Saturday, March 28, 2015

Palm Sunday

Worship                                       3/29/15
6th Sermon in the Path for Discipleship series
Given on Palm Sunday
Zechariah 9, Matthew 21:1-11

Have you ever found yourself amazed when you understand the lyrics of a song for the first time?  You are familiar with the tune.  You may have sung this tune, and, I’m just guessing here, made up your own lyrics when you didn’t know the real ones.  The power of music is that something can stay in our mind, even if lyric’s substance is not worth keeping.  It doesn’t go away easily.

Zechariah 9 is an oracle.  An oracle is an utterance from God, often through a medium, in this case, the prophet.  It is like many of our songs in that we might not understand all of the words, or what the author meant by a specific line. But like a well loved song, we get a feel for what is happening.

There are three headings in the New International version for this chapter:  Judgment on Israel’s enemies, The Coming of Zion’s King, and The LORD will appear.  These headings are not the Scripture themselves, but the translation committee’s attempt to summarize passages in the Bible.  These accurately portray the feel of the chapter.  We might not remember the specific words of this chapter after today’s service, but the impression speaks to important matters that stay with us.

As a Christian, I read back into this Hebrew Scripture, and I feel that the three headings speak to the Trinity:   That God is the Judge, Jesus Christ is the Coming King, and LORD appears, at least in this age, when the Spirit of God is at work.

Matthew, in his story of the Triumphal entry, references Zechariah 9.  The story of the Triumphal Entry is one about judgment, Jesus as King, and the appearance of the LORD among people who may or may not be attentive to what God is doing.

Judgment is one of those electric words.  Is “do not judge lest you be judged” the most quoted Scripture by people, whether believer, skeptic or enemy?   The word judgment might send nervous shivers within you.  People don’t like the word.  I think people may have missed the mark.

Webster’s defines judgment as “a formal utterance of an authoritative opinion”.  At its simplest form, when God pronounces judgment, he is simply announcing what he has the right and power to do.   The meaning of the verb judge is “to form an opinion about through careful weighing of evidence and testing of premises”.  When a judge judges, she is weighing the testimony against other testimony.

As people of faith, informed by Scripture, judgment could really be called, Our Good God’s Good judgment.  Nothing God does is evil or wrong or harmful.  All that God does is good and light and life-giving.  So when God pronounces judgment, it is because judgment is needed. 

Why wouldn’t we want anything that attempts to threaten the reign of God to be judged?  Evil, death, sin, rebellion against God and God’s people:  these are things that all of us want gone.  The world will be better on that day when God pronounces judgment against all that separates us from our good God.

In Scripture, some of the words associated with God and judgment include “righteous, true, and just”.  Some of the Biblical language associated with humans and judgment include
  • All humans will be judged by God
  • Judgment is what we face after death
  • Judgment begins with God’s people, not unbelievers
Paul, in his second letter to the church in Corinth writes:
            We make it our goal to please him, whether we are at
home in the body or away from it.  For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him or her, for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.   (5:9-10)

If you have placed your faith in Jesus Christ, you will not face God’s wrath when you stand for judgment.  He will look at us through the love for his Son.   We can leave those doubts of wonder if I will get into heaven:  you will if you believe in Jesus.  But we must also acknowledge that this doesn’t mean we won’t be judged.  We will give account of our lives:  not in an attempt to please God enough for him to let us into heaven, but as an answer of all the life and goodness that God has displayed to us.   We won’t receive wrath due for our sins if we are in Christ, but we will receive judgment for all that we do as a Christian.  This reality should motivate our words, our actions, our thoughts, our prayers, our care.  This reality should be with us in the board room and the cubicle, the grocery store aisle and the mall, at home and at meal.  Our words, our actions, our thoughts, our prayers can bring glory to God.

Zechariah’s Oracle mentions attempts to thwart the power of God and to harm God’s people.  Many of those names of tribes and groups no longer exist.  Someday, all that we see around us that attempts to separate from God will no longer exist.  It will undergo judgment from God.  That is a really good thing.  An example from the Iron Men’s Bible Study a few weeks ago was the growing awareness within the Church about the importance of taking care of the environment.  If there is something that destroys what God has created, and God were to pronounce judgment upon that, and have it cease to exist, isn’t that a good thing?

