A sermon delivered by Joel Snider, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Rome, Ga., on January 20, 2013.
O God, you are the only one worthy of praise from every mouth, the only one worthy of confession from every tongue, and worship from every creature. We praise you today because you made us as certainly as you made Adam, and as certainly as you breathed life into him, you have breathed life into this dry dust of our hearts and we owe you everything. We acknowledge that, as you have made us, you have also saved us. You have saved us from our sin, and not only from our sin, but you have delivered us from our constant and futile efforts to save ourselves. We praise you today for the cross of Jesus and how in your mighty power you have transformed it from an instrument of death into a symbol of life for us. O God, who else could we worship but you? Who else is worthy of our heart’s love in these moments and who else is worthy of the very living of our lives in response to you and what you have done for us. We know that you are the good, the great, the loving, the holy, the just, and the only true one. We confess today that you are above all others. Forgive us for our pride, the pride that we never even notice when we worship ourselves. Turn us from infatuation with our own lives so that our hearts might truly worship you, and may all praise be yours. In the name of Jesus, we pray. Amen.
I recall hearing a radio preacher talking about how “God just loves to be praised.” He made God sound like a narcissist. Rather, worship has the power to draw us out of ourselves. Worship is directed to God, but is in an important sense for us.
—Marcus Borg in The Heart of Christianity
The Bible is full of worship. People worship alone. They worship in groups. Sometimes it is the stars, the mountains, and the seas who are worshipping God. The Psalms describe singing and instruments. There are people who pray from Moses speaking to the children of Israel, the prophets proclaiming the word, Jesus preaching, and the apostles doing the same. People receive the word of God.
In First Corinthians, Paul described what communion was like in the early church. We see examples of people making offerings and sacrifices of contributing. Everywhere we turn, people are worshipping.
Until the time of Jesus, the people of God worshipped on the Sabbath Day. They worshipped on the seventh day. They refrained from labor and worshipped.
After the time of Christ, in order to distinguish themselves from their Jewish heritage, early Christians began worshipping on the first day of the week. They observed the Sabbath principle—one day out of seven—but instead of worshipping on the seventh day, they worshipped on the first day which they called the Lord’s Day. It was a recognition of the resurrection of Christ every time they met—once a week. They worshipped on the day of the week that Jesus was raised from the dead.
For me, worship is one of the most significant pieces of the rhythm of my life. For seven years, I trained. For thirty-eight years, I have continued education and practice. When one Sunday is over, I am already thinking about the next.
If you were to ask a physician to explain practicing medicine would be like asking me to talk about worship. If you were to ask an attorney to explain the law, that would be the same for me. How do you say it in such a brief period of time and try to worship at the same time?
There are dozens of passages of scripture. I would suggest to you that another one you might want to read is Isaiah 6. Every Sunday, our worship is designed to contain the elements of the beginning verses of Isaiah 6. This is a critical and integral part to what we do in the planning of worship. I thought about using that passage of scripture and I thought about using one of the Psalms, but I went with Noah because it is so fundamental, so raw, and so basic.
Unless Noah was ordained, and we do not know that he was, there were no clergy. Unless his family was musical, and we do not know that they were, there was no choir. There was no evidence of any instruments on the ark. We know that anything that resembled a temple had been washed away. Noah gathered together the stones to build the altar and there he and his family worshipped. There was nothing else on the face of the earth except the ark and the animals that were in it, and they still had worship.
To try to capture the essence of all this, I need to give credit where credit is due. Several years ago, a pastor named William Benton wrote a book called Where the Water Hits the Wheel. He has three “R’s” of worship. Two of them are in the Noah passage and one of them is sadly missing. The first is recognize. When we truly and genuinely put our hearts in worship, we recognize who God is and we recognize the proper order of things in the world. When we worship the one true God, we realize we are worshipping the creator. What does that make us? We are the creatures. When we worship the one who is holy, we recognize that we are the sinners. When we recognize the one who is Lord, we realize that we are servants. It helps put things in the proper perspective and we realize where we are and where God is.
In this narcissistic world that we live in, there is a magazine named Self, and Facebook has convinced us that the universe is interested in our constantly changing status and in the infinite details of our children’s efforts to get rid of their bottle or be potty trained. It is good to remember that we are not God. It is good to remember that the universe does not revolve around us, but the God who made the heavens and the earth, the Father of our Lord, Jesus Christ, is above all and in all and to God alone is worship. We recognize.
Noah came out of the ark. He recognized he had not been in control of any of this. He realized that while, indeed, he followed the instructions of God and built the boat, it was not his ingenuity but it was God’s guidance that made it possible for the world and his family to be spared. In the end, the pleasure and joy was not just that they had lived but that God’s plan had prevailed. He recognized the proper sequence of things. God is God. God was due something. He pulled the rocks together and made the sacrifices and it was a pleasing aroma that went up to God. He recognized the way things ought to be. If God is God and we are going to worship, doesn’t it make sense that we would offer some sacred time to worship God?
