Saturday, August 18, 2007
Christianity: If God Is Like Jesus
How I love your temple, Almighty Lord! How I want to be there... With my whole being I sing for joy to the living God.
Glory and majesty surround him, power and joy fill his temple.
Praise the Lord, all people on earth praise his glory and might. Praise the Lord's glorious name; bring an offering and come into his temple: Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.
The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him!
Happy are the people who know the festal shout, who walk, O LORD, in the light of your countenance; O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker! Worship the LORD with gladness; come into his presence with singing. Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice. Seek the LORD and his strength; seek his presence continually. Let those who fear the LORD say, 'His steadfast love endures forever.' 'Let us go to his dwelling place; let us worship at his footstool.'
But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.
To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: After the secrets of the unbeliever's heart are disclosed, that person will bow down before God and worship him, declaring, 'God is really among you.'
Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe.
The twenty-four elders fall before the one who is seated on the throne and worship the one who lives forever and ever; they cast their crowns before the throne, singing. He said in a loud voice, 'Fear God and give him glory, for the hour of his judgment has come; and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.'
Christ's message in all its richness must live in your hearts. Teach and instruct each other with all wisdom. Sing psalms, hymns and sacred songs; sing to God with thanksgiving in your hearts.
Worship the Lord your God and serve only him. Whatever you do... do it all for God's glory. Everything you do or say should be done in the name of the Lord Jesus, as you give thanks through him to God the Father. Offer yourselves as a living sacrifice to God, dedicated to his service and pleasing to him. This is the true worship that you should offer.
Psalm 84:1,2 GNB; 1 Chronicles 16:27-29 GNB, KJV; Habakkuk 2:20; Psalm 89:15, 95:6, 100:2, 105:3-4, 118:4, 132:7; John 4:23; 1 Corinthians 1:2, 14:25; Hebrews 12:28; Revelation 4:10, 14:7; Colossians 3:16 GNB; Matthew 4:10 (GNB); 1 Corinthians 10:31 GNB; Colossians 3:17 GNB; Romans 12:1 GNB;
Praise God from whom all blessings flow
Praise him for one hour here below;
Praise him with nickel and with dime,
Praise God we're getting out on time.
'It's dead, a mechanical routine. I don't get anything out of it.' 'My friends have voted with their feet and stay away.' 'Our church services are so cold, they're like mournful funerals: everyone is so sombre and distant.' 'Ours are like a fowl-yard: so much chattering and giggling and irreverence.' 'We'll have to rescue ours from show business!' 'Why not cut the preliminaries and have a better sermon? ' 'Let's liven it up with happier singing.' 'Let's be more experimental.' 'Our vicar has the liturgical fidgets; you don't know what to expect.' 'Let's give people what they want or we'll lose them.' 'It's people's duty to attend worship, no matter how dull and boring it may be.'
Something is happening to people's expectations of worship in this television age. They want the stale water of liturgies-as-usual turned into the wine of celebration. Worship services for many are a morose experience. As the Devil says in The Brothers Karamazov, 'Everything would be transformed into a religious service: it would be holy, but a little dull.'
Worship is the sublime and awesome key to everything the church does. The mission of the early church was the fruit of worship. We too cannot meet the world until we have met God. According to the often-quoted words of William Temple, to worship is to quicken the conscience by the holiness of God, to feed the mind with the truth of God, to purge the imagination by the beauty of God, to open the heart to the love of God, to devote the will to the purpose of God.
Worship is a contraction of the old English word 'worth-ship'. It's recognizing that which is worth most, in the ultimate sense. In the old marriage service a man and a woman promised to 'worship' each other; to accord value and worth to each other. Divine worship is a love affair too! The Westminster Shorter Catechism asks 'What is our chief end?' It's 'to glorify God and enjoy him forever'. So the worshipper's key question is 'What can I offer the Lord for all his goodness to me?' (Psalm 116:12).