Palm Sunday is a pronouncement from God that he loves his Son, and that his Son will reign as King.  And all that which separates us from God was put on notice that day.  That first Palm Sunday, there were people who wondered what was going on:  What’s all the noise?  What’s all that racket about?  Who is that?  The crowds say.  The reply is “It is Jesus the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee”.   The message of Christ as King is a bold message that evokes questions and response from people.  When people consider this congregation, this use of space, are they seeing Jesus Christ lifted up as King?  Are they asking the question of that first crowd:  what’s happening here?  Who is that one in the center receiving all the attention and praise?   If all that our congregation is and does was put into song, would the lyrics be recognizable to people?  Would they get the feel that we are lifting up Jesus as King?

During Lent, we have been talking about spiritual disciplines.  We highlight worship on Palm Sunday and Celebration on Easter Sunday.  The events of Holy week detailed in Scripture should evoke a wide response of emotions.  We have feelings of triumph on Palm Sunday, feelings of humility when Jesus clears the temple, feelings of wonder and awe as Jesus breaks bread with his disciples, feelings of sadness during betrayal and trial and crucifixion, feelings of gratitude when It is finished, feelings of a joy and newness of life that comes from resurrection, if we just have enough faith to enter in.

Worship is worth giving.  We are to give God his worth.  Ultimately, he alone is worthy.  And so we give our worship through our triumphant songs, and our still tears, in uncertainty and in the defining moments of life.  God is to be praised.  Both in the future, and right now, today!

Part of our struggle as a church is that of low expectations.  James writes, “You believe that there is one God.  Good!  Even the demons believe that—and shudder.”  That is nice that you believe in God, but it really isn’t that special.  We are called to love God with all of our heart, with all of our soul, with all of our mind and with all of our strength.  And we are called to love God by loving our neighbor.  Jesus taught us:  “Love one another, by your love the world will know that you are my disciples”.  And in God’s judgment, love will endure.

There are two directions for palms in the Scripture:   Psalm 118 invites us to wave them as we enter in the festal procession.  In the story of the Triumphal Entry, the people placed them on the ground for the King of Peace’s foal to walk upon.  The Palms were used for praise, and for purpose. 

These two directions:  lifting up in praise and laying down with purpose are both important things to do.  We celebrate our Good God who makes good judgment.  We celebrate that Jesus is King.  We celebrate the Lord’s appearing in this world. 

You are called to believe.  But belief requires a lifetime of devotion and energy and commitment.  You don’t have to stay in a place where the demons are.  You can enter into much more than that.  You can praise and pray, lift up and lay down your palms.  You can join in the song of the ages, that God is praised, that God be blessed for sending Jesus.  If you don’t want to do that, that’s your choice.  But please know that in that case, God has another for the job:  if you don’t praise, then the stones will burst with praise.

And that rock song, will be one all the creation will understand.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Growing Spiritually

Growing Spiritually                        3/22/15
5th sermon in the Path of Discipleship Series
Joshua 22:1-6, Acts 9:19-31, Matthew 9:35-38

We continue down the road of Lent and our journey of discipleship as we move toward Easter.  The teaching for this year’s Lent and Easter are devoted to the Path of Discipleship.  The three churches in the shared staff model are learning about the classic expressions of Christian devotion.  Pastor Merle and I are inviting you to take 7 steps of your choice within any of the 10 columns in the Path.  These steps can take place throughout 2015.  But we’d like you to identify them, communicate them and start to walk. 

Today’s column is on spiritual growth.  The word spiritual is certainly an interesting word.  We unpacked this word in last year’s sermon series “You Who are Spiritual”.  The summary of that series is that two words:  religious and spiritual, were traditionally interchangeable words to describe people of faith.  Recent demographics highlight the change that has occurred, with the advent of the SBNR category:  spiritual but not religious.  In this redefining of words, spiritual is the private, inward expression of faith and religious is the public expression of faith.   The caution in this modern interpretation is that any individual can create a truly unique definition of spiritual, that has no sense of accountability and, at its worst, degrades into a menu of idolatry.

