May 1, 2016 – Come Let Us Worship, Romans 12-1, Sermon by Dick Jones

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Someone has said, “we are not here in life to build monuments, but to  make footprints.  A monument says,’this is what I accomplished’ (or, this is where I stand)—A footprint says, ‘this is where I was before I moved on.”

Preaching is not building monuments, it is making footprints.  If we think that the person in the pulpit has God and life all figured out, and everything that is preached is fully lived—we would be wrong.

One morning many years ago, when I still wrote sermons with a pencil, I took fifteen years of sermons from my file and through them into a dumpster.  The next day, I gave away 90% of my books.  It wasn’t that they were bad or wrong, it’s just that they were no longer who I was.  They had become too small.  They were footprints—where I had been before I moved on.

I am a fellow traveler on this journey we call faith.  The things of which I speak this morning are still trying to find a home in me.  And just when I think I have the answers, the questions change.

But, If God is who I believe him to be, faith must never become a static set of beliefs, but always be a dynamic way of living life on this earth.

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Romans 12:1

                    Therefore, I urge you…in view of Gods mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.

           Someone has said that when you see the word ‘therefore’ in Scripture, always look at what goes before it, to see what it is “there for.”

This is what comes just before Romans 12:1

 Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom

and knowledge of God!

How unsearchable his judgments,

and his paths beyond tracing out!

Who has known the mind of the Lord?

Or who has been his counselor?

Who has ever given to God,

that God should repay him?

For from him and through him and to him

are all things.

To him be the glory forever! Amen….Therefore…

Romans 11:33-36

This insight into the nature of God begs the question—If THIS GOD exists:  one who is the infinite source of wisdom and knowledge—who exceeds any human mind’s ability to understand—one beyond all human thoughts, theories, theologies—A God who needs no advice and who does not trade favors—A God who is the originator, creator, and sustainer of all that is….

…If this is who God is, then—How should God be worshipped?  Now, when I ask ‘how should God be worshipped, I am not talking about style, or form, or method of worship.  It is not about personal preference: whether we prefer choruses or hymns, liturgy or informality, wine or grape juice.

There are 30 to 40 thousand different denominations, each with its own style or method.  No, this is not about form.  This is about the true substance of worship. What is true worship?

To explore this question, I believe we have to go back to the beginning. In the creation story found in the first two chapters of the book of Genesis we see God’s intent and desire for creation. These two chapters, I believe, carry us into the heart and mind of God. So, if we want to understand something of God and life, I think this is a good place to start.  ___________________________________________________________

Those who believe in God and have at least some sense of the uniqueness of the Bible, view the first two chapters of Genesis in a variety of ways.

Some believe that the creation story is a literal account of God forming the earth and the universe:  six twenty-four hour days and a twenty-four hour rest, trees that had moral significance, an adult man formed from dust, an adult woman taken from a rib, and a snake that walked on legs.

Others believe that it is symbolic:  Days that represent geological time periods spanning millions of years, and although God is somehow behind it, evolution is the prime mover in the formation of the earth and humanity.

And still others hold to the literal acts of creation but view the seven days of the week as a metaphor with “days” being time periods of undetermined length.

I think that it is possible to believe any one of these ideas or a dozen other interpretations, and yet TOALLY MISS THE TRUTH FOUND IN GENESIS 1 AND 2. ___________________________________________________________

Many years ago as I was reading Genesis; I noticed something:  It speaks of creation’s beauty and grandeur and of nature’s rhythms and seasons—It hints at meaning, purpose, potential, and possibility—it points to relationship, love, family, work, rest, pleasure, creativity, and care for God’s creation…..However…

…Worship—is never even mentioned:  not one word said, not one instruction given, not one command issued.  And I asked myself—Why?

I think that the true meaning of worship is discovered, not by what Genesis says, but by what it does not say.  Its silence concerning worship speaks volumes.

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Work and rest are activities to be taken up at appropriate times.  Maybe the reason that worship is not mentioned is because worship is not an activity of life.  WORSHIP is a POSTURE OF LIFE; not something that we do in certain places and at certain times, but A WAY OF LIVING IN EVERY PLACE, AT ALL TIMES.

Worship is our primordial breath. We don’t work sometimes, rest sometimes, and breathe sometimes, and we are not called to worship “sometimes.”  Worship, like breathing, is meant to infuse life into all of do, giving it meaning, depth, and texture.

To worship simply means to bow down.  It is a posture of humility, awe, wonder, and devotion toward our creator—in every movement of life.

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A Samaritan woman said to Jesus—”Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”  Jesus told her ….Neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem…the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth…

           Spirit and truth are not about a particular place or a specific time.    SPIRIT and TRUTH express the DEEPEST CENTER OF WHO WE ARE, and the ACTUAL REALITY OF LIFE.  What geographical location, what technique, what structure, or form could possibly draw the  boundary around worship in spirit and truth?

Virginia Stem Owens, in her book And The Trees Clap Their Hands, says it well:  “Either the world is holy or it is not.  Either the Creators work is a sign of himself or it is a sham.  Where else can one draw the line between sacred and secular except around the whole cosmos…but… We try to hedge in the holy, to pour (God) into tiny cups, to make the bread as pale and tasteless as possible, like fingernails. We are saying to God: ‘get away from us….

           ….We take the big black crayon in our hands and draw these little islands where we will let God live in the world.  We draw lines around Bibles and sanctuaries, thus adding a few more islands to this archipelago of the holy—and there you have it—little concentration camps for Christ….   (And) Our incremental piety bristles around the perimeter like barb wire, hemming him in.”

How sad that one of my dictionary’s definitions of worship is—–“To take part in a religious ceremony.”

