Who Are We For?

I’ve now said this a couple times, and I’ll say it again, and perhaps I should keep saying it every week until it truly sinks in with us:  our worship isn’t about us and it isn’t for us.  It is only and entirely about and for God.  Moses is perfectly clear on this in Deuteronomy 6, and Jesus reinforces it when he cites Deuteronomy 6:4-5 as the most important of all the commandments of God.  You’ll notice in Mark, the teacher of the law responds to Jesus by saying that this commandment, combined with the commandment from Leviticus to love your neighbor as yourself, is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices—which is to say, all the outward activities of worship.  Jesus confirms his insight and praises him, for he has shown by his understanding that he is near to the kingdom of God.

To put this into our context, it’s more important to love God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength—which is just four different ways of saying, with everything you have—than it is for you to ever go to church.  It’s more important for you to love God with all your power to love than it is for you to ever give any of your money or time to God’s work through the church.  Now, as Jesus knew and I’m sure that scribe understood, anyone who loved God in that way would give him all the burnt offerings and sacrifices mentioned in his law.  Anyone who loves God in that way will come to church regularly, give generously, and serve in any way they can.  But what God wants isn’t just for us to come to church regularly, give generously, and serve gladly.  He wants for us to do these things because we love him.  He doesn’t want our offerings just as offerings, he wants them as joyful offerings of grateful hearts.

And if they aren’t, and we don’t?  If we come to church because we want to see our friends, and only give if we’re pleased with who’s leading the congregation and how they’re leading it?  If we only give our time to serve when it suits us, when it’s something we want to do and we get to make sure it’s done our way?  If we come to worship as consumers, evaluating it based on whether our desires are satisfied and our felt needs are met?  Then we hit the reality expressed by the Christian Reformed writer Shannon Jammal-Hollemans:  “God rejects worship that is not worthy of God.”  Then we aren’t worshiping God at all, we’re worshiping our own desires—we’re putting ourselves at the center of the church instead of God.  Then, to be blunt, we’re worshiping an idol.

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I said last week that in thinking about worship, we need to begin with the principle that our worship is only and entirely about and for God.  As I noted, this statement raises an important issue:  why is that OK for God to demand our worship?  Having answered that question, however, there’s actually another one which we ought to address.  In order to understand what it means to worship God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, we need to make sure we’ve defined our terms properly.  What is worship?

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Circle Dance

(Genesis 1:26-28John 14:15-26Galatians 4:4-7)

As I was praying and thinking about the sermon schedule for this year, I found myself being led to begin the year by preaching on worship.  Ken Priddy, who leads the EPC’s task force on church revitalization, divides the ministry of the church into four areas which he calls “faith centers”—outreach, evangelism, discipleship, and worship.  For a while, I was thinking about doing a series on each, but the discipleship series wasn’t coming together, and so I ended up moving in a different direction.

One of the things Ken notes, though, is that there’s an upward spiral through these areas of ministry.  As we worship God, we’re motivated to reach out and share the gospel with others; as they come to faith and are drawn into the church, they become disciples of Christ and learn to worship him; and then they in turn are motivated to share the gospel, and the cycle continues.  You can begin talking about that at any point, but it seems to me that worship is the critical element.  Worship defines our relationship to God and God is the one who makes everything else happen.  At the same time, we have to see that worship extends beyond Sunday morning.  As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said, “Unless life is a form of worship, your worship has no life.”  So we’re going to start by talking about worship, but with the aim of showing how worship connects into the rest of life.
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