Worship is the appropriate response to the God who gives everything life, to the Holy One, who inhabits eternity, to the King of kings and Lord of lords, who is God our Saviour. Worship is meeting -- God with us, to which we respond with wonder, amazement and awe.
Saint Benedict founded an order with the motto 'laborare est orare', 'to work is to pray'. Worship is service (it's the same word in the New Testament): serving the Lord in our praises, praising the Lord in our ministry to others, ministering to the Lord in prayerful solitude -- it's all worship. Worship is both individual and corporate, done both in 'the secret place' and in the redeemed community. For a devout Christian worship is all of life, and is life-long.
So worship isn't quite something 'observed' or 'attended', it is something we are and do. As 'we are what we eat' so 'we are what we worship' and we become like the God we worship. So we step back from the rush of life and ponder its realities at an ultimate level at a special time each week. But for true worshippers every time and every place is special.
The inward imperative as we 'come to worship' is to 'take the shoes from [our] feet, for the place on which [we] stand is holy ground' (Exodus 3:5). Remember the solemn warning in Ecclesiastes: 'Guard your steps when you go to the house of God' (Ecclesiastes 5:1). 'Let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire' (Hebrews 12:28,29). We had better be careful, then: the way we worship could be hazardous!
Worship in Old Testament times was sometimes liturgical, sometimes free. There we seem to have two worship traditions. One was priestly, cultic, authoritarian and dynastic, the other more congregational, democratic, prophetic and ethical. Worship was both ritual and hearty service (Deuteronomy 11:13, Psalm 40:6-8, 50:12-15, Micah 6:6-8). Christian church history has similarly seen worship move from one extreme to the other.
The New Testament nowhere prescribes a detailed order of worship. The worship of the early church comprised teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread and prayers: God meets his people in the Word, in each other, in holy communion, and in prayer (Acts 2:42), and also in the more formal Jewish worship in the Temple (Acts 2:46, 3:1, 5:12). Paul chose a close fraternity with the synagogue. The synagogue service consisted of an invitation to prayer, the prayer itself, the reading of scriptures, a homily based on the scripture reading and concluded with the benediction. (2) At the end of the first century there was a move toward a more structured and formal service of worship (most churches move in this direction over time).
Building on the legacy of the New Testament, the Protestant Reformation's emphasis was on the Word and inner reality rather than the sacraments and formality. So churches in the Reformation tradition devote about half -- or more -- of their time to the sermon. The Age of Reason ensured a highly rational content in worship, with eloquent sermons of high literary and intellectual merit. For Calvin's followers the Sunday service became primarily a preaching service, with communion observed infrequently.
Biblical worship was sometimes active. So we should involve the whole congregation in worship: not just singing hymns, but with responsive readings, litanies, united prayers, times of community sharing, bringing the offerings forward, moving to greet one another etc.
Biblical worship was also sensual: appealing to eye, ear -- and nose! Do a checklist of your worship-service: what is there for the eyes (form, light, colour, architecture, dress etc.), the ear (besides voices of leader, congregation, musical instruments [see Psalm 150] and choir, recorded music, voices, special effects), taste and smell in the holy communion: what else? Touch is important: we all have 'contact need' since separation from the womb. In the gospels physical contact was important for Jesus as he ministered to people: so, when it is appropriate, we may hold hands to sing or pray, or clasp arms, or share an embrace as an expression of genuine Christian love.
However worship is not just a subjective, ecstatic, 'feeling' experience. It is more than 'self-expression'. Corporate worship ought not to be an emotional tool for producing 'conversions'. The Bible does not use the word 'worship' as simply a description of experience. Worship is something you do, it is a reponse to God's word and God's ways and God's will, however you feel about it (although this does not mean there is no place for feelings and sensory experience).