Lillian Daniel writes:   Where life with God gets rich and provocative is when you dig deeply into a tradition that you did not invent all for yourself.

Lillian offers helpful advice here.  People might not understand that they grow the most in community, where sometimes our assumptions are challenged, or we have to work together, or take the time to define words and phrases used in our thinking. Biblical tradition also offers something similar: The God of the Bible is not the way we might naturally draw him up to be:  there are stories and works recorded that are different and unexpected and even difficult.  But in aligning ourselves with the biblical story, rather than the story of our own imagination, we can indeed grow, just like we were created to.

Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his book Life Together, offers these profound words:
The Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him.  He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged, for by himself he cannot help himself without belying the truth.  The Christ in his own heart is weaker than the Christ in the word of his brother; his own heart is uncertain, his brother’s is sure.

The classic understanding of Christian spirituality is that the private and public (or individual and community) are woven together to make a more complete and authentic relationship with the Lord.  

The definition of spiritual is that which relates to the Spirit.  Christian spirituality is that which relates to the Holy Spirit.  Scripture provides that balance for spiritual growth of the inward, the outward and the community.  And one of the most helpful interpretations of the Bible’s understanding of spiritual growth is Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline:  The Path to Spiritual Growth.  In his book, Foster identifies inward disciplines as meditation, prayer, fasting and study.  Outward disciplines include simplicity, solitude, submission and service.  Corporate Disciplines include confession, worship, guidance and celebration.

The path map we are using calls us to incorporate spiritual growth by practicing more and more spiritual disciplines.  Foster’s Book will be helpful for you if you are ready to take that step.  The map also has intentional steps of discipling individuals, referencing the model of Barnabas, Paul and Timothy.  

The three passages read today include the three most memorable examples of discipleship:  Moses and Joshua, Jesus and the twelve, and Barnabas-Paul-Timothy. 

Many Christians might know about Paul’s mentoring of Timothy, after all, we have two letters from Paul to Timothy in Scripture.  But the reason Paul was able to become a mentor himself was because of Barnabas, who took Paul under his wing in a time of great uncertainty in the church’s story.

Paul, several years earlier, had converted to Jesus Christ in a literal blinded by the light moment.  Paul was on the road to Damascus, going there to hunt down Christians and put them to death for their proclamation that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, when Jesus meets him on the road.  Years of training and spiritual growth occur before Paul is reintroduced as a preacher of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Yet Paul finds his reputation and previous theological persuasion difficult to evade.  Years after his conversion, the people still wonder if Paul is trying to trick them by preaching about Jesus.  Even the 12 disciples are fearful of him, and the possible trickery that might be happening.  But in this crossroads stands Barnabas.

Barnabas gives his word and assurance to the disciples.  We see in him spiritual action that strengthens the community.  What does Barnabas do?
  • He takes Paul and brings him to the disciples
  • He tells the disciples about Paul’s conversion
  • He tells the disciples about the Lord’s work in Paul.
  • He speaks to Paul’s work in response to the Lord’s call

Barnabas’ work is both simple and crucial and speaks to us in our digital age.  He takes the time to do the physical and literal.  He shows up, and accompanies him “hey Paul, come with me, I’m taking you to the people who are scared.  Let’s go together.  Let’s work this out.”  He then speaks on Paul’s behalf to the 12.  There is something powerful about being present, and speaking your own words and spending the social capital of your reputation for the Lord’s work.  Barnabas is a mentor to Paul, as well as a colleague and partner in missionary work. 

Jesus and the 12.        
It must have been magnificent to be one of the original followers of Jesus Christ.  To be in the midst of the Roman empire, to hear that events of change were in the air, and to watch this carpenter from Nazareth teaching and living, and modeling God’s love and power in new and fantastic ways.
They saw what God wanted to do.

This passage is a story of Jesus doing the will of God, having compassion, and, if we are willing to listen, telling us what to pray.  “Ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest field”. 

