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Sunday, February 22, 2009

Worship as Participation (Hebrews 9.23-26, John 16.13-15)

February 22, 2009
Sermon by: Robert Austell
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Today is the eighth and last Sunday of our series on worship. My great hope is that we have come to a deeper – and broader! – understanding of what it means to worship God. It is far more than a one hour service once a week, though what we do in here is both representative of and rehearsal for what we do with all our time and all our life.

We have seen that worship involves service to God, working as unto the Lord. And that work of service is as broad as simply saying it’s how you spend your time – all of it. If you are in school, at a job, in the home, or on the way, it’s all a time and place to serve God. Serving God is worship.

We have seen that worship involves obeying God through keeping His Word and commandments. In order to do that, we have to study, learn, and know His Word and commandments. That’s why we have personal devotions; that’s why we have Sunday school and Bible studies; that’s why we have classes on how to read and study the Bible. And it’s not just knowing the Bible; it’s doing what it says! Obeying God is worship.

We have seen that worship involves yielding to God. Rather than insist on “my will” and “my way,” yielding looks to God for direction, submitting thoughts, plans, dreams, and intentions to God’s perfect will. “God, what do you want me to do?” That is the key question of a yielded heart. Yielding to God is worship.

We have seen that worship involves loving God. And that love is rich and full – with heart, soul, mind, and strength. It is love and devotion to God with all we are and all we have. We further saw that when we love God, we love the things God loves, which includes the world. So Jesus taught that love of neighbor is inextricable from love of God. Loving God is worship.

We have seen that God calls us together to worship in community. More specifically, the ancient pattern that continues through the Bible is that God gives us three spheres of worship in community: family, church, and the world. We are challenged to share our faith and our worship with our children. They are the first part of our covenant community. We are called out of the world as the church to worship together as the Body of Christ. And we are sent out into the world to worship publicly, lifting up the name of Jesus in a dark and needful world. This was the charge given to Abraham and it is the charge given to us. Worship happens publicly and in community.

We have seen that worship involves humility. The ancient offerings in Leviticus required and produced humility as people were drawn in repentance and confession before the mercy of God. Likewise, true worship cultivates humility and is fueled by humility as we recognize God as God and us as needy before God. Worship is intimately tied to godly humility.

And last week we saw that worship is praise. We saw that one key component of praise is that it is public. We are to tell God’s story and tell our story publicly so that God’s name will be magnified. With the breadth of what worship is, this means living our lives for Christ in public, not in secret, that our whole lives become a kind of “testimony” of who God is. Worship is full of praise, publicly lived for the sake of God’s name.

Perfect Worship (Hebrews 9)

So here’s a legitimate question: who can do all that? It’s hard enough to wake up, get kids dressed (or get myself dressed), and get here in time for the church service. I thought I was worshiping and you’ve gone and taken us from a walk to the mailbox to a triathlon. If that’s worship, I’ll never measure up!

Great question and honest response!

Before I answer, let me tell you something about Jesus. Look at the first verse in the Hebrews passage, 9:23.
Therefore it was necessary for the copies of the things in the heavens to be cleansed with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these.
Even the Levitical sacrifices, done “perfectly” by human beings, were not sufficient for Heaven. Like our worship, those priests offering sacrifices were representative of and rehearsing for something bigger. Jesus didn’t come to earth to tweak the sacrificial system; he came to embody it and complete it. Listen…
For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us… (v. 24)
Jesus didn’t come to earth to make sure that we sang traditional hymns or had a rock band. He didn’t come to earth to tell preachers how to preach better or worshipers how to worship better. He came to offer consummate worship; he came as one of us to make worship complete. Listen as Hebrews continues…
…nor was it that he would offer himself often, as the high priest enters the holy place year by year with blood that is not his own. Otherwise, he would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages he has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. (v. 25-26)
Though all of scripture calls us to confess, repent, respond, and serve God, we can’t do it sufficiently. This parallels the distinction between salvation by works and salvation by grace. Don’t hear all this teaching about worship and turn it into the grand work of salvation. Worship isn’t what saves us! It is simply the recognition of God for who He is and what He’s done. And that should be an ocean that is too large for us to comprehend or swallow. Just as God should amaze and leave us speechless in awe, so worship should not be something we can pack into a little activity box and check off periodically. Worship is as huge as God because it is public recognition of God as God.

So right – who could possibly worship God in the ways we have been describing? Well, the answer is no one except Jesus.

This passage in Hebrews is just talking about the sacrificial offering part of Jesus’ worship. But consider all that we’ve said about worship. Jesus embodies it all. He was perfect in serving the Father’s will. He was perfect in obedience and keeping God’s commandments. He was perfect in yielding his own will to the Father – so perfect that they shared the same purpose. Yet he was the one who prayed, “Not my will, but yours.” He was perfect in love and humility. We looked at Philippians 2 several weeks ago, which describes that obedience and humility so clearly.

Jesus modeled worship in community, though he also was diligent to find time alone to pray. And Jesus is at the center of praise as the Lamb on the throne in Heaven, seen in the passage we studied from Revelation 5 last week.

That’s the first part of the answer to the question, “Who can do all that?” Jesus can and he has and he does even still.

Super Spirit Glue (John 16:13-15)

So what does that mean for our worship? Am I saying that it’s pointless? After all this?

No – not at all! What I’m saying is that you need not be discouraged if your worship seems small or if you have trouble connecting. Life, salvation, and God’s self-worth do not depend on your worship! All will be okay, for Jesus continues to be humanity’s perfect representative, embodying all that I’ve said about worship and more.