Rudolf Otto explored the importance of the non-rational in religion and attempted to analyze the feeling which remains where the concept falls short. Otto coined the word numinous to describe 'the holy' after words have failed. The numinous cannot be taught; it can only be felt. It is 'thanking God for his unspeakable gift' (1 Corinthians 9:15). The numinous, says Otto, encompasses both boundless awe and boundless wonder, both fear and fascination. This deep, awesome aspect of all sincere religious emotion he called the mysterium tremendum (from tremo, tremble; also tremor, dread). So we must resist the temptation to 'domesticate the holy', whereby our solemn assemblies become informal social gatherings, our deep communion with God litle more than friendship with one another. (1)
A lot of our worship is intellectual, moving too exclusively in the realm of thoughts and words and ideas. It is addressed to the ears rather than the eyes. Our world is 'word-weary'. We are slaves to the printed word. Perhaps we need printed guidance for worship -- the middle-classes are comfortable reading -- but let us not forget the less well-educated persons who may not be. For them particularly we should encourage 'folk arts' which open new avenues to express worship and praise, provide new methods of teaching and instruction, and draw people more into an atmosphere of enjoyment and festivity. In charismatic/pentecostal churches where the Holy Spirit is invited to take over the worshipper, we have moved sometimes from the rational to the mystical. Worship needs to be rational (Romans 12:1-3) and spiritual (John 4:23), both.
We worship as whole beings: our 'self' is psychological, cultural, biological. We worship with mind and heart and will. We involve the emotions, genuine feelings of joy and desolation, exaltation and bereavement. Worship ought to be a living event, to which we bring our human, frail, brokenness. The Spirit helps us in our infirmities... so we can come to God with our fears, joys, guilt, anger, affirmations, tensions and loneliness. In his presence we renew our lives which are mixed up in work, conflict, love and creation. We worship with 'all that is within us' and 'all that is around us' (the wonders of creation too are an incentive to praise the Creator: see Psalm 19).
Above all, authentic worship is always Christ-centred.
The early Church remained in the apostles' teach- ing because Christ taught his disciples; they had fellowship because they all belonged to the Church, Christ's body; they celebrated communion because Christ ordained it; they prayed because Christ taught them how to pray. (2)
Name him, [Christian], name him with love as strong as death, but with awe and wonder and with bated breath: he is God the Saviour, he is Christ the Lord, ever to be worshipped, trusted and adored.
Caroline Maria Noel Caroline Maria Noel, 'At the Name of Jesus', The Australian Hymn Book, Collins, 1977, no. 170.
We worship not because worship benefits us (although it does), not because we need to (although we do), nor because it is relevant to our daily lives (although it is), but because God is.
Richard John Neuhaus, Freedom for Ministry, San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1956, p. 120.
Where it is emptied of this unearthly element, this awe-struck and creaturely sense of the Holy and Immortal, worship loses its most distinctive characteristic. The seraphic hymn gives its very essence: 'Holy! holy! holy! Lord God of Hosts, heaven and earth are full of thy glory. Glory be to thee, O Lord Most High.' That is worship.
Evelyn Underhill Evelyn Underhill, quoted in Stuart A. Frayne, What is Worship?, booklet, publisher and date unknown, p.20.
The biblical passage which says of Abraham and the three visiting angels: `And he stood over them under the tree and they did eat' is interpreted by Rabbi Zusya to the effect that we stand above the angels, because we know something unknown to them, namely, that eating may be hallowed by the eater's intention. Through Abraham the angels, who were unaccustomed to eating, participated in the intention by which he used to dedicate it to God. Any natural act, if hallowed, leads to God, and nature needs us for what no angel can perform on it, namely, its hallowing.
Martin Buber, 'Heart Searching and the Particular Way', in John Garvey (Ed), Modern Spirituality: an Anthology, London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1985, p.7.
Religion, as von Hugel loved to say, is adoration; our humble acknowledgment of the Transcendent, the Fact of God - the awestruck realism of the seraphs in Isaiah's vision - the meek and loving sense of mystery which enlarges the soul's horizon and puts us in our place...
