Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Methodist Way: Passionate Worship - Matthew 22:34-40 and Luke 18:9-14

This week we are continuing our preaching series on the five historical practices found in fruitful and growing congregations called the Methodist Way; Radical Hospitality, Passionate Worship, Intentional Discipling, Salty Service, and Extravagant Generosity. Two weeks ago we looked at the early church from Acts 2 and talked about what they did to set their world on fire for Christ and how we might follow that example today with the power of the Holy Spirit. Last week we looked at the idea of Radical Hospitality to see what Scripture says about it and how we can carry that out in this world. Today we are going to look at the aspect of Passionate Worship and how and why we are to praise God.

What is Worship? - Bringing God Pleasure
Passionate worship. That’s a pretty tall order to talk about, especially considering all of the misconceptions today about what worship is. Many have the idea that worship is simply something that you come to and observe or participate in for a single hour on Sunday morning.

Some have the idea that there is only one way to worship and we see churches split over the difference between “traditional” and “contemporary.” Others have the idea that worship is primarily for their benefit. But worship is far more than just these ideas and worship is not really even about us.

So what is the purpose behind worship? Why is it so important that we include it in our lives? Let’s begin at the beginning. A good, simple definition for worship would be “bringing pleasure to God.” This is the supreme reason that we as human beings exist – we were created to worship God, to praise Him, give Him glory and honor, bring Him pleasure.

This is what Jesus was trying to point people back towards in our Gospel Lesson from Matthew. He was talking with some of the religious leaders and one of them asked him, “What is the greatest commandment?” The Jewish people had so many commandments and laws to follow, and many were very strict about trying to follow them exactly. This man wanted to know what the most important commandment was that he needed to focus his energy and effort upon. And this is how Jesus answered him: “This is the greatest commandment: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. Upon these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

You see the people had become so caught up in following all the laws and commandments exactly, that they had forgotten the reason the laws existed in the first place – they were meant as a tool to help point the people back to God. And Jesus was trying to get them to realize that following all the laws in the world were no good if they forgot to love God with all that they had. Worship is about loving God with all that we are – our heart, mind, soul and strength. This brings great pleasure to our Heavenly Father. Think of worship as putting a smile on God’s face.

How Should We Worship? - What Elements to Include
And so we gather in the house of the Lord together to worship each Sunday. Worship is one of the most basic and primary purposes of our lives and of the church – to praise God, giving Him honor and glory, bringing Him pleasure and putting an enormous smile upon His face.

The next logical question then might be: “Is there a right way in which we should worship?” Certainly we wouldn’t want to do anything in our worship services that would offend God, whom we are trying to please.

When we look through the Bible, we can find a few common elements that should always be incorporated into our worship:

1. Praise and Adoration – taking the time to praise God for who He is and offer Him thanks for what’s He’s done
2. Acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior – Jesus should be the head of our lives and the church
3. Scripture – The Bible is our benchmark and standard and is God’s love letter to His people. It is also a source of hope, comfort, and guidance
4. Prayer, including Confession of Sins – Is our lifeline to the Father, primary way of communication, and unconfessed sins block our relationship and need forgiveness
5. Offerings – We do not have to sacrifice to pay for sins, but should still give to God as He has given to us. That means a portion of time, talent, and resources including money to help further the work of His church
6. Music – music and singing speak to our soul and help us transcend and feel God’s presence

How churches incorporate these different elements into worship is open for interpretation. Styles of worship vary from church to church, depending upon the personal preferences of a congregation and the tastes of the people that they are trying to reach out towards. John Wesley took a unique approach to worship in the Methodist movement. He had been raised in a very high church worship environment in the Church of England. But Wesley in his own words, “submitted to become more vile,” and began to preach outside using different worship styles in order to reach different people. In fact some of the “new” hymns that were sung in his day were familiar bar tunes that people would know with new Christian words set to them.

The pattern of our worship here at Druid Hills is designed to incorporate all of those core elements that we talked about and put them together in such a way that we are ushered more and more into God’s presence. Notice the titles on the different sections of our worship service in the bulletin, 1) We Gather Together; 2) We Come Before God in Worship; 3) We Come Before God in Prayer; 4) We Offer Our Tithes and Praise; 5) We Hear the Word of God Proclaimed; and 6) We Depart to Serve and Share God’s Love. And each week we try to incorporate the theme of worship for that day throughout each section so that everything is tied together and doesn’t detract from the flow. Also you’ll notice that each section includes some kind of personal response for those worshipping because worship is not meant to be merely a spectator sport, but a participatory process.

How Should We Come to Worship?
Understanding the purpose behind worship, bringing pleasure to God, and the different elements of worship, how then should we come to worship? What should be our attitude and posture before the Lord?

Our second Scripture lesson from Luke this morning has Jesus telling the story of two men who went to the temple to pray. The first man, a Pharisee, went and made worship all about him – his needs, wants, and desires. He stood up and prayed loudly so that others would see and hear him. The second man, a tax collector, went and was humbled in God’s house. He stood off at a distance, not lifting up his eyes and asking for God’s mercy. Jesus said that of the two men, only the second went home justified before God. Two men. The same church service. Two totally different approaches to worship. And two different outcomes. How do you approach worship?

Several years ago I was flying and happened to get a seat up front on the plane. I got to watch a bunch of the people as they boarded. One of those was a little boy, maybe five years old, traveling with his mom. You could tell right away that he was very excited; he was just beaming from ear to ear and looking all around. The flight attendant greeted them and he told her it was his first time to fly and then asked her if he “could please, please meet the pilot!” The pilot was coming out of the cockpit as the little boy asked his question and he smiled. He ended up taking the little boy by the hand and letting him peek into the cockpit and then patiently answered a few of the little boy’s questions about what all the instruments were. As the little boy walked to his seat with his mom, he was jumping up and down with excitement. They were a few rows behind me and I could hear him off and on during the flight telling his mom how cool it was to be flying and how awesome it was that he got to meet the pilot, the man up front. In looking around at the other people on the plane, no one really seemed to share the little boy’s excitement. Everyone seemed very content and comfortable with the routine – they were glad for a nice flight, that would get them on time to where they were going with no surprises, and hopefully their luggage.

If you fly a lot, it’s easy to lose your sense of awe and wonder at putting your body in this metal machine flying through the air. You get comfortable and become accustomed to the routine. The same thing can happen to Christians in worship. Without meaning to, we get used to the routine of worship and lose some of our awe and wonder at the opportunity we have to encounter God in a new and fresh way.

I think we could all take a lesson from the little boy on the airplane. He came on the airplane with a great sense of excitement and anticipation about what was going to happen. He came with a goal in mind; he was going to meet the pilot. We should come to worship with an attitude of excitement and anticipation. We should come to worship with the goal in mind of meeting God our pilot in a new and fresh way. Then all that we do from singing, to praying, to giving offerings, to reading the Scripture and listening to the sermon will take on new meaning as we anticipate and encounter the Lord.

Are you up for a challenge? Here it is. For the rest of the year, that’s three months, I invite us all, myself included, to prepare for worship by praying. I know some of you do this already. But between now and the end of the year, I invite you to pray at home before leaving or in your seats once you arrive – first and foremost that our worship would be pleasing to God and second, that all of us might encounter the living God moving in our hearts and minds. Who knows what might come of such praying—and such high expectations?

Have you gotten caught in routine flight mode? You don’t have to settle. Come to worship with childlike enthusiasm, seeking God Himself. For where two or three are gathered in His name, God is faithful to be present. He’s here today. Don’t leave without experiencing Him for yourself.

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