It is true: We can worship God any time, but if God is truly God, shouldn’t we have some sacred time that is reserved exclusively for God and that is only for God?
Think in the last week of the places where you have had to compete for attention. You had to compete over the TV, around the Game Boy, with someone else’s phone or texting, with someone else’s conversation, and surely God feels this way sometimes. We can worship anywhere. Yes, but everything else is going on. If God is truly the one who made us, do we not owe God some sacred time where there is nothing else but focusing our hearts and our minds on God?
We can worship God any place but shouldn’t there be a sacred place, a place where we have reserved it for God? It is not that God is more present here than God is outside the doors at your house or at my house, but it is just a place where we say to God, “This place is for you. Because we recognize you as God, we think there should be a time and a place where we don’t do anything else but worship, all because we recognize.”
The second “R” according to William Benton is “respond.” In the evangelical tradition, we often think about that as what happens during the hymn of response or the invitation. We think it is either a profession of faith or a rededication or someone committing to the mission field. But there is so much more than that. When we think that those are the only things that happen, as valuable and as critical as those things are, we tend to think that none of the rest of us have anything to respond about on a given day.
Noah came out of the ark and he had to do something so he built an altar and he put the animals on it. For those of you who do not keep up with the details of the story, in the sixth chapter, it says “a pair of every animals,” but in the seventh chapter it says, “seven pairs of every clean animal.” We are not wiping out major species from the planet with this particular offering, but Noah had to do something. What I have found as a pastor is that there are many Sundays where somebody will talk to me on the way out the door, they will send me an e-mail, make a phone call, whatever it may be, and say, “I decided that because of the worship service Sunday, I must—I must finally forgive . . . I must tithe . . . I must volunteer to be the hands of Christ . . . I must do this in my family . . . I must do that in my business . . . I have to do this with my life.” If God be God, there is a demand that comes with that and when people have worshipped the one true God, they recognize there is something they have to do to respond. It is not just the person who walk the aisle, but it where we stand. It is what continues to go on in our minds and in our hearts after we leave the sanctuary. There is a claim that is made on us. We realize that we are not our own. Because I have encountered God in worship, there is something that has to be different.
That leads us to the third “R” which is not in the story and strikingly missing. If we think of response as doing something one time, we re-orient our lives when we worship because there is some continued demand that means we have to change direction. The way we were headed and what we were doing is no longer satisfying. Not only might I forgive an individual, but I become a person of forgiveness. Not only am I convicted to give a gift for the tsunami relief or whatever may be happening, but I am convicted to become a person of generosity. Not only do I believe I need to give up some particular sin, but I am convicted of the need to try to become more like Jesus Christ to be righteous in my living. There is a sense of continued response, re-orienting in a new direction.
If you know the next chapter, the sad thing about the Noah story is that this does not seem to take place for Noah. Noah is a planter of the earth. He plants a vineyard and the only thing I can say is that he has a “drunken shame.” Evidently, the worship that he had once coming out of the ark he does not continue. I think if we could bring Noah through a time machine here today and ask him, “Which moment in your life would you prefer to relive over and over again? Would it be when you came out of the ark and you offered that response to God in the giving of all of these things in offering them up to the Lord or the moment when you woke from your drunken shame? Which would you prefer?” I think he would have much preferred that his life be re-oriented and directed into moving in this one particular direction.
Here is what happens when we worship: We recognize God. We recognize what God’s place is in where we are. We also respond because there is something we are supposed to do. When we worship week after week after week, our lives are directed, not just in a one-time response, but in a direction in which we must go.
There are plenty of places where we can perceive the message that God is nice and the world is pretty. But there are not many places outside of a sacred time and a sacred place in a community of gathered believers and the word of God opened to us where we really come to know that the Lord, our God, has made us and we are his. We are the sheep of his pasture. Where else do we really get the message that all we, like sheep, have gone astray or the message while we were yet sinners Christ died for the ungodly or that when we have begun to follow Christ, we can join with Paul and say, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me. The life that I now live I live by faith in the son of God who died and gave himself for me.” We can believe in some generic immortality but where else but sacred space, sacred time, gathered body, word of God do we come to understand the sure and certain hope of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead?
It is only in these places where we really come to understand who God is and what is actually going on in the world, what our place is, and what God would call us to do. How would we ever know these things if it were not for worship?
Let me encourage you to respond and re-orient. Let us each give to God that sacred time and that sacred space so that our lives can be directed at him, and that every day, every place and in every way, our hearts would be giving worship and praise to the God who made us.
Joel Snider is a coach for the Center for Healthy Churches.