June 12, 2011
John 4:19-26, Romans 11:33-12:1
As you just heard, the title of my sermon comes from our passage in Romans. “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.” God is the creator of all—From Him comes our breath and From Him come all living things. God is the sustainer of all—Through Him all creation continues to exist and carry on. And God is the destination of our journey—all creation lives to bear witness and give glory To Him.
Jesus tells the parable of the great banquet in Luke 14: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ But they all alike began to make excuses.”
One uses the excuse of needing to go see his new field, another is trying out his oxen, and another just got married. This story came to my mind as I was thinking about the great feast God prepares for us each week. From Him comes the invitation to come to the great banquet—to make it a priority to worship with the body of Christ and as you’re here in this place, to be present to God’s Spirit.
And From Him comes the invitation to take part in this great banquet—to “eat” what is put before you—to be fed and sustained by the Word of God (and by Word of God I mean all the ways God speaks to us—through scripture, song, each other, silence) These things nourish us and keep us faithful in our walk with Christ.
But how many of us make excuses for not being here or for not participating? And right now I’m not talking about not being here physically. We all miss coming to church at times, and we have excuses for that—sometimes compelling excuses and other times not. But how often do we make excuses, when we’re physically present at a worship service, for why we couldn’t worship? “That off the wall music just doesn’t do it for me. There’s no depth to it and it’s too syncopated. I can’t worship through that style of music.” Or “I don’t connect with the sermon. It gets so long and I never know what the point is. I just don’t get anything out of it.” Or “I find it hard to worship when so and so leads singing. They always lead songs I don’t like and it seems like they’re up there just for the recognition.” Or sigh, “What a beautiful day to be at the cabin. I wish I was there right now, enjoying the beauty of God’s creation. I’d feel a lot more connected to God there than I do here.”
So tell me, in all these thoughts, where is the focus? Who is the focus on? (wait for someone to answer) The focus is on the person thinking it; they’re focusing on themselves. And we can all find ourselves in one of these scenarios or something similar. But who invited us to this great banquet? When we gather to worship together on Sunday mornings, who is it that we’re worshiping? (wait for someone to answer) Our worship is from Him and through him and to him! We gather to worship God, so our focus ought to be on God.
Last week Patrick talked about what worship means. Worship is worth-ship, to worship something is to give it value or worth. We looked at the passage in Isaiah where Isaiah is commissioned by the Lord, and we saw that Christian worship begins with the recognition that GOD IS. Through worship we are shown who God is. And as we worship God, as we are in the presence of God Almighty, we are shown who we are. We are made aware of our sin and we see our need to repent. And God comes to us and takes away our guilt—he extends his incredible grace to us and invites us to work alongside of him—to answer his call—Whom shall I send? “Send me, Lord—I am willing to go and invite others to worship you with their lives.”
Back in May I attended a seminar on worship led by Michael Zehr, who is from Northwest OH and has pastored in Mennonite churches. What he shared with us was very significant…a number of truths that I want to make a reality in my life. And I bring them to you because I care about our worship together and I want all of us to be transformed in our thinking about what worship is. But in our humanness, these are very hard truths to live out.
See, he talked about two kinds of worshippers—Wal-mart worshippers and True worshippers. When we go to Wal-Mart, we’re there to get something—something we need or maybe just something we want. We expect them to have whatever we’re there for—from toiletries to groceries to batteries. We want to be able to pick up all that we need in that one stop and we expect a wide array of choices and it all better be at a low price. Well, sadly, our attitude, as we come to worship, is often the same. We come wondering what we can get out of the worship time. We have spiritual needs, emotional needs, physical and mental, and we want those needs to be met. We expect to come here and be spiritually fed for the week, to be mentally stimulated, and to be cared about. We want a varied worship experience and we want it to be comfortable for us. And, it better not cost us much! We prefer to just sit in our chairs, take in what pleases us, and not have to put much effort (if any) into it. After all, this is Sunday—our day of rest—the one day we can let someone else do the work. So, Wal-Mart worshipers think worship is about them.
“Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and His worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”
This has been a difficult verse for me to understand. What does it mean to worship the Father in spirit and in truth? The Greek word for spirit is “pneuma” which of course means “spirit” but it also means breath, life, and spiritual gift. Worshipping the Father in spirit means worshiping with our breath, our life, our gifts. Are all the words formed from my breath worship to God? Hardly! There’s a lot that escapes from my mouth that is not worshipful.