Adoration, as it more deeply possesses us, inevitably leads on to self-offering: for every advance in prayer is really an advance in love. `I ask not for thy gifts but for thyself' says the Divine Voice to Thomas a Kempis.
Evelyn Underhill, 'Spiritual Life' in John Garvey (Ed), Modern Spirituality: an Anthology, London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1985, pp. 21, 22.
Vladimir [pagan prince of Russia] wanted to unite the people under one religion, so around 988 he sent envoys to examine the major religions... The story of Vladimir's choosing Orthodox Christianity is part legend, part fact... what impressed the grand prince was the dazzling worship his ambassadors described seeing in the great Cathedral of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople; 'We knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth, for surely there is no such splendour or beauty anywhere upon earth. We cannot describe it to you. Only we know that God dwells there... and that their service surpasses the worship of all other places. We cannot forget that beauty.'
'The 100 Most Important Events in Church History', Christian History, [Mary Ann Jeffreys, editorial coordinator, Christian History, 465 Gunderson Drive, Carol Stream, IL 60188], Issue 28 (Vol. IX, No. 4), n.d., p. 19.
It happened one high holy day when the king was in attendance at the Temple and grew impatient with the way the priests were handling the incense. If it were today, we might surmise he was in the habit of eating in a cafeteria after church and anxious to get in line ahead of the Methodists. However, for some reason on this particular day the monarch became annoyed with the handling of the service, so he got up out of the royal pew and went straight into the altar area itself and with his own unconsecrated hands placed the incense on the altar as if to say, 'Let's get this over with so we can get on to something more interesting.' Even in that day of carelessness, such an act had a ring of shocking presumption... By his actions the king implied there was nothing going on here except a human process and he could do the 'hocus-pocus' as well as a priest. But he was soon to learn differently! While he was still in the altar area, a gasp went up from the whole congregation, for there on Uzziah's forehead and hands the dread white splotches of leprosy suddenly appeared... Uzziah fled from the temple never to return - or even to his palace. He who had occupied David's throne was relegated to a leper's cottage and there he died a few weeks later.
John Claypool, 'Worship as Involvement', unpublished sermon preached at Broadway Baptist Church, Fort Worth, Texas, September 23, 1973.
Most Protestant church attenders act as if the church was a theatre, where they are the critical audience and where the minister is the actor whose art they are expected to enjoy and criticize. The situation in the church where the atenders have found their real relationship is a very different one. The stage is still there, but the attenders are now upon it. They are the actors. The audience is there too - God is the audience. The pastor is there also, but he is inconspicuous in the scene. He is only the prompter. He is behind the wings whispering the text that they, the actors are speaking aloud before God. Here is a new attitude towards worship. It has become an occasion for coming more consciously into the presence of God and of reviewing our lives under his loving scrutiny.
Soren Kierkegaard, from an essay 'Purity of Heart', quoted by Principal-Emeritus B.G.Wright, 'Some Thoughts on Worship', Australian Baptist, June 24, 1981.
A striking feature of worship in the Bible is that people gathered in what we could call only a `holy expectancy'. They believed they would actually hear the Kol Yahweh, the voice of God. When Moses went into the Tabernacle he knew he was entering the Presence of God. The same was true of the early church. It was not surprising to them that the building in which they met shook with the power of God. It had happened before (Acts 2:2, 4:31). When some dropped dead and others were raised from the dead by the word of the Lord the people knew that god was in their midst (Acts 5:1-11, 9:36-43; 20:7- 10). As those early believers gathered they were keenly aware that the veil had been ripped in two and like Moses and Aaron they were entering the Holy of Holies. No intermediaries were needed. They were coming into the awful, glorious, gracious Presence of the living God. They gathered with anticipation, knowing that Christ was present among them and would teach them and touch them with his living power...
