Celebrating the Story in Worship

Psalm 95; John 4: 21-24

psalm95When the Church adopted Sunday as the Sabbath, the day of worship, it was because the resurrection happened on a Sunday and every Sunday thereafter was a “little Easter.” We derive our word worship from the old English word “worthe schipe”–meaning “to ascribe worth.” When we worship God we acknowledge that God is worthy of our attention, loyalty, and devotion. That which deeply impresses us by its greatness or its worth calls forth our worship. Praise is endemic to who we are. We praise things all the time: we praise good wine, a beautiful woman, a rare coin, a triple axel by a figure skater, the fall foliage, a balanced spreadsheet, a rainbow, a straight set of teeth, or a good murder mystery. It is acknowledging the inherent worth of something.

People who are most given to praise tend to be the most balanced, optimistic, and even-tempered. Critics tend to be churlish, unhappy, and unable to delight in anything. The positive person can always find something to praise even in the simplest of meals, while the detractor will always get dyspepsia after the finest of meals.

Millions of people went nuts last year when the Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks stepped onto the grid-iron to do battle for the super bowl championship. As two superb football teams, they were worthy of the enthusiastic admiration of their fans. As heroes call forth our admiration, praise, and enthusiasm, so much more so does God–who is most excellent.

To worship God is to give God supreme worth. It is to join the psalmist when he says, “Great is the lord, and (there¬fore) greatly to be praised” (ps. 96:4). Or again, “Give to the Lord the glory due to his name” (Ps. 29:2). In worship we are caught up in the truth, marvel, and mystery of the God who has called us “to live for the praise of his glory” (Eph. 1:12) and we celebrate that fact.

mountains-heroThe psalmist in our Psalm today enjoins us to come before God with singing, joyful noise, and thanksgiving. Why are we to do so? He tells us in verse two: “For (because) the Lord is a great God, and a great king above all Gods.” Well how is our God above all Gods? “In his hands are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are also his. The sea is his…” Why? “For he made it”! “and the dry land, which his hands have formed.” The point is, God is the Creator and as such is worthy to be worshiped and praised.

PoseidonUnlike the Greek and Roman Gods who had assigned duties—you know, Poseidon was God of the sea, Demeter, God of grain, Bacchus, the God of wine—our God is the Lord of all creation. No nation has a “most favored nation clause” in their constitution. Israel tried to domesticate God within its temple, the Nazi’s branded “Gott Mit Uns” on their belt buckles, and some come dangerously close in this country of making God out to be an American. But God will have none of it. God reigns over all the nations.

Then the psalmist moves us from standing in praise and adoration to kneeling in humility. Yes, we should kneel because God is the majestic creator so unlike us. But there is more: we are to kneel because God is our Maker. God’s has set that peculiar, precious, gracious love upon us! “For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.” God is not only the God of creation, but God has stooped to be our God and to claim us as the people of God, the sheep of God’s pasture. Such a privilege should drive us to our knees in humble thanksgiving and adoration.

Massah and MeribahThere is another reason to kneel and that is the next plea of the psalmist: “O that today you would listen to his (God’s) voice! Do not harden your hearts…as at Meribah…on the day at Massah…when your ancestors tested me, and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.” Meribah and Massah (which means, “is the Lord among us or not?”) refers to the incident in the wilderness when the people were without water and began complaining to Moses. They did not trust that God would provide for them today as God had yesterday. In his anger, Moses whacked a rock with his rod and water came rushing out. The psalmist implores the people of God today not to be like that—not to harden their hearts, stop up their ears, raise an angry fist in God’s face. Today, today, listen for God’s voice. That’s what happens in worship.
Note in verse 11, God says, because they wouldn’t listen, “they shall not enter my rest.”

Rest in the Old Testament had several meanings—one was rest from their enemies, rest on the Sabbath, but also the rest that comes from being in the presence of God. You can’t enjoy God’s presence if you’re wrapped up in knots, t’eed off at God, or stubbornly disobeying. The Puritans spoke of worship as “warming the oven of your heart.” Worship softens us, gives us perspective, takes the poison out of us, and makes us malleable for God’s use.

When we say “worship service” we are actually repeating ourselves because worship is service to God. Let me do an informal poll this morning. How many of you come to worship each week to get your batteries recharged, so to speak, to get your spiritual tires pumped up for the week ahead? How many come for the aesthetics, for the beauty of the music, the liturgy, and the spoken word? How many come to enjoy God, to bring pleasure to God, to offer praise and thanks to God–not for your sake, but for God’s sake? That’s hard to get our minds around, isn’t it? That God actually wants our praise, worship, and love; that we as human beings can minister to God. Not that God needs our worship, like an insecure deity who always wants human beings groveling before him, but as a loving parent who enjoys the company of children. Worship at its best is for God–not for us.

True worship is work. In fact, our word “liturgy” is a compound of two Greek words–laos, meaning people and argon meaning work. So liturgy is “the work of the people.” this has several implications for public worship. The first is that Sunday morning is not a spectator event. The minister, the choir, and the lay leaders do not put on a performance for the congregation. God is the audience and the congregation performs–you offer praise, thanks, hymns and songs, and prayer to God. Worship is a love letter to your creator and redeemer. The minister, choir, and lay leaders are here to provide the cues. The minister does not the worship on behalf of the congregation. Worship is a discovery of Christ with the congregation.COMMUNION_OF_THE_APOSTLESJPG.305200118_std

But there is more. When the bible speaks of “worship,” “service,” or “liturgy” it is speaking of something far greater than what we do here on Sunday mornings. It is really speaking about all of life. The apostle Paul tells us our “spiritual worship” or “reasonable service” is to present ourselves “as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” (Roms. 12:1). God is to be worshiped in every area of life. All of our life should be an offering to God in love and in response to God’s self-offering to us. We offer ourselves back to God in devotion and in loving service of our neighbors. And that, my friends, is worthy worship.

About Norman Bendroth

Norman Bendroth is a Professional Transition Specialist certified by the Interim Ministry Network. He has served as a settled pastor in two United Church of Christ congregations and as a Sr. Interim pastor in seven other UCC congregations. He was also an executive for three different non-profit agencies. He has had additional training in Mediation Skills for Church Leaders from the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center and training in Appreciative Inquiry from the Clergy Leadership Institute. Rev. Bendroth has the M.Div. from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and his D. Min. from Andover Newton Theological school where he concentrated on theology and systems theory. He is married to Peggy Bendroth and has two adopted Amerasian children.
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