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.

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