Your pastor and the services of worship need to be bathed in prayer. Paul prayed for his people; he asked his people to pray for him. C.H.Spurgeon attributed his success to the prayers of his church. Frank Laubach told his audiences, `I am very sensitive and know whether you are praying for me. If one of you lets me down, I feel it. When you are praying for me, I feel a strange power. When every person in a congregation prays intensely while the pastor is preaching, a miracle happens.' Saturate the services of worship with your prayers. Visualise the Lord high and lifted up filling the sanctuary with his presence.
Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline, Sevenoaks: Hodder & Stoughton, 1980, pp. 140-141, p.38.
When we worship as a congregation, we are really united with all of God's people everywhere and at all times. Indeed, we may not realize our affinity with the strict Calvinist when we sing 'Rock of Ages, cleft for me', or with a Unitarian ('Nearer my God to thee'), with a Roman Catholic ('Lead Kindly Light'), with a Quaker ('Dear Lord and Father of mankind'), as well as with ancient psalmists and modern poets.
Ken Manley, 'Baptist Worship Past... Present', The Australian Baptist, March 3, 1971.
This is the shining principle embedded in the Benediction. All the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ - all of it - is for each of us. And all the love of God - all of it - is for each. And all the helpfulness and instruction and consolation of the Holy Spirit - all of it - is for each. All the sea for every fish; all the air for every bird. It is not that each of ten million believers has one ten-millionth share of the grace of Christ, and of the love of God, and of the fellowship of the Spirit; but the whole, in its indivisible and perfect entirety, is for each individual among them. Let us make the most of it.
F W Boreham, The Tide Comes In, London: Epworth Press, 1958, p.53.
Leader: The Lord be with you.
Response: And also with you
For the greed which exploits others and wastes the good earth
Lord forgive us
For wanting more and more while so many have less and less
Lord forgive us
For our indifference to the suffering of the poor: the hungry, the homeless, the tortured and the oppressed
Lord forgive us
For the lust which misuses others for our own selfish desires
Lord forgive us
For the pride which leads us to trust too much in ourselves and not in You
Lord forgive us
We confess that we have sinned - in thought, in word, in deed; and in what we have not said or done.
Father forgive us.
If we confess our sins to God, he will keep his promise and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all wrongdoing. God has forgiven us... Thank you Lord... We can now make a fresh start. Renew us Lord. Create in us a clean heart. Fill us with your Holy Spirit. Re-engage us in your service. We commit ourselves to forgive others as you have forgiven us. We're yours, Lord: we're all yours.
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread, Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, now and forever. Amen.
Holy One, holy and eternal, awesome, exciting and delightful in your holiness; make us pure in heart to see you; make us merciful to receive your kindness and to share our love with all your human family; then will your name be hallowed on earth as in heaven.
Support us, Lord, all the day long, until the shadows lengthen, and the evening comes, the busy world is hushed, the fever of life is over, and our work done; then Lord, in your mercy, give us safe lodging, a holy rest and peace at the last.
God our judge and our companion, We thank you for the good we did this day and for all that has given us joy. Everything we offer as our humble service. Bless those with whom we have worked, and those who are our concern. Amen.
We have come to the holy mountain and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem; before myriads of angels, before the full assembly of the first-born citizens of heaven.
We have come to God who is the judge of all, and the spirits of the good, made perfect; we have come to Jesus, mediator of the new covenant.
Let us give thanks, and worship God with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire...
God, you are our beginning and you will be our end; we are made in your image and likeness. We praise and thank you for this day. This is the day on which you created light and saw that it was good. This is the day in whose early morning light we discovered the tomb was empty, and encountered Christ, the world's true light. For us your acts are gracious and your love endures for ever...
A New Zealand Prayer Book, Auckland: Collins, 1989, pp. 113, 112, 108.
Charge & Benediction: You have worshipped the Lord in the community of faith. Now go and worship him in your work in your homes and in the world. And as you go, remember: The Lord, in his great mercy, will enrich you with his grace and strengthen you with his word and his Spirit. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.