time with God, to have God dwelling in their every day, to sum up the day that they had lived in his will (in his name), because their life, that day, was worship.
This is what the Bible says we were made for. We were made to be caregivers who lived in wonder and we were made to express this wonder as praise and caring. It is as if human beings were designed like a piece of cloth that has a pattern that is not merely stamped on, but woven right in: woven in the warp and the woof; woven top to bottom and side to side. Worship is woven into the pattern of what we are.
As the image of the invisible God, we were the visible sign of what God was like and what God was doing. We were his image actually woven into his creation. Sin actually pulls out the threads from the structure of the cloth itself in a way that damages and vandalizes the pattern of the cloth; and it weakens the strength and the usefulness of the cloth.
Worship restores the pattern and the strength. It reweaves, back into the cloth, the missing threads.
When the children in the temple were praising Jesus, and shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” (Matthew 21:15) it was because their humility and innocence opened their hearts to their God-given pattern. The Messiah, the Son of David came for the purpose of restoring the lost pattern of wonder and praise and caring. The children were his image praising him for what he was about to do. This worship was what they were made for.
The leaders in the Temple were too full of pride, too full of themselves, to admit that they were missing something. The children’s lives were made full, by Jesus. The pattern of creation had returned to them. But the leaders remained empty and the pattern of worship was missing in these leaders of worship.
In Paul’s letter to the Colossians, he says that, as people praise God and speak for Christ to each other, they are changed. They grow in peace. They grow in thankfulness. They grow in worship. “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:17)
Worship became not only what they did when they taught and sang hymns together. “Whatever they did, in word or deed,” became worship. Their families, their work, their schooling, their enjoyment of God’s gifts in this world were all part of the pattern of worship. Worship spread out over their lives to bring their words and deeds back into the pattern of creation.
Sometimes the worship of speaking the words of Christ and the singing of hymns is not worship at all. Sometimes this worship is only an old custom, or a habit, or something like a dance or a game. But, when there is a living relationship with God, worship becomes worship. And when worship becomes worship then life becomes worship.
When life becomes worship, it does not become solemn all the time, but it becomes important. Even fun is important. It is clear from Paul’s writings that worship brings love, and peace, and thanks, and joy.
Life is not always like that in our fallen world. But worship puts love, and peace, and thanks, and joy where they could never be without God’s help.
However good our lives might be without worship, we only discover what we were meant to be if there is worship. There are some things you can only see when you get down on your knees. Something will be missing (whether we miss it or not) without worship.
So, in the pictures of creation in the Old Testament, we see that human life was built upon a living relationship with God, and that relationship was worship. But the relationship and the worship were broken, almost as soon as they started, with Adam and Eve. And then something amazing happens in their relationship, and in their worship. At the end of the fourth chapter of Genesis, we can read that “men began to call on the name of the Lord.” (Genesis 4:26)
There is a long story here. The full life that Adam and Eve enjoyed in the Garden of Eden had not been enough for them. They weren’t content to be merely creatures.
They found that they truly wanted to be independent from God. They wanted to be their own gods and not live a life of worship. And so they listened to the devil, and they ate the forbidden fruit, and they were thrown out of the Garden.
The Lord never left them, but he quarantined them from the temptations of the Garden. The Lord did not separate himself from them, but they had built up an inner separation in their own hearts. They had locked the door in their lives between themselves and God. And that locked door became a part of the inherited spiritual anatomy of the human race. That locked door still stands in each one of us.
Then Adam and Eve’s son Cain killed their other son Abel. Abel was gone, and Cain was lost (driven away). The murder brought the consequences of their rebellion home to roost, and they lost hope worship stopped.
Then they had another child, whom they named Seth. And Genesis says, “At that time men began to call upon the name of the LORD.”
Somehow that child brought hope. That child, Seth, was a sign of the grace of God. A door was opened; and light came in.
When the closed door between you and God is all that you can see; or when the things that have always defined you (like the life of a loved one, or your health, or your work, or even your self-respect) are gone; the grace of God opens that door. The grace of God gives you your purpose back. The grace of God makes you alive.