This verse is challenging enough, but if we believe that being spiritual is simply looking more and more inside ourselves, we are missing the simplest way forward.  There is work to do.  It involves inward growth, building an outward life that pleases God, and also living together alongside fellow believers.  But it also involves doing God’s work and reaching people in the name of the Lord.  Jesus, in the midst of his healing, preaching, teaching and miracle working says:  There is a lot of work to do:  ask God to send out more workers so that people might come to the Lord.   The column on spiritual life encourages us to grow spiritually, and become involved in the lives of people.  This includes being involved in very intentional, purposeful ways.

It is when we grow and go, serve and serve some more, that we grow spiritually.  This is validated by our reading from Joshua.

Moses, had an amazing place in God’s plan.  But in an event where Moses disobeyed God, the consequence was that Moses would not lead the people into the promised land.  That job was for his disciple Joshua.  Moses takes them within sight of the finish line before his earthly life ends.  He publicly passes the leadership torch to Joshua.  Joshua will lead the Israelite’s in a multi-year campaign to gain the promised land.  The Book of Joshua is a chronicle of the military campaigns as well as miraculous works of God to give Israel the land.

Through its scouting department, the twelve tribes know the basic landscape of what each tribe will receive.  The tribes of Rueben, Gad and part of Manasseh will live on the eastern side of the Jordan River, and will be separated by the river from the other tribes.  As Joshua and the Israelites enter the land from the east, the people who cannot fight from these 2 ½ tribes are invited to enter their rest and live in the land.  The fighters will continue with Joshua and the other tribes.

Joshua 22 is about those people who could have turned back to the easy life, who could have returned home and left the job to everyone else.  But instead, they kept their promise to God, their commitment to Joshua’s leadership and their brothers and sisters from the other tribes.  These were people of character, who had grown, because they lived for something beyond themselves.

At the end of their service, the people are reminded to remember the Lord, to keep God’s commandments, to walk in God’s ways, and to hold fast to God, and to serve God with all your heart and soul.   As the people go, Joshua blesses them. 

Joshua’s blessing acknowledges the blessing and peace of doing one’s job.  No, our job today is not like Joshua’s job.  It isn’t one of conquest.  Our job is to glorify God by living a holy life, following Christ, being filled with the Holy Spirit. 

True spiritual growth is one that seeks the glory of God, that follows Jesus into the world as a harvest worker, and who experiences the Holy Spirit.  How will you prepare yourself for that work?  How will you help nurture that work in another person?  If you answer these questions, you'll have spiritual growth.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Surrounding Our Prayers

Surrounding Our Prayers                                      3/15/15
I Samuel 1, Acts 4:23-31, Matthew 6:5-15

During Lent and Easter, we are considering the call to Discipleship.  A disciple is a student, a pupil of a teacher.  Christians affirm Jesus Christ as the Master teacher, and we are his followers.

We have a Map before us that identifies 10 classic expressions of Christian devotion.  Within each expression are various steps to take.  Worshippers in Stockton, Mt. Airy and Titusville are being invited to take 7 specific steps forward in one or more of these columns, and to tell your pastor about it for support and encouragement.

So far, we have identified the Bible as God-breathed, and worship as response to God’s wide work.  Today, we will discuss prayer.

The definition of prayer is a solemn request made to a deity.  In its most broad terms, it is a hope or wish.  A secondary definition is the spiritual communion that comes from presenting requests to God.

The Bible informs our definition with the reminder that prayer involves both talking and listening.  Prayer is that time that we have with God.  We can imagine, reason, speak, identify, and we can also be quiet, and let God imagine and reason and speak and identify within us.

Prayer should include praise to God, thanksgiving to God, confession of our sin and shortfalls, and prayers for neighbors close and far.  Our two stories today identify two of the more common associations we have with prayer.  We pray when we are in trouble, and we pray when there is something that we want that we don’t have.   The Gospel lesson will bring us back to Jesus’ emphasis that prayer is simply about God.

