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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**Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**
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.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Worship as Praise (Psalm 66, Revelation 5.11-14)

Sometimes the sermon varies significantly from the printed manuscript, which I don't use during the service. This was one such case and I strongly recommend the audio version if you have time to click and listen below. In this case I think the spoken sermon was much stronger than the printed one.

February 15, 2009
Sermon by: Robert Austell

download (click, then choose "save to disk" for playback on computer or iPod, or play sermon live in this window below)  **Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**
Shout joyfully to God all the earth; sing the glory of His name; make His praise glorious. (Ps. 66:2)

We have finally arrived at the aspect of worship that is most commonly connected to worship – praise. Worship is about praising God and today we are going to look at two key passages to try to better understand what it means to praise God.

I put “worship as praise” here in the series because it is important to understand how rich and all-encompassing biblical worship is when we come to the act of praising God. We need to understand that we were made to worship. We need to understand that worship involves our response to God through serving, obeying, yielding, and loving God. We need to understand worship isn’t a thing we do at a specified time, but is our entire life – who we are – lived before God privately and publicly. We are God’s artwork, made to bring glory to God even as an artist’s work honors the name of the artist. (Likewise, we can dishonor our Creator’s name – that’s the opposite of worship.)

Today we are going to focus on praise and how our worship brings honor to God’s name (and to God). We will also see that this worship principle stretches from beginning to end, from the Psalms of ancient Israel to a scene of eternity in Heaven before the throne of God.

Turn with me to Psalm 66 and we’ll begin with this invitation to make God’s praise glorious.

Make His Praise Glorious (Psalm 66)

Well because God is God and He made everything and is all-wise and all-knowing, God is worthy of praise. You know that, and there are all kinds of ways to praise God – when we pray, when we sing, when we serve God. It is right and appropriate to praise God in private, in your heart, in your thoughts and your prayers. But as we have seen, worship is primarily a public activity, and this Psalm bears that out in its description of praise.

This Psalm specifically describes praising God publicly, that is, pointing to God and thanking God and worshiping God in a way others can see. Not a showy way, a self-righteous way, but in a way that honors God, that gets His name out. That is our mission, as children of God, as followers of Christ, and as Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church – to get God’s name out, the famous one, all over the earth.

What this Psalm does is not only say, “That’s what you’re supposed to do.” It also gives us an example of that. You’ll see there, if you follow along, in verses 3-4, that the Psalmist engages in praise. He writes, “Say to God, ‘How awesome are your works’.” That’s an act of praise; it’s out loud, something people can hear or see. Then, in verse 4 he gets to “and all the earth will worship you.” That’s what’s on his heart – praising God in a way that is public, so that the entire world might see God.

The rest of the Psalm does something we have talked about regularly – telling God’s story and telling our story. There are two clear sections. First, in verses 5-8, the Psalmist tells God’s story. He’s says, “This is who God is.” He’s singing about it – that’s what a Psalm is. He’s telling the story musically. Then, in the rest of the Psalm, verses 9 to the end, he’s says, “This is what that God has done in my life.” Though we didn’t read those verses out loud, look at them now and I’ll point to some key highlights.

A. Telling God’s Story – vv. 5, 8

God’s story is the broad story of God’s love, power, mercy, and salvation, written large through the history of the world and recorded in scripture. It is described in verses 5-8, where we are to call people to “come and see” (v. 5):

Come and see the works of God, who is awesome in His deeds toward the sons of men.

It’s that lighthouse idea. “Come with me to church. Let’s go to this worship service at my church, or this Bible study, and hear about this God. The pastor seems to like to talk about it. Come around the scripture and the story of who God is and what He’s done.”

And look; the Psalmist gives an example of how to do that. In verses 6-8, he’s telling God’s story, first about the crossing of the Red Sea, then about the next generation coming through the Jordan River into the Promised Land:

He turned the sea into dry land …they passed through the river on foot

In remembering those events the Psalmist is saying, “This is God – God who delivers from slavery into freedom, from death into life. This is the Deliverer and Savior, the Rescuer. That’s God!” He is publicly telling God’s story. Listen to verse 8:

Bless our God, O peoples, and sound His praise abroad… (vv. 6-8)

Let’s tell God’s story. THIS is the God of the Bible. Then, the Psalmist turns and says, “Now I’m going to tell you the story of what God has done in my life.” It’s more personal, more specific. He’s doing it as if he is one of that group who crossed through the Jordan.

