Words Matter - WORSHIP
“These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” Deuteronomy 6:6
I mentioned in an earlier post that one of my favorite definitions that I’ve been given of worship from my Lutheran Pastors is a simple way to understand it. Worship is God coming to us and his people respond – to him and to one another about him. One of our realities is that we were all created to worship, to esteem something, to “worth” something and to serve it with our time and attention and respond to it. We were perfectly wired for this in creation as only Adam and Eve could have known. A perfect union between the creator and the created who worshiped God with their lives in perfection. Sin enters the world, it brought death. First if brought death to that worship relationship. It put the created things before the creator. Eventually it brought physical death, a promise that the bible states this way “The wages of sin is death”. And because some people could not put the Creator God in his rightful place as most important and the only one worthy of worship, people die eternally convinced that life without their creator is better, when in fact it is what we know to be hell. We were made for worship and to worship and it’s no wonder that God made the first commandment “You shall have no other gods before me”. Because it always brings death if you get it wrong.
If the story stopped at “The wages of sin is death”, then this would be a short piece and we would be done talking right now. The truth of the matter is that the passage goes on to say “but the gift of God is eternal LIFE”. The story of Jesus, the story of the bible, is how God was not content to simply leave mankind to permanent death and be done with it, but to rescue it from itself. To do for us what we could not do, atone for sin against a perfect loving and just God. We couldn’t fix this, only Jesus could. This is what the cross of Jesus is all about. The perfect life, the innocent suffering, the payment for all sin, once for all. The resurrection from death to prove that his sacrifice was accepted and was enough in the sight of God and then given to us as a gift of faith through the work of the Holy Spirit that we might have a right and an eternal relationship with God. That we would see and be capable of that right worship relationship. The cross is what gives us the clarity we need for proper worship. The fact that Jesus had to endure its shame and pain in our place, but that through it, he rescues all who believe in him and call on his name for forgiveness and for life.
Have you ever heard the phrase “Worship is a lifestyle”? I love this picture and it helps us understand the heart of worship as something that we live as much as we participate in. Three passages for our consideration related to the idea of worship as God coming to us. From Moses time God gave us this command from Deuteronomy 6 says it this way “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” Here God impresses to all that we are to know the words of God, specifically in this text, his commandments. Psalm 119 is another great reference for “the law” as the all-encompassing word of God. I love the picture of this, every moment of every day we are to know God’s word well enough to see it, speak it and apply it throughout our everyday.
“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12 brings this into a very blunt focus. The word of God is living and it is active and it is applicable to the everyday. You and I will SEE the word of the Lord at work and it will impact the way we make decisions, share words and live life.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning “. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” These passages from John chapter 1 remind us that Jesus is the word. In fact the whole bible is centered on the promise of God through Jesus Christ – Jesus is the whole point of it and as we consider worship as an everyday reality, Jesus is the focus of this living word, which is why the bible and mediation on scripture is so important.
Lastly, Jesus (the Word), before he ascended back into heaven shared these final words with his people, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Jesus left us with two thoughts, one being that we are to use this word to make disciples of all nations, bringing the mission of Jesus and his hope that we and so many others might know “life to the full”. He also said that he will never leave us and he will not forsake us.
For many of us, the one hour church service was the time when we formally thought about worship and even then were and are often distracted. In our experiences we have seen the disagreements over what kind of style is best and what music and preaching style is most Lutheran. We argue about the carpet color, the seat cushions in the pews, what people should wear and how often we should go. I have a hunch that if we understood worship to be part of our everyday, our Sunday opportunities to gather as a community would be even more impactful, special and beautiful.
Worship is God coming to us and his people respond – to him and to one another about him. The encouragement then is this. That God is always with us, never leaves and never forsakes. His word is bound to our hearts as we read and study the bible publicly and privately as we learn to hear our Father’s voice. Because the word of God is living and active, we will SEE it in the world around us. In that event, God is ALWAYS speaking and coming to us, whether in the beauty of a sunrise or the tragic news of the day. God is always speaking. What makes it worship is that we have an opportunity, in relationship with him by faith through Jesus, to respond to him (prayer and direct praise) or to others about him (proclamation and praise)
Bottom line, God is always talking to us, it’s why memorizing and knowing the bible and the stories of faithfulness are so important. It begs the question. If God is always with us and his word is always at work, living and active, what is our response? In personal space? In community with others? In corporate worship?
How might God encourage us to respond to his Grace and coming to us. How about these passages from Zephania, from God himself:
“Sing, Daughter Zion; shout aloud, Israel!
Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, Daughter Jerusalem!
The Lord has taken away your punishment, he has turned back your enemy.
The Lord, the King of Israel, is with you; never again will you fear any harm.
On that day they will say to Jerusalem,
“Do not fear, Zion; do not let your hands hang limp.
The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
but will rejoice over you with singing.”
When the gravity of this sinks in, what God did to change our identity from sinner to saint, how do we respond? As we get older and we become more aware of the magnitude and amount of our sins and then see that Grace was always there stretching further than our sins and covering us by God’s grace when we turn in repentance, how do we respond? When we see with joy that God then purposes to tell the world of the hope and story of God’s ultimate faithfulness, how do we respond?