Acts 4:23-31
Peter and John had helped a man claim faith in Jesus Christ and find miraculous healing.  This man had been crippled, known among the people as he begged each day at one of the gates of the temple.  So when the crowds see this man who previously was not able to walk, much praise and excitement happens.  Peter and John use this opportunity to preach the gospel.  This preaching causes a stir among the temple’s religious leadership, and John and Peter are placed in jail by the temple guards.

In these early days of the church, the church was really a small sect of Judaism.   Believers were mostly Jewish, and simply believed that Jesus was the messiah that God had promised to Israel. They congregated in the temple court areas, which were large space outside of the inner sanctuary where sacrifices were made.

These guards do the work for the chief priests, who did not view Jesus as Messiah.  Alarmed that Jesus would be given praise for a healing that takes place within the temple, the priests bring John and Peter before them, asking for an account of this healing, while also warning that this message should not continue.  The people who listen to John and Peter’s explanation are impressed by their coherent message, despite their lack of formal education.  Readers might be brought back to Jesus’ instructions for his disciples as they are sent out:
   Be on your guard against men, they will hand you over to the local councils and flog  
   you in their synagogues.  On my account you will be brought before governors and
   kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles.  But when  they arrest you, do not worry   
   about what to say or how to say it.  At that time, you will be given what to say, for it
   will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
   --Matthew 10:17-20

The religious leaders order John and Peter to be silent, but do not ultimately agree on a formal punishment because the man who had been healed had brought such celebration among the people.

When Peter and John return to the believers to report what had happened, and the people join together in prayer.  It is a prayer spurred by questionable action by the authorities, and the people feel afraid and in trouble.  The prayer gives us clues for how to pray in times of trouble.

This prayer from the believers includes several important elements:
  • The Acknowledgement of God and his character
  • Viewing oneself in light of God’s work in history
  • Scripture
  • Placing one’s prayer in light of Jesus Christ
  • One’s request
  • The results of praying are listed.

  • The Acknowledgement of God and his character
“Sovereign Lord, you made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them” (v. 24)
  • Viewing oneself in light of God’s work in history
“You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our Father David” (v. 25)
  • Scripture
“Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?  The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his anointed One.” (v. 26)
  • Placing one’s prayer in light of Jesus Christ
“Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed.  They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen” (vs. 27-8)
  • One’s request
“Now Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.  Stretch our your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your Holy Servant Jesus” (vs. 29-30)
  • The results of praying are listed.
“After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken.  And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly” (v.31)

You are encouraged to review this passage as a model for your prayer in times of trouble.  I offer a couple of examples which include the elements of prayer identified in Acts.

A prayer for a work trouble:
Lord God,
            You worked and rested from your work.  And you have called your children to
work for righteousness and life in your world.  Thank you for your call upon my life, for giving me a job to do, and for the work that is before me.  Your Word says, “that whatever I do in word or deed, to do it all in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”.  Thank you for his example that guides me now.  He is the Master and I am the disciple.  Lord, please help me with my problem at work.  I feel anxious, but may your Spirit help me to do what is right.  Thank you in advance for your help in whatever comes of this situation.

A prayer for health trouble:
            Almighty God,
You are the Creator of heaven and earth, and all creation will one day give you praise. Thank you that you have been my God, throughout many different seasons of life.  You have watched over me, just like you have watched over the generations.  Your Scripture says that my body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, a place where you dwell.  Jesus knew and experienced bodily suffering.  I think of him in my time of need.  Lord, I ask your help for my body, for its ailments and the difficulty I endure.  Thank you for your care throughout all the days of my life, and the promise of the life to come. 

I Samuel 1
The story of Hannah giving birth to Samuel is a story of that universal human response to pray when we want something that we do not have. 

The story is different from the Acts passage in that it is not a universal model for how to pray, but rather, one contextual example of how a faithful believer prayed.