And what about my life? Does my life testify to the ongoing work of salvation Jesus has given me? Am I willing to follow the Holy Spirit’s leading wherever it may lead?
And then, the gift piece. Worshiping the Father in spirit means worshiping with our gifts. This means using them outside of church life as well as inside, but I want to talk about inside church life.
The Romans scripture that was read says, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters,in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God, this is your spiritual act of worship.” If you keep reading below that, you’ll see that it goes on to say that we are one body with many members and each of us has a gift to offer. God asks each of us to offer our gifts to this body at Millersburg Mennonite as an act of worship.
The attitude of worship is offering. A good question to keep before you when you come to worship on Sunday morning is, “what am I offering God this morning?” God wants us to come to worship with something to give, and not just money. God wants us to offer our selves. Now there are times when all we have to offer is our own brokenness and pain, and that’s ok., as long as that’s not every Sunday. God deserves to be honored and praised no matter what our circumstances are.
So, what do you have to offer, and are you offering it?
How much does it take for you to give of whatever you’re giving? Our responsibility is not to compare ourselves to others in the body of Christ and feel like we have nothing significant to give or be envious of those with different gifts than us. Our responsibility is to give of ourselves sacrificially—to not just give out of our surplus but to give all we have.
And I don’t want this to be misunderstood. Maybe you’ve heard the statistic that in every organization, 20% of the people do 80% of the work. This also holds true in the church (including our own). This is not a healthy place to be because of course, those 20% start to get burnt out. So when I say about giving of ourselves sacrificially, this is not the model I’m talking about—where we get to the point of burnout. God wants each of us to offer our gifts—no matter our age or our stage in life. Those of you in the congregation who are giving too much and feeling burnt out, you need to take care of yourself—to say no, to not feel responsible to hold everything together. And those of you in the congregation who are not giving enough, or not giving anything and just showing up for church Sunday morning, you need to ask God what it is he wants you to offer as an act of worship—to have a willing heart to give of your gifts to the body of Christ here.
God is seeking worshipers who will worship in spirit and in truth. God is looking for true worshipers. True worshipers know that worship is about God. In this seminar I went to, Michael Zehr used the illustration of a birthday party to help us think about true worship. If we plan a birthday party for someone, we plan it with that person in mind. We choose food or cake that we know they like, we may ask them for gift ideas and buy them something they want. And when we attend someone else’s birthday party we don’t look at the food and say, “yuck, I don’t like that.” Or if they are serving chocolate ice cream, it would be disrespectful to say, “I don’t like chocolate, do you have vanilla instead?” The party isn’t for us! Or say we bought the birthday person a CD of a band they really like and when they open it up, someone else at the party snorts and says “why’d you get them that? That band is horrible!” But you didn’t buy it for that person, you bought it for the birthday person—the guest of honor—knowing they would enjoy it.
God is always the guest of honor in our worship. We need to remember that when we come to worship. When we complain about things we don’t like in the worship service, or put down what someone else offers to God, we are dishonoring God. We are acting like we are the guest of honor and we’re making worship about us.
Now it’s true that we may connect to God more through some aspects of worship than others, and this isn’t to say we can’t have preferences. It’s okay to have preferences, but that’s not where our focus ought to be. True worship is putting God at the center of our hearts and thoughts. And as you put God at the center, you will be fed and nourished.
Going back to the parable I talked about in the beginning of my sermon….Jesus is talking about how everyone is invited to eat at the feast of the kingdom of God. God’s salvation is for everyone who accepts his invitation, and our worship each week ought to exemplify this. Our worship here on earth is a foretaste of what will be in heaven. And every Sunday we join in the worship that is already taking place around the throne of God. Imagine that! Our voices are being joined with the voices of the multitudes in heaven! And worship is happening throughout the earth—there are people of many ethnicities and languages giving worship to God at all hours of the day and night. We here are offering our voices, our hearts, and our minds to join with this multitude of worshipers. If we could grasp the vastness of worship of our great God that is taking place here on earth and in the heavens, I believe it would transform our worship.
I want to end with some of the visions of heavenly worship we read about in Revelation:
The 24 Elders lay their crowns before the throne and say:
“You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they were created
and have their being.”
Thousands and thousands of angels in a loud voice sang:
“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
and honor and glory and praise!”
The Four Living creatures day and night never stop saying:
“Holy, holy, holy
Is the Lord God Almighty,
Who was, and is, and is to come.”
Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing:
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be praise and honor and glory and power,
for ever and ever!”