English Service on June 19,2016
Messenger: Pastor Jim Allison
Scripture: John 4:19-26
“The Worship of God and the Word of God”
In the last message I brought, we looked at Psalm 95 and learned through it some general things about what community worship is, why it is necessary, and how we can best do it. We need to worship in private and as families regularly. But we also need community worship, and God teaches us to gather in His house each week to do that. He teaches through the Bible many things about public worship, but they all are linked in some way with communication between Him and His people. So I want to focus with you today on the part of worship that is God speaking to us. Then next message let’s explore our speaking to God.
I am not interested in pushing one genre of worship songs or one style of preaching. It is amazing how many different ones our creative God finds a way to use and bless, both in the Bible and today. I do want to call us back to the essentials of worship, to refocus us on the meaning, purpose, and content of the various parts of our worship. We see these in the ways God speaks to us. If our worship is the kind taught by the Bible’s God, its content is always focused on Him. Our worship is always an encounter with our Heavenly Father in which we hear His voice. It is always designed with seeing His glory as the goal. The fruit of it, what grows out of our Sunday morning worship, is a lifestyle of worship. That is, our day-to-day living shows that we have been listening to God and fed by His goodness, beauty, and truth.
If someone could follow you around everywhere you go, seeing all parts of your life up close and even knowing your private thoughts, could that person guess how you had been worshiping at church on Sundays? Would it be clear that you had been feeding your mind with things that grow you into a person of compassion, peace, and joy? In other words, when we walk out of here after Sunday worship, have we already forgotten what we heard and sang, if we were ever really paying attention to it? Are we really exactly the same people we were when we walked in the door? Or are we people who are being changed—challenged and developed—by our encounters with God in this place?
To help our worship to be all that God desires it to be, let’s look closer at the kind of revolution that Jesus brought to public worship. When He came as Messiah, He radically changed people’s understanding of relating to God through worship. Before Jesus, the proper places and forms for worship were largely set—pretty much locked in place. The place was Israel, Jerusalem, the Temple in very particular ways. The forms included a detailed system of ceremonies, with sacrifices and priests playing key roles.
But when Jesus came along, he caused a very important shift in people’s understanding. It wasn’t that He formed something new, and I am not saying that Old Testament worship was bad and New Testament worship good. That’s not true according to the Bible. But Christ did bring great change. He took God’s people back to the original purpose the Lord had for worship when He created humans. When Jesus came, He called God’s people back to that purpose and fulfilled it. He taught that the appropriate place to worship God is every place, especially our bodies. He modeled that for us by making His body a pure place where God could make His home in peace and joy. He used His body, even in dying, as a tool for showing God’s love, which is at the heart of worship. John 2:18-21 tells us:
Then the Jews asked him, “What miraculous sign can you show us? Can you prove your authority to do all of this?”
Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple. I will raise it up again in three days.”
The Jews replied, “It has taken 46 years to build this temple. Are you going to raise it up in three days?” But the temple Jesus had spoken about was his body.
And Jesus took that example of using our bodies as God’s home and told His people to do the same. Paul writes in I Corinthians 6:19, “Don't you know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit? The Spirit is in you. You have received him from God. You do not belong to yourselves.”
He taught that there is not one form of worship that pleases God but many. As the gospel went to various cultures and around the world, the way that people would naturally express our love to the same God would vary greatly place to place and time to time. Rather than keeping many detailed rules, for example about sacrifices, Jesus said in effect, “My body was enough of a sacrifice. When I gave it for you, that paid the price of your sin in full. Nothing else will be necessary.” Rather than upholding many rules controling who would be the priests and what they would do, Jesus came along and told His people, in short, “All of you are priests in the most important ways. Be priests for each other and the world, standing between God and people to link them in His love.” That’s why Peter tells his readers in I Peter 2:19, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”
In other words, Jesus changed worship from an outer activity to an inner expression of love. It shifted from ceremony-focused to the “spirit and truth” He talks about in v. 23: “But a new time is coming. In fact, it is already here. True worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth.”
These were radical changes in the way people understood worship. The Hebrew word we usually translate worship simply means to bow down, to kneel or prostrate oneself. (That’s not basically in conflict with but pretty different in form from the English word worship, which we could call recognizing worth-ship. It’s focused on seeing and proclaiming the great worth or value that someone has, in our case the God of heaven and earth.) But when people talked about worship in Old Testament times and even during most of the life of Jesus, they usually had in mind the ceremonies held at the Temple, including the sacrifices of animals. Through all these formal systems of worship, people met and honored God.