B. Telling My Story – v. 16

In verse 16, the Psalmist writes:

God you’ve tried us… you’ve tested us… you’ve refined us… you’ve brought us into the net. You laid an oppressive burden upon our loins. (vv. 10-11)

He is talking about a pretty miserable event in the life of God’s people. It’s a euphemism – “you laid an oppressive burden upon our loins.” In Joshua 5, right after God parted the Jordan River and they came into the Promised Land, all that stood between the Israelites and the Promised Land were these Canaanite people. And first was the city of Jericho, there with the walls.

Well the first thing God told them to do after they crossed the Jordan – because this was a new generation that had not followed the Law and been circumcised – he had all the men in the camp be circumcised. That’s the oppressive burden upon their loins. And then they were to go fight. That doesn’t work! It was nonsensical. God crippled them just as they were supposed to go take this land. And remember the story of Jericho? They walked around, sang, and shouted, and the walls fell down. They were so weak, so limited by this act of obedience, the circumcision, there could be no doubt that God took Jericho for them. There’s no way they could do it; God did it!

So the Psalmist is saying, “Even there in this situation of such crippling weakness, now I can look back and see God right in the middle of that.”

He goes on in verse 12 to describe other events recorded in Joshua (ch. 7):

You made men ride over our heads…then we went through fire and water… He’s brought us into a place of abundance.

After the defeat of Jericho, one man stole some of the gold of Jericho against God’s express orders and God brought consequences on the whole people of Israel. They collectively had to endure those consequences, repent, and come clean with God. With specific references, this Psalm points to those events as illustrative of his story. These are representative stories for us as well. Each of us has sinned against God and endured the consequences of our own choices. We are in different places of denial, repentance, and restoration. These are our stories of our own dealings with God.

The Psalmist comes down to verse 16, which is really the key verse of this whole Psalm. It says, “Come and hear; come and see. I not only want to tell you about the Great God and His story of deliverance and salvation, I want to tell you what He’s done for me.”

And where the Psalm ends up is saying, “In all of that – the highs the lowest lows, when I was faithful and when I was unfaithful – God was there and that is the God I want to hold out to you.” And he describes God in the last few verses as merciful, a listening God, a forgiving God, and a loving God. This is the power of telling our story – it is that same God who has loved, chastened, forgiven, and healed us.

This telling of God’s story and our story is basic evangelism, but even evangelism is an act of worship because ultimately it is not about me converting or saving one, it is about me pointing to the God who saves. That’s what this Psalm is saying: that act of pointing to the God who saves is an act of worship or praise.

Giving God the Credit (Revelation 5)

Let’s turn now to Revelation 5, another Psalm or song offered as worship and praise. This one is sung to Jesus Christ. He is the "Lamb that was slain" because he was the perfect and innocent man put to death on the cross for the sins of the world. In his death, people from every tribe, tongue, and nation are brought into the kingdom of God. The very multitude that sings in Heaven owes their presence there to Jesus Christ.

Again…. we acknowledge that Christ is worthy of praise. But do we give him the praise he is worth? The song goes on to describe Christ as worthy to receive power, wealth, wisdom, strength, honor, glory, and praise. In other words, Christ is worth everything! Then the song continues, declaring God who sits on the throne and the Lamb that was slain as worthy to receive eternal glory, power, honor, and praise. This is the same triune God, described here as enthroned God and slain Lamb, who accomplishes our salvation - to whom salvation belongs. And the heart of this song is that this God is worthy of our thanks and praise.

It's as straightforward as a scene from Jesus' life. Once, when he miraculously healed ten lepers, only one stopped to thank him. This song of heaven is this scene set to music and sung before the company of heaven. God, in Christ, has accomplished our salvation, and is worthy of our thankful response and praise.

Yet, do we first thank and praise God when things go right, or even when we have been "miraculously" delivered from some ordeal? Human as ever, we tend to see what credit we can claim or assign to a more tangible source. Good Christians even will credit "fate" with sparing them in a car accident rather than thanking God.

It should not be so! That is the spiritual version of biting the hand that feeds us. Incorporating praise into our daily lives will mean consciously remembering to give God thanks for each breath, for blessings and salvation, even for trials and difficulties.

