St. Charles Avenue Baptist Church August 19, 2012 “Worship: Duty, Diversion, or Dynamite”- Luke 6 Dr. Brian Cleveland Thank you for the opportunity to preach this morning. I am a product of your years of investment in the New Orleans Baptist Seminary. I hope this morning you receive some return on your investment. Even more, I hope this morning that you hear God speaking to you. A history teacher was taking his class on a tour of a famous church. He explained the meaning of the stained glass windows and all the symbols. In the rear of the church was a bronze plaque with a long list of names. One boy asked who all those people were listed on the plaque. The teacher said, “Those are names of men who died in the service.” The boy then asked what seemed to be a logical question: “Which one, the morning service, or the evening service?” Some people might feel worship could be so boring that it might be fatal. By worship, I mean corporate, structured worship in a special building. It often seems like people come to worship for one of three reasons. a. Some people come out of a sense of duty. They think things like: “God is the Creator and He requires homage from us. He is God and I owe Him. God, I am here because You are the Boss.” b. For some, worship is a diversion; they come because it is a fun thing to do. They enjoy seeing friends, and catching up on their week. And on rainy Sundays, there’s not much else to do, so one might as well go to church c. Last, worship can be dynamite. This is what Jesus promised in Acts 1:8 – “You will receive power (dunamis) when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.” That Greek word we translate “power” is the root of our word “dynamite.” TNT, now that’s some power! That kind of power is what some people have experienced in worship. That’s why worship was so important to them. Where Christianity was illegal, people did whatever was necessary to be able to worship freely. In England, the king said you must be Anglican, so the Covenanters would go to the mountains to worship secretly. They posted armed watchmen in case the British troops found them. The Pilgrims left the comforts of home for the uncivilized New World so they could worship freely. These people must have experienced something powerful in worship, if they were willing to risk their lives for it. If worship is power, we cannot fully exist without it. We receive something from God Himself that we can get no other way. I think we can learn some key ideas about worship from Luke 6:1-11, our gospel reading earlier. There we see two pictures of what Jesus thought about the day of worship. Perhaps we can glean some ideas that will keep us from being bored to death in our services and keep worship alive. 1. The Pharisees and scribes did not consider worship dull; it was a serious and sacred treasure. They observed worship even when they did not have a Temple. They were passionate about keeping their traditions of worship. Jesus was considered a radical by these Pharisees. He went to the heart of the matter when He questioned the WHY of worship: Did God create us just to honor Him on the Sabbath? Do we exist to satisfy God’s ego? In Mark’s version, Jesus said, the Sabbath was made for mankind. God said for us to set aside one day/week to gather as a family of God. He promises He will be here with us, to release power among us. People will be convicted, comforted, guided, healed, and blessed. Jesus saw the Sabbath as a time for God to give good gifts to His people. Thus it is right for the hungry to eat grain on the Sabbath; it is the appropriate day for the sick to be healed and captives set free. 2. Worship is also about feeding the soul, and there are different ways to do that. At a Victorian dinner party, there were seventeen different forks and spoons, and eight courses of food. One was expected to use proper etiquette and follow a certain protocol. However, if you are starving in a Third World country when a plane drops food, you don’t care about the proper fork or spoon. People take those boxes home and tear into them because they are eating for survival. It all comes down to what worship means to you: is it about your very survival, or simply a duty, or a diversion? David wrote, in Psalm 42:1, “As the deer pants for the water, so my soul pants for You, Lord.” Pharisees had become the guardians of what used to be. They missed out on what God was doing in front of their faces. God is forever doing a new thing, and if we get stuck in the past, we miss it. Long ago, in a remote part of China, a devout man came to love God. He used to take some butter and put it in the window sill, because he understood worship involved sacrificing something of value. One day during his quiet time, his cat came in and ate the butter. So the next day, he first leashed his cat to the bed, then put the butter in window. Thus he had his quiet time; problem solved. In time this man was so revered for his piety that others joined him as disciples and worshiped as he did. Generations later, each disciple would buy a cat and leash it to the bedpost. Each one also placed butter on the window before prayer. It was all part of the ritual, though none of them understood why a cat was necessary! If we are not careful, our rituals may become just as hollow and faithless. The Gospel of Mark reads that when Jesus went to His hometown of Nazareth, He could not do many miracles because of the people’s lack of faith, their lack of expectation. Worship is meaningful, powerful, when we come expecting God to meet us, expecting God will receive our praises, expecting God will speak to us, and empower us. How do we get better at hearing God and receiving that power? A final story will point us in the right direction: Two men were walking down Fifth Avenue in New York City. One of the men suddenly stopped and said, “I hear a cricket!” His friend laughed, “How can you hear a cricket on Fifth Avenue?” The man said, “I am a naturalist, I am trained to hear insect sounds. Here, I will prove my point.” The man took out a 50-cent piece and dropped it on the pavement. Ten people stopped dead in their tracks and looked for the coin! He said, “We hear that which has meaning for us.” As we train ourselves to expect the Lord in worship and listen for His voice, our worship will become more meaningful, to us and to God. Let us commit ourselves to come before Him with praise and with expectation, waiting for Him to touch us with power. Then God’s promise through the prophet will be fulfilled: Isaiah 40:31 - “But they who wait upon the LORD (intently, expectantly), these shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings like the eagle’s. They shall run and not grow weary; they shall walk and not grow faint.” Are you weary this morning? Are you tired of being tired? Seek the LORD, in public worship, and in private worship. Listen for God’s voice. He is calling to you this morning. He wants to release His power in you and through you. PRAYER: Almighty God, Loving Father, You are truly worthy of our praises, our devotion, our gratitude. Please forgive us for the times we treat the opportunity to come before you in worship as just another duty to be performed, an obligation we must do to avoid Your displeasure. Please forgive us for the times we have made worship into a diversion, simply another pleasant way to spend Sunday morning with friends. Always remind us that worship is drawing near You, the all-powerful Creator, that Your power might work in us, and through us into a world that needs to be touched by Your life-giving power. Work in us now, and always, that we might reflect Your power and Your glory. We pray these things in the name of Your Son Jesus, our Savior. Amen.
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