But a surprising thing happens when you read through the Bible. After the gospel stories of Christ’s life, that word (its Greek translation, proskuneo) practically disappears. About the only time you see it again is in Revelation, in John’s vision of how people will once again worship God in heaven when the end of time arrives. What
happened? Many Bible scholars understand it something like the following. Jesus so radically changed the way people understood worship that to simply continue to use the old word for worship was to invite misunderstanding. So other New Testament writers like Paul used different words to talk about praising and thanking God, honoring Him by honoring His word, and the other things we call worship.
With all that in mind in understanding what God wants in our worship of Him, let’s turn our attention again to one key part of our experience with the Lord each time we gather on Sundays. That is, God speaks to us. In the time we have remaining, I want to walk through a list of ways we hear God’s word regularly and so make a place for it in our normal order of worship.
First we have an opening Bible reading. In that place, we turn our attention to God and recall that we are here at His invitation. Our worship does not start with us but God. In v. 23b Jesus, talking about “true worshipers” who “worship the Father in spirit and in truth,” says, “They are the kind of worshipers the Father is looking for.”
Did you know that God is seeking people to worship Him? Now if I did that, sought people to worship me, I guess you would be right in thinking I was extremely self-centered or arrogant or something. Does God have a bad self-image? Is that why He feels the need to find people to worship Him? People ask questions like that sometimes. But they generally show a poor understanding of who God is and what He wants. God is God, and His ego will be just fine with or without our worship. But because He is love and is motivated by love, He naturally wants people to know Him in a deep love relationship. That’s what we express when we worship.
And we discover something interesting as we come to know Him more through worship: it meets our needs when we move close to Him in worship. Worshiping Him is what leads us to our deepest peace and inner freedom and fullness of life. If you hear extremely beautiful music at a concert, your joy is not complete until you praise the person or group that made it, for example by clapping or giving flowers, right? If you really love someone and want to spend the rest of your life with that person, staying quiet about your feelings is not a natural way to handle them, is it? You want to show that
person how lovely, charming, or attractive he or she is to you. God knows our hearts and minds work this way. We need to do this. It does not rob us of our freedom or self-respect. Just the opposite, it leads us to health and life. So His call for us to worship Him is not selfish or strange at all. It is an act of love toward us. Worship is a type of love-making, the Bible suggests (check out the Song of Solomon if you want to read about a steamy romance), and God begins by calling to His lover, the Bride, the Church. When we receive and respond to that call, real worship can happen.
Part of Open Door’s worship is a greeting time. This is a simple way to show that fellowship is a key part of our community worship and our life in Christ in general. We are not alone on a mountain worshiping. God often makes His presence known and speaks to us through the people He places in our lives, especially the brothers and sisters in our community of faith. For many of us, the people in this room are in large part how we know about God and His word. We learn what He is like as we see the lives of the people here formed and reformed and sustained by the power of the gospel. As we recognize that and greet them and all who come through our open doors to worship, something simple but important and powerful is communicated. It may be through a smile or a bow or a touch or a word, but we give and receive a word from God to each other. In some churches, people at a time like this say, “God bless you” or “The peace of God be with you.” Some will say, “God loves you, and I do, too” or “God loves you, and I’m trying.” Really these are all ways of sharing again the word that God is here among us, so His love is here among us.
One of the ways we hear God’s voice the most is through singing. We often hear from Him the simple messages we need to hear again and again, no matter how many times we have heard them before: “I am with you.” “You are my child.” “Place everything that is happening in your life now into my hands.” “No matter what happens this week, I can use it for good.” Even in the area of theology, one of my professors told us students long ago that most people in church learn more theology from hymns than from sermons. In the Exodus story, what do the cloud and the pillar of fire symbolize? When I forget, I can go back to the song I heard growing up and remember, “For a glory and a covering, showing that the Lord is near.” Let’s make a habit of listening for the
voice of God inside the words that we hear and sing together. In that is the chance for real worship and our growth as human beings and Christians.
At Open Door, we have a testimony time each week, a chance for people to tell what we see God doing in our lives. Even though this can mess up our schedule if someone feels led to talk a long time, we have chosen to keep this part of our worship for some strong reasons. One is that we think we should not put God on too tight a time schedule, telling Him exactly when He must speak to us. Also, we understand Him to speak through the whole family of faith. We hear timeless truths through His words in the Bible and presentations of them through people who have carefully studied and prepared to bring God’s word in the standard “message” time. But in the testimony time we have chances to “look through different windows” and see how God is leading and what He is teaching us in our various lives of faith. This is not a time for us to talk about ourselves. It is a time to talk about God. But if we keep the focus on Him, His character and teachings as we experience them in our life of faith, this time can be a great blessing to us. It can show us the fresh and timely and unique work of God and lead us to more genuine worship.