If Psalm 66 was about telling God’s story and telling our story, Revelation 5 is about giving God the credit (or praise) He deserves. And each of these is primarily a public act. That’s what praise is – it is pointing to God’s glorious greatness in all the ways that we are able.

Worship, Worship Everywhere

I hope that these sermons have made it clear that worship involves every aspect of our lives. We’ve been talking about being a lighthouse and a searchlight for Jesus for several years now, and it’s easy to think about lighthouse as worship in here and searchlight as mission out there. Instead, ALL of it is an act of worship.

All that we say or do is an opportunity to worship God through service, obedience, yielding, love, humility, community, and praise.

You were made to worship, created as a piece of art by the glorious God who has made Himself known to us. Tell your story; tell God’s story; give God the credit, honor, and praise, and you will make His praise glorious! Amen.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Worship in Humility (Leviticus 1-5, Mark 10.45, Philippians 2.5-11)

February 8, 2009
Sermon by: Robert Austell

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**Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

“Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus…” (Philippians 2:5)


That’s how the passage we are looking at today begins. And that’s our takeaway for today – the attitude of worship.

We’ve talked about the content of worship: service, obedience, yielding, and love of God. We’ve talked about some of the context for worship: in the home, in the church, and in the world. Today we are going to focus on the attitude of worship, drawing upon both the Old Testament attitudes found in the Levitical offerings and the New Testament example of Jesus, held up as example in this passage in Philippians 2.

Remember, too, that we’re not just talking about our attitude in the 8:30 or 11:00 church service, but our attitude as we live lives of worship every moment of every day in every place we are.

Worship in Leviticus

Leviticus is full of worship. It may come across as ritual, but what makes it worship is deeper than mere ritual. It is rich in what I would call the attitude of worship.

You heard several excerpts from Leviticus during our first scripture reading. The purpose of these was to identify and highlight the worship attitude in each of the several types of offering established by God for His people in the Old Covenant. I’m only going to provide an overview, but would invite you to study each of the offerings further, either on your own or in conversation with Kathy Larson or me. I’d remind you that Kathy wrote her Master’s thesis on the Levitical offerings and she would love to have a conversation to answer questions or tell you more!

Let me refer you to the bulletin to the descriptions assigned to each reading, and let’s consider each of these offerings. There are four types of offering described in Leviticus, basically one per chapters 1-5. Chapter five either describes a fifth or a variation on the fourth. For our purposes this morning, it doesn’t really matter.

I hope you noticed the repetition during the scripture reading. In each case, the person making an offering to God brings the best they have, be it animal or grain. In each case, the person is coming to God with their best because they have fallen short, sinned, or are expressing thanks to God. Note that this is not somehow buying God off, but substituting something pure in our place – something that is consumed and destroyed in the offering. That’s why none of us could stand there: we are impure and we would be consumed in the presence of God’s holiness.

In each case with the animal sacrifices there is a laying on of hands, not to magically transfer sin, but to identify personally with the offering. This lamb is there in my place and on my behalf. I lay hands on it as a sign – to point the reality.

And here’s the part I want to lift up to you. This was not done as a business transaction, like buying life insurance or ordering a pizza. Perhaps it became that as people lost sight of God and lost faith. But the intent was far more personal and spiritual. Bringing your best, laying your hands on it, and offering it wholly to God was an act of deep humility. There was no room for “this belongs to me” or “mine!” The offering and the identification was a spiritual act of worship in humility.

I would point out, too, with the sin offering in Leviticus 5, that confession and repentance were an integral part of the offering. And isn’t confession one of the deepest acts of humility? It is admitting that I am in the wrong; I have failed; I have fallen short.

It’s easy to read Leviticus and get lost in the mechanics and details of all the different offerings. But there are some common themes that run through each, and chief among those themes are humility and repentance. Those are essential attitudes of worship.

Humility is recognition that God is God, which places humanity in proper perspective. Humility fuels confession… and repentance, thanksgiving, and obedience.

Jesus, the Perfect Lamb

I connect these passages in Leviticus with the one in Philippians 2 because the New Testament teaches that Jesus has fulfilled and replaced those Levitical offerings. He is the Perfect Lamb. His perfect life and obedient death made him the perfect substitutionary offering for our sin. Finally, there was one just like us to stand before God in our place and endure God’s judgment for sin. The mechanics and the theology of that are also the subject for further study and another sermon. As with the Levitical offerings, I want, instead, to point you to the attitude of worship in this passage. I do so because Paul says explicitly in this chapter, “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus…” (v. 5)

What was Jesus’ attitude? It was complete and perfect humility. Look at three different acts of humility.