Humanity seems intent on turning the means into the end and confining worship to a narrow and controlled place, time, and procedure.

For ancient Israel, worship meant—peace offerings, sin offerings, feasts, festivals, and days on the calendar set apart and strictly observed.  These limited activities came to be called worship.

Today we don’t sacrifice animals, but has worship maybe become defined by attending a service at a specific building on Sunday?  Is worship in our culture activity based: singing songs, reading the Bible, and listening to a sermon.

But doesn’t the fourth commandment say: Observe the sabbath day by keeping it holy?  Isn’t this a call to set aside one day of the week for worship.  Well, to put it bluntly—NO!

The word holy does mean set apart, but the fourth commandment is not a day set apart for worship—It is a call for a day to be set apart for rest.  The Hebrews were just coming off of 440 years of slavery in Egypt. Maybe the command to rest was a reminder of the ancient rhythm of work and rest that God established at creation, which they had been denied for eleven generations.

The true worshippers worship the Father in spirit and truth.  Spirit and truth do not show up one day a week.  Worship is not a day set apart—It is a life set apart.  “Present your bodies (your whole self) as a living sacrifice”—This is worship.

In ancient times there were prophets who saw worship of the Creator, not as an activity, but as a way of life, and they called the people to return to true worship.  They were, sometimes, a little harsh in speaking for God.

 

Amos

I hate, I despise your religious feasts;

I cannot stand your assemblies.

Even though you bring me burnt offerings

and grain offerings,

I will not accept them….

Away with the noise of your songs!

I will not listen to the music of your

harps,

But let justice roll on like a river,

righteousness like a never-failing

stream!  Amos 5:21-24

 

 Isaiah

 Is this the kind of fast (worship) I have chosen,

only a day for a man to humble himself?…

Is that what you call (worship),

a day acceptable to the Lord?

Is not this the kind of (worship) I have

chosen:

loose the chains of injustice

and untie the cords of the yoke,

to set the oppressed free….

Is it not to share your food with the

hungry

and to provide the poor wanderer with

shelter

when you see the naked, to clothe him,

and not to turn away from your own

flesh and blood?

 

Micah is sarcastic

With what shall I come before the Lord

and bow down before the exalted God?

Shall I come before him with burnt

offerings,

with calves a year old?

Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of

rams,

with ten thousand river of oil?

Shall I offer my firstborn for my

transgression,

the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

He has showed you, O man, what is good.

And what does the Lord require of you?

To act justly and to love mercy

and to walk humbly with your God.

 

Jesus said: My food, is to do the will of my Father

Paul said:  Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it ALL in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

           You see, here is the heart of TRUE WORSHIP:  In the flow of everyday life we bow down to God’s purpose:  to show compassion to those treated unjustly—to do all I can to stop oppression—to share the resources entrusted to me in order to lighten the burden of others—to ease the loneliness of the stranger.  To not just believe in mercy but to show mercy.  To not just have a theology of justice but to pursue justice.  To not just study Bible verses to understand humility better, but to actually walk in humility. To not just set aside a day for worship—but to live a life of worship.

 

            And I can almost here the people of old say: “Yeah, that all sounds good, but we have to make a living. We go to church, but business operates in the real world and the bottom line is what is important.”

 

Amos

 Hear this, you who trample the needy…

saying,

When will the New Moon be over

 that we may sell grain,

 and the Sabbath be ended

that we may market wheat?”—

skimping the measure,

 boosting the price

and cheating with dishonest scales,

buying the poor with silver

and the needy for a pair of sandals,

selling even the sweepings with the wheat.

             You see, Faith in God had no connection to daily life.  Justice, mercy, fairness, compassion, love of neighbor.  Well, that’s religion—this is business.

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           Jesus says:  Seek first the kingdom of God.  I don’t believe that Jesus means for God’s purpose to be our top priority on a list of ten.  I think He is calling us to a single priority of life. One that wraps itself around everything we do.

I think He meant—Seek the purpose of God in your work and in the way you do business—Seek God’s purpose with your money, your buying, and your selling—Seek the purpose of God in the people you meet, the lonely, the hurting, the marginal, the weak, the rich, and the poor.  Seek the purpose of God in your family, your home, those called friends, and those who would be enemies.  Seek the purpose of God when you walk in creation, when you gather with others, and when you are alone.

True worship happens when I begin to see this world through God’s eyes, and partner with Jesus in the restoring of God’s world to his purpose.  Isn’t this what Jesus prayed?  Father, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven….

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So what are we doing here this morning?  Didn’t we come here to worship?—Yes, in one sense, I think we did.  But maybe what we do here this morning is actually only the CALL TO WORSHIP.

The songs, the liturgy, and the sermon—are to plant in our minds the seeds of truth that will grow as we choose to nurture them in our daily lives.

Communion—is to remind us of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  To remind us that as He lived a life of worship in this broken world, it required sacrifice, and that in some sense, it still does.

The Lord’s Prayer—We speak the prayer that Jesus spoke.  Our Father in Heaven, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven….Is this prayer simply the repetition of a religious ritual, or, do I long for this to be reality enough to, like Jesus, to become the answer to that prayer in the way I live?

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     If God is just a vague doctrine we hold, a habit handed down from our parents, or a part of being a good American citizen—Then a couple of hours of my time, a few dollars of my income, and an occasional prayer asking for a favor, should be good enough.

But if God is unsearchable and beyond tracing out; the source of all wisdom and knowledge, and the creator of all that is; if it is in God that I live, and move, and have my being—Then what less could I offer than to present ALL OF MYSELF, at ALL TIMES, and in EVERY ARENA OF LIFE to His eternal purpose.  This and only this would be, as one translation puts it,….the reasonable way for us to worship.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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