The grace of God restores the pattern of the living relationship. The grace of God makes it possible to worship. Your worship becomes worship, and your life becomes worship.
To call on the name of the LORD is the sign of God’s grace. To call on the name of the LORD is to ask for help; it is to ask for grace. And the word “LORD” in the Old Testament, when it is spelled out in capital letters, is a sign of the presence of the name of the Lord hidden behind it. The word LORD (when it’s spelled in capital letters) is a hiding place for one of the Bible names for God that means a gracious, personal relationship: a covenant, a promise.
The Hebrew word that we translate as LORD (in capital letters) is Jahweh (pronounced Yahweh). Jahweh doesn’t actually mean Lord, and it isn’t really a name at all. Jahweh is a verb that essentially says “I am what I am. I am that I am. I will be what I will be.”
Calling himself Jahweh is God’s way of saying that we can meet him, and speak with him, and hear him, and belong to him, just as he is; because he promised to be simply what he is for us. We can know that he is offering to us all that he is, and all that he has. Yahweh tells us that that all that we can ever want, he will be.
We translate Jahweh as “LORD” because “LORD” is the word that the Jews substituted for “Yahweh” because they were afraid of the consequences of saying his name aloud, and talking about him, without reverence, or true worship. Still, when we follow their example and say “LORD” it is our Biblical word for the God who wants to be known. LORD is the name for the God who sets out to create a living relationship between us and him.
When the New Testament talks about God and the Lord Jesus, the word God refers to God the Father, whose power created the universe. The Lord refers to God the Son, who came down to earth, in Jesus, to die on the cross for our sins and to restore our lost relationship with him. The Lord Jesus is God restoring his promise: restoring us as creatures of worship.
The Lord Jesus made an offering of himself to open the door that our sins close against him. In his offering on the cross and in his resurrection from the dead the Lord Jesus restores the lost pattern of wonder and praise: the lost pattern of worship.
In Jesus, God gives us a new heart. He gives us a new life of fellowship and peace with him. In Jesus, we see the face of God, not just in his creating power but in his saving love.
Calling on the name of the Lord means that you are seeking the gracious love of the God who truly is gracious love. Calling on the name of the Lord ultimately finds its answer in Jesus dying for our sins, and rising from the dead.
That is where real worship is begins. That is why, in worship, you are to, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.” (Colossians 3:16)
After Cain murdered his brother, there was no worship on earth; for how long, we do not know. But it was a world that needed grace, and it needed worship, and God brought it back.
The Temple in Jerusalem was supposed to be more than a building: it was a gathering of people who came together for worship. They came together for wonder, and praise, and the grace of God.
That is what the Lord meant it to be, so Jesus cleansed the temple of everything that contradicted worship and grace.  He quoted from the Old Testament prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah to remind the people about the kind of place where God wanted his people to gather. God wanted a place, somewhere in this world, where worship and grace could be found. That is why Jesus said, “My house shall be called a house of prayer.”
This is the Lord’s world, and it needs a gathering of people who form a little world in the big world: a little world of worship and grace, where a door opens, and light shines in the darkness, and people’s lives are changed into the pattern for which we were created.
When I was in seminary, I lived in the dormitory. Your dorm room was your home. I had a friend who you could tell if he was home by looking at his door. If the door was open, Cal was gone. If the door was closed, Cal was in.
I found a limestone rock in an old quarry in the woods near the seminary. I used the rock to hold my door open when I was home.
The worshiping church is like my rock. It opens the door to God. The world can tell that God is at home and ready to be seen. He can be seen in prayer and singing. He can be seen in word and deed. He can be seen in changed lives. He can be seen in his image, in the people he is slowly making into a new creation.
God calls our worship to be like a rock that holds open the door of the God who wants to be met and known. We come in and learn to see how God is doing something wonderful. Others can come and be surprised to find that we can see them as people who have hope, as people who are loved as if they were a fair as the sun and the moon. We can teach them to see (by word and deed) that God can make us all new.
This is what we give the world when we gather. This is what we give our neighbors. This is what God has made us for, as the church.

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