Worship the Lord!

Psalm 29
Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name; worship the Lord in holy splendor.
The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord, over mighty waters.
The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.
The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars; the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, and Sirion like a young wild ox.
The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire.
The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness; the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
The voice of the Lord causes the oaks to whirl, and strips the forest bare;
and in his temple all say, “Glory!”
The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord sits enthroned as king forever.
May the Lord give strength to his people! May the Lord bless his people with peace!

Matthew 3:13-17
13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

I remember an illustration about worship that my father used in one of his sermons nearly 40 years ago.
Dad spoke of worship as being the heartbeat of the church.
I can still see his hand imitating a heartbeat.
We are gathered in for worship, he said, then we are sent out for mission.
We are gathered for worship, then sent out for mission.
Just as the pumping of the heart is critical for the oxygenation of the blood,
so worship is critical for the “oxygenation” of the people of God.
Worship is the heartbeat of the Christian life.
We are gathered on Sunday; we are sent out in mission through the week.
We are gathered on Sunday, sent out for mission.

When we teach the Confirmation classes about worship,
we seek to illustrate that worship requires active participation.
A worship leader calls you to worship; you respond with a hymn of praise.
A worship leader calls you to confession; you offer prayers of confession.
A worship leader proclaims that you are forgiven; you offer a song of gratitude.
A worship leader reads and interprets God’s Word for the day; you respond with fresh commitment.
And so on…
Worship is high drama.
We act out our devotion before God with body, mind, and soul.
We sing with joy. We pray with reverence. We dress appropriately and act reverently.
We communicate by our words and deeds that what we do here today is important,
that Who we worship here today is the most important One in our lives.

George Barna wrote:
“Most Americans (act as if) worship is to satisfy or please them, not to honor or please God.
Amazingly, few worship-service regulars argue that worship is something they do primarily for God;
a substantially larger percentage of attenders claim that attending worship services
is something that they do for personal benefit and pleasure.”
Ideally, worship is not so much about us as it is about God.
Our focus in worship should be on what we are offering to God,
more so than whether we like a certain hymn or sermon illustration.
Worship means literally “giving worth” to God,
giving of ourselves to God in an act of humility, thankfulness, and reverence.

The psalmist reminds of the One whom we worship, the Almighty God who is fierce and free.
The psalmist reminds us that the Lord rules over all the forces of nature,
the forces that can be so awe-inspiring to us,
which is to say that the Lord is not subject to but rules over the power of nature.
When it gets cold outside, the Lord does not have to put on a heavy coat or a pair of gloves.
When the fire blazes, the Lord does not have to pick up and run.
When the tornado swirls, the Lord does not have to hide in the basement.
When the flood waters rise, the Lord does not have to move to higher ground.

God is above all. This is the God we are called to worship.
Worship is a natural response when we realize that we are in the presence of this God.
We worship the Lord because of God’s beauty and holiness, because of God’s power and strength.
We worship God because of who God is, because of God’s wondrous qualities.
Isaiah received a vision of the Lord in the temple, high and lifted up.
Only the hem of the Lord’s robe filled the entire tremendous space of the temple,
and Isaiah knelt in worship.
Moses received a glimpse of the Lord’s glory at the burning bush
and he quickly took off his sandals because he knew that he stood on sacred ground.
The eleven disciples gathered on the mountain after Jesus was raised and they worshiped,
even though some doubted, because they knew that they were in the presence of holiness.
We worship as a natural response to the presence of God.

Worship is a natural response of gratitude.
God has saved us by grace alone and our resultant gratitude leads to worship.
God has delivered us from the snare of the fowler, from the miry bog,
from the chains which have bound us, and our gratitude leads to worship.
Abraham worshiped because God called him out of Ur in the Chaldees
and brought him to a new place, a broad and spacious land.
The Hebrews worshiped because God delivered them from slavery in Egypt
through the waters of the sea into the land of promise.
David worshiped because God delivered him from his enemies.
Ezra and Nehemiah worshiped because God returned the exiles from Babylon
and protected them while they rebuilt the walls and the temple.

Annie Dillard wrote:
“On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions.
Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke?
Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it?
The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets,
mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning.
It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets.
Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews.
For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense,
or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.”

