Sunday, November 6, 2016

Cultivating Worship (Genesis 2, Exodus 20, Joshua 22,24)


Sermon by: Robert Austell; November 6, 2016
Text: Genesis 2:15-17; Exodus 20:1-6; Joshua 22:1-6; 24:15

:: Sermon Audio (link) ::
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell."  

:: Scripture and Music ::
Call to Worship: The Earth is the Lord's (Ps. 24) (Nygard)
Hymn of Praise: This is My Father's World (TERRA BEATA)
Song of Praise: We Give Thee But Thine Own/We Give Thee (SCHUMANN; arr. and refrain Austell)
Offering of Music:Oh, How He Loves You and Me (Gwen Ingram, soloist; Rick Bean, piano; Crouch)
Hymn of Sending: These Hands (Deyo)
Postlude: Rick Bean, jazz piano

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf) :: 
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks  the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript.  Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided  for that purpose.

Wow, there is a lot going on today! We could celebrate All-Saints on the first Sunday after Nov. 1. We are celebrating the Lord’s Supper. We are coming up to Election Day on Tuesday, with all that surrounds that. We have this musical, our single biggest outreach of the year coming up. And we are coming into our stewardship season, when we traditionally talk about giving – tithing, pledging, time, talents. What to preach, what to preach?

I originally chose the text today as a stewardship text, but it goes far deeper than that. It goes all the way to the heart of worship and to why we are on this earth and to how and why God created us. In doing so, I think these texts will not just speak to how we view money and other resources, but speak to how we understand ourselves period. And my hope is that these texts will speak, in that sense, to some of those other issues and the context in which we live on November 6, 2016.

I want to talk about worship. And while that may seem like a churchy side-issue with all that is going on in the world, I would hold out to you that worship, which is how we relate to God, is at the very center of all we do as human beings and particularly as those who trust and follow God through Jesus Christ. Said another way, God’s Word says that worship (or not worshipping) is the core issue for every human; and as professing people of faith, what God says about worship must be central and of highest importance.

It may help to tell you that by worship I don’t mean the narrow activity of Sunday morning at 11:00, though that is a specific example of worship. No, I mean the rich and all-encompassing understanding that begins in Creation, expands throughout biblical history, and is perfectly completed in eternity (cf. Revelation). And it intersects every aspect of our lives; in fact, it is the reason for our lives.

I want to walk you through three biblical texts that help unpack what worship is and means and then end with a challenge.

Created to Worship (Genesis 2)

We’ll begin in Genesis 2. After God made the heavens and the earth and the first human beings, do you know what he did next? He put Adam to work! The Garden of Eden wasn’t laying around in hammocks sipping nectar and listening to the birds sing. Work is part of creation! And Adam’s work is described there in verse 15:

The Lord God took the man and put him into the Garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.

Realize that this is the Creation story. Everything is important here! What was the relation of the Garden to Adam and what was his role? It’s where he lived; it’s where he worked; he ate the produce of the ground. But was it Adam’s garden? No – clearly, this was God’s garden, entrusted to Adam for care. This verse is the heart of biblical stewardship. For though much time has passed and we no longer live in paradise, the earth is the Lord’s and all it contains (Ps. 24). Though we built or paid for our homes and the land they are on, are they not the Lord’s? Though we work and produce goods and services, are they not the Lord’s?

What Adam was doing in the Garden was tending the ground; but in doing so, he was rendering an act of service to God. Serving God is at the heart of worshiping God. And Adam’s work in the Garden was really worship in the Garden, because it served God’s will and purpose in the young world. In fact, the word translated here as ‘cultivate’ is most often translated ‘serve’ in the Bible. It is the act of actively doing God’s will; and that is one essential kind of worship. Closely connected to that is the word translated ‘keep.’ It also has the sense and is translated as ‘obey’ as in “keep the rules.” And that’s just what Adam was doing (until he didn’t!); the one rule at that point was “don’t eat from a certain Tree.”

By serving God’s will and obeying God’s Word, Adam worshiped God in the Garden. It’s what Adam was created to do and it’s what we are created to do. When we serve God’s will and obey God’s Word, we worship God and fulfil our creation purpose!

Commanded to Worship (Exodus 20)

As you know, Adam and Eve fell short. They did the opposite of worship because they disobeyed God’s Word and they grasped after what belonged to God to have it for themselves. And so they were expelled from the Garden. But the opportunity to worship God did not go away. In fact, as God communicated with His people, He made worship the cornerstone of the Law, what was commanded and expected from God’s people. Let’s turn to Exodus 20 and the Ten Commandments and we will see this.