During a dark period in Israel’s history, when the Philistines ruled over the remnant of God’s people, hopes for a king gained momentum in the midst of the day’s moral chaos.  We are introduced to a man named Elkanah, who has two wives, and one of them, Hannah, is barren. The story of Hannah’s prayer emerges from a pain that one has lasted “year after year”.  It has caused her pain in her diet, her countenance and her relationships.  And in the midst of this pain, and her desire to get out of it by way of a having a child, a prayer develops.  It is a pray that comes out of a bitterness of soul and out of fear.  But it is also a pray so pure and heartfelt that a vow to God is promised.  “If you give me a son, I’ll give him back to you”. 

This story reminds us that when we pray, we pray to God.  We do not toss our words out into an empty universe or broken system.  We deliver our words and prayers to a living God, one who hears and answers, having already known every prayer before a word was spoken. When we look at Hannah in this story, it is clear that she knows who she is praying to:  I Am Who I Am:  the name of Almighty God.

And when she receives a positive answer to her prayer, she does forgot the one who gave her answer.  She goes to great length to have her son’s name document the work of God.  Samuel means “Heard of God”.  God had heard.  God had answered.

Hannah also fulfills her vow that was included in her deep prayer to God.  After nursing Samuel, he is brought to the temple and becomes a servant in God’s holy place.  This causes Hannah to testify to the Lord’s work and give glory to God.

Three years before Hannah brings Samuel back, a priest named Eli, who possibly had long ago forgotten why he had become a priest, in a moment of anger and perhaps apathy, told Hannah, “Whatever you had asked God will give you”.  Hannah returns with the answer to her prayer, and approaches Eli, “I was that woman who stood here praying”.  She looks back at how God was there in those various moments of her story:  in the pain, and in the promise, and at her son’s birth and now at his place in God’s work.

Hannah teaches us that prayer which comes out of a deep and holy place.  Out of the depth of our souls, God does hear.  And in ways in which we cannot possibly fathom, God answers.  Samuel grows up to be the Lord’s prophet, and anoints King David, whose descendant is Jesus Christ.  God was answering Israel’s prayer by answering Hannah.

Matthew 6:5-15
In his teaching, Jesus reminds us that prayer should be rooted in God, and God alone.
Prayer is about God, and not other people’s responses.
Prayer is about God, not about attention.
Prayer is about God, not reward.
Prayer is about God, who is unseen.
Prayer is about God, not the words we use.
Prayer is about God, a caring heavenly Father.
Prayer is about God, and the right relationship we find in him.

The Path for Disciple’s Prayer Column calls us to surround our prayers with helpful tools.   These tools include intentional time, journals, prayer chains and prayer groups.

More time means more prayers for a broader audience, not more time to pray about yourself.

A journal allows you to record the works of God, how you have seen God answer your prayer.  It slows you down, to pay attention to God, and not to mindlessly or carelessly forget and move on to the next immediate thing in life.

A prayer chain allows you to join others in your time and convenience in a common prayer.  A prayer group allows you to join others in the same space for common prayer.

Even a prayer made from the solitude of your closet, is one that is surrounded with care, emotion and effort.  And a prayer made with the knowledge and awareness of the Lord is surrounded by his loving hands, listening ears and providential care.

Friday, March 6, 2015

the Wide World of Worship

The Wide World of Worship                                     3/8/15
Sermon 3 from A Map for Discipleship
Exodus 3:1-15, Revelation 4, 5

Throughout Lent and Easter, we will be exploring a Map of Discipleship, reminding ourselves that the Christian Life is not a tourist stop, but a life long and all encompassing adventure.  A disciple is a student, with Jesus Christ being our Master teacher.  Sermons will highlight 10 classic Christian Expressions.  You are invited to take 7 steps forward in 2015.  When you choose your steps, I’d like to hear about them, so that I can be supportive and cheer you on.

Last week, we highlighted regular Bible reading.  Scripture is God-breathed, and the Holy Spirit will breathe life into us when we read it.

Today, we highlight the Worship column.  At least, you are an occasional attendee of a worship service.  At best, you will become a vital part of creating interchurch and public worship.  Perhaps this column will provide a step or two for you to take.

The root of the word worship is “worthiness”.  Worship is worth-giving.  It is a word that ultimately should be used only for God, who alone is worthy.  Worship of anyone or thing other than God is called idolatry. 