And Jesus is more than our representative – he brings us along with him. That’s the role of the Holy Spirit, as Jesus promised in John as he was preparing to leave his friends, the disciples.
In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. (John 14:20)
[The Holy Spirit of truth] will glorify me, for He will take of mine and will disclose it to you. All things that the Father has are mine; therefore I said that He takes of mine and will disclose it to you. (John 16:14-15)
The Holy Spirit is like spiritual super-glue, binding us to Jesus, and through him to the Father (though Jesus has gone on to Heaven and eternity). The Spirit glorifies Jesus and reveals Jesus to us. Since Jesus revealed the Father and is one with the Father, the Spirit glorifies the Father and reveals God the Father to us. And that first verse that was our call to worship is key: “…you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.”

Said most simply, Jesus embodies perfect worship because he is not just having private communion with God the Father, but has invited us along AND made it possible through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the glue to bind us to Jesus in eternity. When we worship, we are not just rehearsing and representing heavenly worship, we are actually part of heavenly worship because we are connected to Jesus. And our limited, imperfect, worship – whether in this room or out in day-to-day life – is joined to Jesus’ perfect, ongoing worship in heaven.

That happens with all that we’ve said about worship. Our limited and imperfect obedience is joined to Jesus’ perfect obedience and offered to God. Our give and take, sometimes off sometimes on yieldedness is joined to Jesus’ perfect submission to the Father.

It doesn’t matter if you can’t sing, can’t read, can’t get through every day with a perfect behavior record… life lived in faith and as a worship-offering to God is joined to Jesus and is therefore pleasing to the Father.

You can press that point too far, of course. Can’t I just do whatever I want and Jesus will clean it up for me and make it right? Scripture would respond, “May it never be!” Can an intentionally disobedient person be said to have offered worship to God? No… just the opposite.

So there remains this call, this standard, of what worship full and rich looks like, and it is a call to every part of our life and every moment of our days.

But there’s another answer for how to worship somewhere between “How can I do that?” and “Why should I bother?” And I believe it answers both these questions.

Dancing with Jesus

We are not without analogy to understand this heavenly reality. As a father of young children, I see these dynamics played out all the time. Let me suggest three different illustrations.

Let’s say one of my daughters wants to draw a picture for me. Must it be perfect? Of course not! She should neither be discouraged by her inability to draw a technically perfect picture, nor should she say “Why bother?!” As a parent, I endeavor to teach her enough about my unconditional love that she is willing to offer me her best. And why should she bother? Because she and her artwork are a delight to me! If we could grasp God’s love for us as a parent and child, it would go a long way in giving us a proper perspective for our worship.

An even closer correlation to our worship and Jesus’ worship is a scene I have seen played out more than once. Picture a wedding and the guests gathered afterwards for a traditional reception. The band begins to play ballroom music and adults move out to dance together. A young child sees the dancing and wants so much to be a part, but does not know the steps and cannot find a partner suitable to dance with. She tries a few halting steps and looks eagerly among the dancing adults. Then her father comes and scoops her up and carries her out onto the dance floor. He sets her down and says, “Come stand on my feet and let’s dance,” and begins to dance holding on to her hands, supporting her weight, and her feet move right in step with his as she perches atop his feet. So it is with Jesus! We have some sense of what worship is but can only do so with faltering steps. But Jesus, who loves us, swoops us up and sets us down in the midst of Heavenly worship, by the power of the Spirit. And he invites us to stand on his feet and he carries us along, leading us through the steps. That is worship in community, united to Jesus, our worship leader.

If that illustration is too girly for you – if you have boys, maybe this will make sense to you. It’s an illustration I remember hearing a number of years ago, told by a man with young sons. He told the story about another boy in the neighborhood whose parents weren’t around much. This boy struck up a friendship with the man’s own son and began coming over to throw ball and play video games. Well one of the things the man loved to do with his son was wrestle on the floor. It’s a guy thing, but it’s one special way fathers and sons can say “I love you”… in a manly way. J Well, one day the friend was over and the son leaped on his father to start wrestling. And he said to his friend, “Come on, let’s get him!” A short wrestling match ensued and finally the guys broke off to go get a Coke. The father, who was sharing this story with me, told me that wrestling with his son was something very close to him… something they shared as Father and Son. He had spoken to the neighborhood kid, and even thrown ball with him and his son, but he recognized something deeper in this wrestling scene (he was a preacher). He told me that he saw something of God the Father, Jesus the Son, and we the “outsiders” in the scene. Because of the friendship between the boys, the neighborhood kid was brought into the very heart of the household and the Father-Son bond, and he got to experience the closeness of a Father and Son even though he was from outside. That’s what Jesus does for us. Jesus, who is perfectly united to God the Father, invites us to participate in the very life of the Triune God. We get invited into God’s home to wrestle/worship in the very presence of God.

What each of these illustrations gets at is this: though we can only offer God limited worship, not really worthy of who He is, God DELIGHTS in our expressions of obedience, love, and service. And the answer to “Why bother?” is what God has done through Jesus Christ. He has said to each of us, “Come over and play with me… dance with me… worship with me. I know you are friends with my beloved Son. Come be a part of our life together.”

As deep and broad and wide as worship is, at the very bottom of all that is simply saying, “Yes” to God the Father through Jesus the Son and in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Come and worship; God wants the next dance! Amen.

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