Sermon from January 8th, 2017

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“The Meaning of Worship”

Psalm 95; Matthew 14:22-36

By Pastor John Bent

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Sermon Text
Good morning! Welcome to worship!  What is worship? It’s a verb. It means "to honor, respect, reverence, adore, praise, or glorify a superior being as the source of our happiness and life."

Anthropologists have discovered that worship is a universal instinct and a basic need for all people, whether they acknowledge it or not. Whether we worship the secular Trinity of money, sex, power, or the sun or moon, or demons or animals, or knowledge or revenge or even some weird rock we discover in the jungle, everyone worships someone or something.

This desire to worship is hardwired into our DNA.  No other animal on earth has that drive. We are spiritual beings.  We were created by God for the purpose of enjoying a relationship with him. Worship is a natural part of that relationship.

Worship is more than duty. It’s a reciprocal relationship of joy, love and adoration.  If you attend church simply for what you can get out of it, you've missed the point!  That kind of worship would be no different than going to the theater or Walmart.
When we gather together to worship the Lord, our purpose should be a consuming desire to draw near to God, to praise him and be blessed by him. To serve him, please him, to thank him for who he is and what has done for us.

Authentic worship involves our whole being, our body language, our attention, and particularly our attitude. My mom occasionally accused me of having a “stinky attitude”. I never had the courage to accuse her of the same.

But she was right, our attitudes have a fragrance. When you come to worship, what fragrance do you bring into the building?  Aroma was an important part of worship in the OT.  The burning of incense, even the burnt offerings were meant to be a kind of spiritual BBQ sending billows of fragrant smoke toward heaven for the sake of pleasing God.

One example of a “stinky attitude” in worship would be to go simply as a duty to please God or somebody else.  A pleasing aroma would be to come to worship out of a sincere desire to draw near to God! But that’s not always where we’re at. The first step in authentic worship is honesty. That’s why we begin our service with a confession of sins.

This is an opportunity to be honest before God and one another.  Maybe we need to confess, “Jesus, to be honest, my attitude stinks this morning. This is the last place I want to be.  Will you forgive me, and change my heart to worship you, listen to you, serve you today?”

When Jesus was asked by the Pharisees, “What’s the first and greatest commandment?” He answered, “Love the Lord your God, with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.”  Why?  Because God is the only person, place, or thing in this universe that is truly worthy of worship and he has invited us to draw near to him. Without him we haven’t a prayer and that’s the truth!

God is the source of our being.  He gave the life of his One and Only Son to pay the penalty for our sin. You exist because of his love and grace and mercy custom delivered morning by morning to you. He’s more faithful than the UPS man. The hope, forgiveness, joy, love you experience everyday flow from him because he loves you and refuses to give up on you.

You can’t create any of these things. They all come as an unmerited, undeserved gift of love.  When we worship, we are acknowledging this reality. Without worship, this very personal, intimate, response to him, the channel between us and God begins to close off, choke down and the spirit within us begins to starve and die.

Worship is not a supplement to life; it is life.  Jesus made clear that people who worship God acceptably enter into eternal life. He called it abundant life. But people who do not worship God acceptably cut themselves off from life and enter into eternal death. The sincerity of our worship, then, becomes the determination of where we will spend eternity.

Let me say this in a different way. There are those who say everybody will ultimately be saved, but the Bible doesn’t say this. Jesus says there are two kinds of worship - acceptable and unacceptable.  One leads to life and salvation, the other leads to death and eternal damnation. This is about more than Sunday morning church attendance. It’s about your personal response to God’s call and the attitude of your heart towards him.
People avoid attending worship for a variety of reasons. They may not like the preacher or the music. They may not like others who attend. They may give lots of excuses but the bottom line is this. They have an issue with God.

For some reason, they are rejecting God’s invitation to draw near to him.  They are hardening their hearts and pushing him away. They are erecting something else in his place. But this “whatever it is” cannot save them and they know it.

But how about those who do come to worship? Is it possible to come to worship every Sunday and never really worship? Is it possible to be a regular attender and still have Jesus dismiss our worship as unacceptable? Yes, it is. Jesus called it hypocrisy.

In Mt 7 Jesus says “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ Mt 7:21-23

The Bible warns us that we should examine our hearts to see if our worship is authentic. Just because we show up doesn’t mean we are worshipping God in spirit and in truth. And if we are not really worshipping, then we are only fooling ourselves, and we are pretending to be something we are not. We are only spectators in somebody else’s worship.

You will never worship God in spirit and in truth until your spirit is in tune with God’s Spirit, the Holy Spirit. That only happens when the Holy Spirit comes to dwell within you by faith.  When the conductor stands before the orchestra, he asks the oboe to play an “A” note. Then all the instruments submit themselves to the authority of that note.  They all tune their individual instruments to that pitch and what was simply chaotic noise becomes music.

I have loved watching the marching bands during the recent bowl games. Each member has practiced, prepared, rehearsed, and submitted their individual abilities to become part of something far greater than anyone of them could be alone. Worship is that way.

Our spirit, together with the spirits of others, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, become a symphony of praise for the glory of God.  Sunday morning is a rehearsal for the day when angels, people, and all creation will come together in a great symphony of praise for our Creator. From piccolos to crashing cymbals, God has given us all a place in the band.

Let me repeat: Why do we worship? Because God is worthy of all honor, worship, and praise. Psalm 96:9 says, "Worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness; tremble before him, all the earth." Ps 96:9   Psalm 29:2 says, "Give unto the Lord the glory due his name; worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness." Psalm 29:2

A.W. Tozer said, "Without worship, we are miserable!" He’s right.  The prophet Zephaniah wrote, "The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing." Zeph 3:17

The first commitment in our Christ Lutheran Mission Statement is LIVING WORSHIP.  Worship is more than just what we do here on Sunday morning. Living Worship means that the desire of my heart is to have everything I do, everything I say, everything I am becomes a sacrifice of praise to God. Of course I will fail, make mistakes, need forgiveness.  But my aim is to have my whole life become a fragrant offering, an aroma pleasing to God.

The apostle Paul puts it this way.  "Therefore, I urge you, brothers, 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. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is -- his good, pleasing and perfect will." Rom 12:1-2

What kind of fragrance is being produced by your life in the world?  What aroma do you bring with you into worship?  Jesus didn’t come to condemn you but to save you. The Lord specializes in opening wounded hearts, cleaning diseased and septic attitudes, so that instead of the stench of death, we become the aroma of Christ in the world.

The Apostle Paul may have been the most religious man in the Bible. But all his religious accomplishments couldn’t change the fact that his heart was diseased, his attitude stunk, and he was filled with bitterness. Then Jesus came and literally knocked him off his horse.

When Jesus moved into Paul’s heart everything changed. Worship had been a duty for Paul, a way impress people and win points with God. But when Jesus took control, worship became like breathing and Paul’s life became an aroma of praise for everyone he met.

Have you invited Jesus into your heart? Have you invited him to become Lord of your attitude? When you do, you will begin becoming what God created you to be.


Christ Lutheran Church • 5150 River Lakes Parkway, Whitefish, MT 59937 • 406-862-2615

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