Worship implies giving public witness to what is most worthy in your life.  It should be a regular practice.  Offering worship is like cleaning your glasses. If you wear glasses, sometimes it dawns upon you that your glasses need cleaning.  You take them off and see how unclean they are, that they are filled with smudges and fingerprints from throughout the day or days.  What happens when you clean your glasses?  You can see clearly again.  I love that instant when you put your clean glasses back on, and everything looks so clear.  When we worship, giving our worth to God alone, life makes sense.  In fact, we taste life itself.

It is easy to read into the story of the Burning Bush, imagining a mature and seasoned Moses, the Moses who led the Israelites out of Egypt, the man who had met with God to receive the Law, the One who guided the people for a generation through the wilderness.  But we are reading that into this story.  This is a beginning story of Moses.  What do we know about him as we start chapter 3?

So far in his story, we know that Moses exists because of the disobedience to Pharaoh’s orders by the midwives who worked for him.  They had received orders to kill the boy infants.  But it is easy to imagine the midwives had become midwives because of their love for the young, and so they find a way to subvert the wickedness of Pharaoh’s plan.  Having given birth to a Son, Moses’ mother immediately needs to become stronger, thinking about his survival, even if it means personal sacrifice.  She sends him down the river, through the reeds, where Pharaoh’s daughter encounters a crying baby in need of help.  She is asked a question:  Shall we get one the Hebrew mother’s to nurse him?   And in God’s great providence, Moses’ mother receives her son back.

When Moses is grown, having been raised in Pharaoh’s house and teaching, he observes the Israelite slaves.  One day, an Egyptian is mistreating a slave, and Moses ends up in an argument and murders the Egyptian.  He tries to literally bury the evidence, and finding out he is a wanted man, he runs.  He runs far away.  He runs to the hills and the desert.  He runs to the wasteland.  One day at a well, he rescues some women from robbers, and is introduced to the Priest of Midian, and Moses becomes part of the family. He marries Zipporah and they bring into the world a son named Gershom, whose name means “I have become an alien in a foreign land”.  All the while, in what seems like a million miles away, the Israelites are still slaves in Egypt.

While tending his father in laws sheep in the wasteland, Moses sees a bush, with a fire in it, yet the bush does not burn.  He is curious.   And he encounters the presence of God.  Worship, our worth-giving, is encountering the presence of God.

It is interesting that the first time Moses hears it is God who is talking out of the bush, Moses doesn’t seem to react, but when he hears that it is his Father’s God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, he becomes afraid.  And this encounter leads to a marvelous passage that informs our worship.   What happens when the presence of God comes to Moses?  What happens c

1.         the expression of various emotions.
2.         God’s plan is revealed
3.         There is struggle weighing God’s call
4.         an encounter where questions can be asked…and sometimes answered.
5.         The name and character of God are made known.

The presence of God allows for the expression of various emotions.  Moses calls the bush a strange site.  It is definitely something other than what he normally experiences.  Holiness means ‘set apart’.  In this sense, God was strange to Moses, he was set apart from the normal experiences of Moses’ life.  We find Moses is curious, thoughtful, afraid, overwhelmed and reverent.  Moses is allowed to come closer, but not too close.

The presence of God is where God’s plan is revealed.  God says to Moses, I haven’t forgotten my people Israel.  I’m going to give them a good land.  In fact, you’re my man for the job.

The presence of God is a place where there is struggle weighing God’s call.   Moses isn’t quite sure what to make of this call.  His initial response is to say, in modern language, “I think you may have the wrong guy” or “Are you sure about that God?” Moses does not immediately embrace the call, he struggles with it.  But he struggles with it while in God’s presence.

The presence of God is an encounter where questions can be asked…and sometimes answered.  Moses says, alright, hypothetically speaking, suppose I answer this call of yours, and the people ask me about it, what should I tell the people?  We all have questions.  Sometimes, those questions are answered.