In the first two commandments, God identifies Himself as the starting point upon which the commandments rest: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” And then first are the worship commandments and prohibitions: “You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself an idol…” And then verses 5-6 detail and define worship:

You shall not worship them [idols, false gods] or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love me and keep my commandments.”

The two worship principles from Genesis show up again here as ‘serve’ and ‘keep (my commandments).’ So doing God’s will and obeying God’s Word are still front and center. But the definition of worship has been expanded to include two other principles, found in the words ‘worship’ and ‘love.’ Here, ‘worship’ literally means “bow down” or “yield one’s will” and ‘love’ will soon be defined as everything we’ve got: heart, soul, and strength. (cf. Deuteronomy 5) The Ten Commandments go on to prohibit the same kinds of anti-worship we already saw in the Garden: grasping after what belongs to God and what belongs to others (life, property, etc…).

So not only are we created to worship, but we are also commanded to worship – through yielding our will, serving God’s will, obeying God’s Word, and loving God with all we are and all we’ve got!

Choosing to Worship (Joshua 22, 24)

The third text I chose for today is Joshua 22 and 24. Here, only a generation or two after Moses and receiving the Ten Commandments, Joshua is in the Promised Land with God’s people. And in ch. 22 Joshua praises the people for their faithfulness and obedience… for their worship. Look at all the places worship shows up! I have changed the word ‘kept’ to ‘obeyed’ so you’ll more easily see the Genesis worship word in the text.

You have OBEYED all that Moses the SERVANT of the Lord commanded you, and have listened to my voice in all that I commanded you. 3 You have not forsaken your brothers these many days to this day, but have OBEYED the charge of the commandment of the Lord your God. 4 “And now the Lord your God has given rest to your brothers, as He spoke to them; therefore turn now and go to your tents, to the land of your possession, which Moses the SERVANT of the Lord gave you beyond the Jordan. 5 “Only be very careful to OBEY the commandment and the law which Moses the SERVANT of the Lord commanded you, to LOVE the Lord your God and walk in all His ways and OBEY His commandments and hold fast to Him and SERVE Him with all your heart and with all your soul.” 6 So Joshua blessed them and sent them away, and they went to their tents. (vv. 1-6)

Joshua was praising the Israelites and highlighting for them the great importance and blessing of living lives of worship before God. Indeed, God was now entrusting the Promised Land to them – in many ways a “second Eden” and second chance at stewardship. They were to serve, obey, and love God through their care of this land-blessing. Only two chapters later, everything comes to a head. It turns out that many of the Israelites have brought along or picked up foreign idols and are worshiping and serving them. They had grasped at what God had said was out of bounds to them, repeating Adam and Eve’s sin. So Joshua stands up before the people and makes his famous declaration:

If it is disagreeable in your sight to SERVE the Lord, choose for yourselves today whom you will SERVE: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will SERVE the Lord. (Joshua 24:15)

SERVE: that’s the ‘cultivate’ word. And Joshua issued it as a challenge to God’s people, blessed as they were in the Promised Land. Serving, obeying, loving, yielding to God’s will and Word remain our purpose, commandment, and invitation today… to cultivate worship in our lives.

A Challenge for Today

So that’s your challenge: to cultivate worship in every aspect of life. Anti-worship grasps after what belongs to God and what belongs to others. Worship asks:
  • How will I serve God’s will today, in this community, with money, with time, with choices I make?
  • How will I obey God’s Word in my life, my relationships, my priorities, my community?
  • How will I yield what I want to what God wants?
  • How will I love God with all I am and all I’ve got? (and love others as myself)
It’s big, I know. It’s so much more than what we do in here for an hour on Sunday morning. In many ways this is rehearsal for everything else out there! And God asks a lot, more than a lot! It’s everything. But that’s why we are here; that’s our purpose and we either turn towards it or away from it.

As you may have realized, our understanding of worship broadens as we move through the Bible. One of the other aspects of worship that I didn’t touch on this morning is that God made us to worship Him TOGETHER, as a community, as a family of faith. And that’s what the Church is – a family of faith together. So, it’s a big purpose, a big commandment, a big choice; but it’s not one you have to do alone. That’s what God has brought us together in this place for – let us choose together this day whom we will serve. I want to serve the Lord! Amen.




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