1. Humility before God – he “did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped.” (v. 6)

Though Jesus was fully God, fully divine, he did not reach or cling to divinity as Adam was tempted to do, but “released” his place and right as God in order to do God’s will and serve God’s purpose.

2. Humility as service to God – he “emptied himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.” (v. 7)

This humility translated into obedience and service to God, whereby Jesus emptied himself and took the form of a human being, a servant of God. Jesus demonstrated this humble obedience in a living parable to his disciples when he, their teacher, donned the towel and washed their feet. Notice also the overlap with the actions of worship. The attitude of humility fuels obedience and service, two of our key worship actions.

3. Humility and compassion towards human beings – “he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (v. 8)

That humility become obedience then became acted out obedience and compassion toward the human race, as Jesus suffered and died, fulfilling God’s saving plan for the world. In our call to worship we heard one verse from Mark that summarizes Jesus’ upward and outward humility: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)

These acts of humility, obedience, service, and love are what we are to imitate. They are actions, fueled by the attitude of humility. And while we do not act to save the world from sin, we do act to show God’s compassion and grace to our neighbors. We are to come to God through Jesus in humility just as God’s people of old came to God through the Levitical offerings in humility.

The Attitude of Worship

So, remembering that worship is serving, obeying, yielding, and loving God with all we are and all we have, with our families, church, and everyone we see, with what attitude should we worship the Lord?

Like Jesus, we are to have the attitude of HUMILITY before God. We are to let go of the tendency to create false gods and set ourselves up as #1 in the universe. We are to recognize God’s divinity and utter right to be God over us.

Because we continue to sin and fall short, one form our humility will take is REPENTANCE and CONFESSION, as we both strive for holiness and depend on God’s mercy and Grace. We “empty ourselves” of all that would keep us from God, confessing sin to God and turning from darkness to God’s face.

That worship attitude of humility also produces the worship-actions of OBEDIENCE and SERVICE. We obey God by listening to His Word and following it. We serve God by joining in His mission to the world – to seek and save the lost.

And this humility, obedience, and service is manifest most clearly in a COMPASSION and LOVE towards fellow human beings. Note the many overlaps now as worship in humility not only overlaps with obedience and service, but the Great Commandment to love God and love neighbor. Even as Jesus was willing to suffer and die for humanity, so we are to go all out in caring for those around us. This is our mission and it is our privilege.

Where Can You Get Humility?

Now if you can digest all that, we come to the big question of the day: where do you get humility? It's not something you can buy off the shelf. It's not something you become a black belt at; that would kind of undermine the whole pursuit...

The text leaves us asking that question and I'd challenge you to seek an answer. But I will also suggest several starting places from my own experience, and hopefully guided by scriptural insight.

1. Start with God - how great God is. That's why we began the service with "How Great Thou Art." It is only with God's greatness in view that we can adequately understand our place in the world. Consider who God is; consider what God has done; consider what God has made. Go up to the Blue Ridge Parkway and gaze across the hazy blue expanse and see if a little humility doesn't stir in your soul.

2. Pray for humility. I believe that is a prayer God delights to answer. I spoke with someone between the services and recognize that it might somewhat of a dangerous prayer, depending on how hard-headed you are and the length to which it might be necessary to go to get your attention. But pray that God would teach you humility and cultivate it in your heart.

3. Confess sin. Our scripture this morning taught that humility leads to confession. The converse can also be true. Confessing sin is the other side of considering God's character. When we confess, if we are honest, we are confronted with our own sinfulness and need of God. There is nothing quite so humbling as to recognize where we fall short. Confession and humility can form a kind of renewable fuel... each stimulates the other and can fuel ongoing and substantial worship.

4. Finally, and I suggest this with some caution and for further consideration - one of the sometimes hidden blessings of suffering may be the learning of humility. It is hard to be truly humble when life is grand, my health is in its prime, and the world is on a platter for me. When we suffer, we are confronted with our frailty and the fragility of human life. Sometimes that can be the context for a profound humility.

Consider and pray for yourself how God might cultivate humility, so that you might be fueled for worship! Let us now pause to confess our sinfulness before God as the worship team leads us in a song of confession...

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.