Frederick Buechner writes of how worship inevitably contains an element of foolishness.
“To worship God means to serve God,” he writes. “Basically there are two ways to do it.
One way is to do things for God that God needs to have done—
run errands for God, carry messages for God, fight on God’s side, feed God’s lambs, and so on.
The other way is to do things for God that you need to do—
sing songs for God, create beautiful things for God, give things up for God,
tell God what’s on your mind and in your heart, in general rejoice in God
and make a fool of yourself for God the way lovers have always made fools of themselves
for the one they love.
A Quaker meeting, a pontifical High Mass, the family service at Zion Episcopal,
a Holy Roller happening—unless there is an element of joy and foolishness in the proceedings,
the time would be better spent doing something useful.”
(Frederick Buechner, originally published in Wishful Thinking and later in Beyond Words)

Worship is an offering of all of ourselves – our bodies, minds, souls, and spirits.
When we have been loved when we did not deserve it,
when God’s amazing grace has saved a wretch like you and me,
when we have been lost and now are found, we cannot help but worship.
Worship begins with grace.
Worship is about giving – giving worth to God.
giving praise to God, giving thanks to God, giving our attention to God’s Word

Today we ordain and install a class of newly elected elders.
When we held Practical Elder training this past Thursday evening,
the first of many documents we reviewed together was a Session Covenant.
The first item on the list of what your session covenants to do is this: Worship Regularly!
The first and most important act of the elder is to worship!
Before making any plans for a church event,
before inviting a friend or neighbor to a Sunday School class or small group,
before setting a budget for mission work – Worship!
Worship tends to set our hearts aright.
Worship tends to get our minds off of ourselves and onto God.
“Worship changes the worshiper into the image of the One worshiped.” (Jack Hayford)
Over time, “what we worship determines what we become.” (Harvey F. Ammerman)
Who we worship determines who we become.

The experience of regular worship changes us, transforms us.
I caution you – for those of you visiting today, or perhaps returning after some time,
if you worship regularly, it will change you,
perhaps not so much if you show up twice a year, or even every other month.
But if you worship regularly, individually and corporately…you will be changed.
Frederick Buechner writes: In worship, “two things happen:
(1) you lose yourself, and (2) you find that you are more fully yourself than usual.
A close(r) analogy is the experience of love.
When you love somebody, it is no longer yourself who is the center of your own universe.
It is the one you love who is (at the center). You forget yourself. You deny yourself.
You give of yourself so that by all the rules of arithmetical logic there should be less of yourself
than there was to start with. Only by a curious paradox there is more.
You feel that at last you really are yourself.”
The experience of worship is like being in love or doing a great work
“or making great music, or having great fun, or (experiencing) something very beautiful,
or weeping at somebody’s else’s tragedy – (in these things)
(1) you lose yourself, and (2) you find that you are more fully yourself than usual.
Buechner claims that “The experience of (worship) involves the same paradox.
Jesus puts it like this: “He who loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:39)
You give up your old self-seeking self for (the One) you love and thereby become yourself at last.
As Paul said, You must die with Christ so that you can rise with him. (This) is what baptism is all about.”
(Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking, A Theological ABC)

In our text from Matthew for today,
Jesus came to the Jordan River to worship God and to be baptized by John.
Jesus did not need to be baptized. He did not need to be washed clean of sin.
He did not need to be “made right” with God. The Word was with God and the Word was God.
But Jesus wanted to be baptized.
He chose to begin his public ministry with an act of humble worship.
John tried to stop him. I need to be baptized by you, John said. Why do you come to me?
This is to fulfill God’s plan, Jesus said.
And the voice from heaven proclaimed: “This is my Son, the Beloved, with (him) I am well pleased.”

Worship would be misunderstood if we thought of it solely as something that arises from a feeling
which “comes upon you.” Worship is also rooted in a conscious act of the will,
an act of the will to humble ourselves before God and serve God’s purposes,
just as Jesus did in presenting himself for baptism.

We are reminded of some really good news about Christian worship, in whatever form it takes,
from the Rev. Eugene Peterson. Peterson is the one who painstakingly paraphrased the entire Bible
in order to provide the church and world with The Message, which has become immensely popular.
Peterson once wrote: “Worship does not satisfy our hunger for God – it whets our appetite.”
As we worship the Lord regularly in this place, our hunger for God will increase.

To God be all glory forever. Amen.

Rev. Dr. Todd Speed
Decatur Presbyterian Church
Decatur, Georgia
January 8, 2017