That leads us to the sermon, or what we call the message. It is important to remember that this is part of worship. You might hear someone say, “We worship for about 30 minutes and then hear the message.” I think that shows a serious misunderstanding of worship and the role of God’s word in it. Songs of praise and the other parts of worship before the message are not just warm-up. They are not just there to set the stage and create a good atmosphere for the “main event” of the message. If anything, the praise and thanksgiving we do in singing are more important, but it really is a mistake, I believe, to separate them. We learn God’s word as a way to show that we think it is worth learning. We give this time to Him, whether we particularly feel like it or not, as a way of showing Him and reminding ourselves that He is worthy of our time, of our trust, of our love. We rely on His word because we find Him to be reliable. We arrange and rearrange our lives according to His teachings as a way of showing thanks for what He has already done in our lives and trust that He will lead us well in the days ahead. This is all about worship, both inside the walls of the church and everywhere we are every day.
One more word about the message. (By the way, we usually say the message because the words preaching and sermon are so easily misunderstood as speaking judgmentally and scolding. God’s word does have scary parts in it, but in the end it is good news for anyone who will receive it.) People who stand here to speak are given the task of bringing a message from God to God’s people and all those He is calling to be His. So if I speak, then sit down, and you think you have heard Jim’s message, I have failed. You might like the talk and say nice things like “It was easy to understand” and I may feel happy. But if you have not heard the voice of God inside the voice of this person, something vital and necessary is missing. There are needs in the hearts of our church family that are going unmet, unfulfilled, unaddressed. There may be a lot of speaking, even for a long time, but God’s word has not been preached, you have not received a message from the Lord. We have not worshiped God “in truth” (v. 23).
Do you see what I am saying? For God’s word to really be proclaimed, it takes a community. The speaker isn’t enough. And there is a process. Talking isn’t enough, even skillful or interesting speaking. There has to be a receiving of the message by the listeners. I have heard people say, “A song isn’t a song until it’s sung.” I recently heard a musician say, “A song isn’t a song until it’s heard.” In the same way, a Bible message isn’t a Bible message until it’s heard. The woman at the well in John 4 did not just hear Jesus speak. She followed that by going into the town and bringing others to Jesus. Together they let the word of God become a life-changing and life-giving power in them.
The way God’s word is received can be remarkably different from the way the speaker meant to give it. This can be an opening for God’s creative work, and it also can be a chance for real misunderstanding and trouble. But in any case, the real message does not exist in the mind of the speaker alone but maybe even more in the minds and hearts of the listeners. Then there has to be an application of the message to the lives of those who receive it. That is even more of the “real message.” So I would be fascinated (and I hope not shocked!) to see what shape today’s message takes in the days ahead in the lives of those who are here today.
For those of us who bring the message at Open Door, let’s take this as a reminder of our deep need to listen carefully to the Lord before standing to speak for Him in His house. For all of us, let’s think again about the ways we react to the messages presented here. Let’s remember the need each speaker has for us to pray for him or her. May we recommit ourselves to finding the voice of God inside the voice of the person delivering the message. We probably need from time to time to resist the temptation to think about other things during the message, pick up our telephones, spend our energy rating the quality of this week’s talk, or anything that pulls us away from God Himself. He knows what we need to hear, and He is very capable of speaking through even the weakest instrument to our hearts and minds if they are open to Him. May He find ways to empower and mature and bless us through His word each time we gather here.
Finally, we hear God’s word through the blessing, or benediction. We may come to hear these important words as nothing more than a way to say, “We’re finished. Have a good week.” There’s really a lot more there—more than we have time to go into today. So I hope we can do that another time.
And of course we have not covered today all the ways our creative God speaks to us each uniquely in worship. But we have seen enough already to now take what He has said to us and begin discovering ways to apply it to our daily lives. Let’s pray that, in doing that, we will see the fruit that God wants His word to bear in our lives.
Father in heaven, help us make the choice, day by day, hour by hour, and even moment by moment, to open our hearts to you and listen to your voice as you speak. Give us hungry hearts that want to know you more through your word. Give us eager minds ready to learn the lessons that each day and each worship service brings to those willing to learn. Give us wisdom so that we can tell which voice is yours, which is our own, and which come from others. In receiving and using these wonderful gifts for which we ask, help us to know and love you more fully through our worship each day. As a result, help us as a worship community to be able to offer
you more and more of the honor, praise, thanks, and all you deserve through our worship together here in your house. In Christ’s name, amen.
Newton, J. and Haydn, F. (1779). “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken.” Retrieved June 11, 2016 from http://library.timelesstruths.org/music/ Glorious_Things_of_Thee_Are_Spoken/
Piper, J. (November 13, 2015). “Gravity and Gladness on Sunday Morning, Parts 1-6.” Retrieved June 12, 2016 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=76kd Cq9U4Lo