The presence of God always makes the name and character of God known.   Moses is told, I am who I am sent you.  What a wonderful name for God.  I am:  God exists, and that should be sufficient.  This name also reveals the eternal nature of God:  I am.  God exists.  His name will be remembered from generation to generation.  God’s name has made its way to you.  I am who I am.

Encountering the presence of God through worship lets us enter the wide world.  Idolatry is an empty world.  A world without worth giving to God is without purpose and meaning.  But when your world has worship in it, it is a wide world, an expansive and spacious way of life, because God is lifted up as most important, after all, he is I am who I am.

The images of Revelation speak to this wide world.  The Prologue of the Book includes these words:
The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place.  He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testifies to everything he saw—that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.  Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophesy and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.

Revelation 4 and 5 are two chapters which bring us the image of God’s throne, of heaven declaring praise to God Almighty.  It is a pronouncement of what is eternal right before the unfolding of a temporal battle between evil and good.   The substance of Revelation 4 & 5 is the end game, along with chapters 21-22, of living in God’s presence alongside a redeemed creation.   These two chapters inform our worth-giving to God.

Worship involves the senses and the physical.  John writes “I looked”, “I heard”, “I was”.  The elders “fall down”. 

Worship involves natural elements:  There is thunder and lightning.  There is a sea.  There are living creatures.  Creation isn’t something to escape from, but to join with in giving praise to God.

Worship acknowledges what is most true and real.  Those who are before God’s throne easily see and acknowledge the holiness of God, never stopping this song.  They easily see and acknowledge the eternal nature of God, the worthiness of God, giving God glory and honor and power.    They easily see and acknowledge the creative power of God.  God is on the throne, and Jesus is at the center of the throne.   We have deep, biblical imagery used for Jesus in this passage:  He is a Lion and a Lamb.  Jesus is the promise and the fulfillment.  He is the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  And he is the Lion of Judah, protecting his people while bringing justice and righteousness to the world. 
The elders acknowledge Jesus as worthy, giving him worship alongside his heavenly father.  Jesus is the Redeemer, Jesus is God’s plan for the whole world.  Angels and heavenly creatures join together in proclaiming the worthiness of Jesus Christ.

With regards to our map, the steps invite us to make public participation in worship a weekly and regular event.  In this sense, the worship column of the map has the most difficult step as the first:  Moving forward in our attendance and participation in worship.  Yes, there is an occasional Sunday where a business trip needs to occur, or you are on vacation, but the commitment to regular, weekly worship is really about the attitude:  This experience shapes my life, it is the clean glasses that allow me to see clearly.  It is the experience where we encounter I am who I am.  The first step is becoming more regular in being here.  And if you already are, perhaps you should befriend another member of Stockton Presbyterian and help them see the importance of regular, weekly worship.

Other practical matters include being here for God.  Yes, the people are great.  Yes, we find good feelings often when together.  But it is first and foremost because of God that we should be here.

We should not be distracted.  We should bring out best:  Our best singing, our best words, our most ardent prayers, our least anxious being.  It is turning off cell phones and screens and instant access to all that is out there, and placing to the side the concerns and unresolved stories of daily life, in order to give full attention to the Great One who you meet here.

A glaring need that I take responsibility for, and ask your help in, is that we should have weekly participation in helping lead the worship service. In the sense of having a choir, greeters and ushers, we do have that, but we should also have a weekly leadership of the liturgy, after all, the word means “work of the people”.  I’ve put a sign up opportunity in the narthex.  I ask for your help in correcting something I’ve contributed to.

Worshipping God here, publically, alongside brothers and sisters in the faith, then gives support and strength to encountering the presence of God in our daily life apart from this space.  Wiping our glasses and seeing anew shapes how we can see God’s worthiness while walking down the street or in the grocery aisle, in the cubicle down the hall from you, and while cheering your child at a sporting event.

Elizabeth Barret Browning, in her poem Aurora Leigh, writes:
   Earth is crammed with heaven
   And every common bush afire with God
   But only he who sees takes off his shoes.

It’s a wide world at there.  Small if God isn’t in it.  But vast and expansive when he is the center.  Give your worth to the only one who is truly worthy.