Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Worship in Community (Dt 6, Jn 21, Mt 28, Acts 2)

February 1, 2009
Sermon by: Robert Austell

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Worship is a team sport!

I didn’t plan this particular sermon to land on Superbowl Sunday, but it works out nicely! Worship is a team sport – and by that I mean that it is not primarily a private or personal activity, but one done in community, surrounded by other people.

Now there are acts of private worship. We are to read the Bible, pray, and worship God in other personal ways. But worship as a whole – the entire life lived before God for His pleasure and glory – it is a group activity.

That’s the context for today’s study of worship. And if community is the context, the particular activity of worship is teaching and tending to one another. We are going to look at several passages from the Bible – some Old Testament and some New Testament. But each has this in common: God commands us to worship in a way that those around us, specifically our children and the secular community around us, will come to know the saving, covenant God through our worshipful witness.

Worshipful Witness in Ancient Times (Deuteronomy 6:4-9)

We looked at the Shema from Deuteronomy 6 last week, when we explored love of God as worship. We saw that worship of God involves committing ourselves to God with all we are and all we have. Immediately following that description of loving worship, God commanded His people to live out that comprehensive internal love of God in a comprehensive external way.

Listen again to God’s command: “You shall teach [these words] diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.” That covers all the bases, don’t you think? Inside your house, outside your house, sleeping, waking – all the time and everywhere. These words were to be written everywhere as a reminder – we might even say “taped to your forehead.” Some in Jesus day even took these verses to a literal extreme, wearing little scrolls of these words in boxes tied to the head. The point is – teach God’s commands and let your love of God be a worshipful witness to God.

There is a focus on teaching sons, who were seen as heirs to God’s covenant promises. These covenant promises were really what we call the “Old Testament” or “Old Covenant” – the one made with Abraham, that God would bless him and his descendants, and through them, the whole world. That covenantal blessing, ultimately, was God seeking and saving the lost through His own compassionate strength.

From the beginning, God promised to make Himself known to His people and their children, and through them to the world. That is all in view in this passage. God is reminding His people to teach Word and worship to their sons and to be a worshipful witness to the surrounding community and world. So talk, teach, and live these things in your house with your children; but also when you are out on the roads, and on doorposts and gates – the outward facing parts of your house.

This is a foundational teaching of the Bible – that God’s covenant promise to redeem by His own hand is to be taught and witnessed to our own children and the surrounding world. This is the basis for Christian education in the home and in the church, for corporate worship in the local church, and for lifestyle evangelism outside the walls of the church. This is worship in community.

Worshipful Witness in Jesus’ Teaching (John 21 and Matthew 28)

Jesus was the fulfillment of that old covenant. He was God acting to redeem the world with his own compassionate strength. Jesus was so radically and completely God’s Word of promise fulfilled that we speak of him as the “New Testament” or “New Covenant.”

But listen to Jesus’ teaching. The promise and the commandment hasn’t changed, only become anchored in the explicit Gospel of Jesus Christ.

From John 21 and the powerful scene where Jesus offers Peter a three-fold invitation to love and serve him after the three-fold denial the morning of the crucifixion…

Simon, son of John, do you love me? … Tend my sheep.

Reminiscent of the Shema and its teaching on love of God, Jesus calls for obedience and for Peter to care for the flock – for the family of disciples and all those who belonged to Jesus. Like the Shema, love of God flows into faithful care, teaching, and witness with the community of the faithful… the disciples, the women, those who had followed Jesus during his earthly ministry. But Jesus had begun to expand the definition of community beyond ethnic Israel and the externally pure – his flock included Samaritan women, prostitutes, tax collectors, and fishermen who were more than a little rough around the edges. But even that doesn’t describe the full scope of Jesus’ calling.

From Matthew 28:18-20…

All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you…

It’s the same covenant all right, but fulfilled in Jesus. We still have obedience to God’s commandments, spoken even more clearly now through Jesus’ teaching. We have the original covenantal concern for the world – that God would bless these disciples and through their obedience bless the whole world. And there is the Shema-like commandment to teach the nations, marked by the new covenant sign of baptism. Jesus makes clear that worship is not confined to one ethnic group or one household or one church building. Our love and obedience toward God is to be taught and to be lived out as witness – that is worship in community.

Worshipful Witness in the Church Age (Acts 2:36-39)

Timing of sermons, Sunday school lessons, Bible studies, and personal devotions often seem to converge – it must be a God-thing. The last passage I want to look at with you is one we are in the middle of studying on Wednesday nights. It also has a close correlation with the Shema and the understanding of worship as a witnessing-in-community activity.

Acts 2:36-39 takes place in the middle of Pentecost, which was the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit after the Resurrection of Jesus. This outpouring was a frequent subject of Old Testament prophecy, and seen as a sign of God’s covenant faithfulness and present Kingdom. In Acts 2, Peter preaches a sermon witnessing both to this outpouring of God’s promised Spirit and to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. At the conclusion of that sermon, the crowd was “pierced to the heart” and asked what they should do in response. Peter tells them to repent and to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins, and he tells them they will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. That sermon, the summary of the Gospel, the gift of the Holy Spirit, what repentance is – it all is worthy of study and preaching. But I want to focus with you on the verse that follows, because of its connection with what we are talking about this morning.

Peter goes on to say, “For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.”

In this sentence, Peter brings together a number of very significant things. Immediately, “the promise” is the Holy Spirit, but more broadly it is the covenant promise of God to redeem the lost world by His own compassionate strength. Peter has already taught at length about how Jesus was God’s salvation in the flesh and the Spirit was the proof that God’s will had been accomplished fully in Jesus.

Peter’s language connects the Pentecost event to the ancient covenant promise and his words here parallel the Shema. Just as God spoke to Abraham and repeated in the Shema, God’s promised salvation is to be taught, shared, and witnessed in the home, in the community, and to the world. Peter said the promise was “for you” – those who had heard, believed, and repented – who were now gathered in as God’s new covenant community. Peter said the promise was “for your children” – those in each new believer’s household, who were set apart as part of the community by position in the family, but who would still need to be called and believe. And Peter said the promise was “for all who are far off” who would be called and believe.

Worship as Community

This is as it ever was. God alone can bring about salvation. God sets apart some to hear and respond and then uses them so that others will hear and respond. Whether it was Abraham, the people of Israel, the disciples, those who believed at Pentecost, or you who are members of this church, you are called here out of the world.

Worship of God involves teaching and witnessing – first to our own families and then to the surrounding world. That is the commandment of the Shema, the teaching of Jesus, and the declaration of the Apostle Peter. It also begins to point us towards the eighth worship principle which we will come to in a few weeks – that we only worship because God has invited us to participate with Him. God is the one who saves, who draws people to Himself whether they be around the world or our own children. But God has invited us – even commanded us – to live out lives of worship before our watching children and the lost world as participants in God’s own salvation through Jesus Christ.

Worship, as faith, is not something to keep to yourself. It is a team sport, something to be shared and lived out publicly and constantly. There is no place, no time, no person, no situation, where your love, service, obedience, and yieldedness to God should not be front and center as the defining attitude and action of your life. With God’s help, may it be so! Amen.

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