First Mennonite Church
September 18, 2016
Text: Colossians 3:1-11
Worship: A Transforming Act
A picture of heavenly worship is found in Revelations 7. The countless worshipers of all tribes, languages, and nations are robed in white. The angels and all those around the throne of the Lamb fall on their faces to worship God. What a glorious day it will be when Christians of all ages, languages, and nations will be able to worship the Lamb of God unobstructed.
Today, I want to talk about the thieves that rob us from the desire to worship. I will conclude on what to do to recuperate the desire and joy of worship.
The thieves: Things and Self
In the beginning when God created the world and the first man and woman, the Bible describes every stage of God’s activity of creation as “good” and “very good indeed.” The order in which God created the world and its human inhabitants is also amazing to consider, but the implication of this order of creation is even more important to understand the God-human relationship. God created the cosmic lights, the dry land, and all kinds of plants and animals and then Adam and Eve. The elements of God’s creation were all for the wellbeing and use of humankind. God simply called all of these elements “things” or “everything.” “Things” included what would be humans’ food source and everything necessary for their well-being (Genesis 1:28-31). All of these “things” were outside of the human body. The only exception was God’s life-giving breath in the heart of Adam and Eve. In the soul of Adam and Eve was an altar where no other but God was worthy to dwell. So, God visited them in the cool of the day (Genesis 3:8). At that hour of the day, Creator and creature met face to face. In that encounter the inner soul of Adam and Eve was kept alive and in tune with its Maker. But their intimate relationship did not last long. Eve’s eyes soon wandered away and her heart was trapped. She saw the forbidden fruit as a source to bring satisfaction, to give pleasure, and desirable to make one wise. And the things intended to sustain her and Adam’s physical life became the craving and downfall of their soul. The altar meant only for God to occupy was taken over by external things. And then and since then we all know the power of things competing for the sacred place of God in our lives.
My dear friends, this is not a mere metaphor. It is the dangerous reality of life not only of the non-believer, but so many times the sad reality also of even us who confess to belonging to God. There is within each one of us the residue, and sometimes the outright essence, of the Adamic problem with things. We are tempted to enthrone the idol of things upon the altar designed by God and designated only for God.
We need things in life and rightly so. God created the world of things and everything necessary for human life to flourish and be content. But things have taken over the place of God. And at times we feel we will die if one of those things is ever taken away from us. At times, we fall into believing that we cannot live if we do not have this or that, whether it is the cell phone, internet, TV, car, a certain food item, or brand of clothes, etc. Or, we think if we do not have X$ in our account we will not survive. But how about worshipping God? Can you live a day or week or month without experiencing the majesty and holiness of God? Honestly, I confess if I allow, I am tempted that I can. I relate with Adam and Eve following their blind love for things in disregard to Yahweh’s word and his intimate relationship with them.
So often the roots of our heart have grown deep into things we believe give us life, satisfaction, joy and security. Do a mental survey of your home, your garage and backyard. How many things do you have? Yet, is it not true there are still some things you wish you had? Oh, our problem with things! The greatest danger is when “things” are not only sitting somewhere at home but are sitting on the altar in our heart where only God should be. We use an expression to describe a special feeling towards certain things. We call these “things of sentimental value.”
The other thief that robs us from worshipping God is fear. I am not talking of what the Bible refers to as the “fear of the Lord.” I am talking of being afraid that if we desire God and pursue the yearning of our heart into seeking God that our lives will be messed up. We are afraid if we allow God to become our passion that we might become a fanatic of some kind or that we will lose the normality of the life we are used to or known for. We are afraid to lose our “normalcy.” And truth be told, we love the personality we have forged for ourselves. We have self-love. We love being the cool guy our friends know us to be; or the smart and formal person people have known us to be. We like to continue being the down-to-earth person we have made of ourselves. And when God shows up, he sure can and will mess things up for us. And that is a scary thought. Yet, we are not alone in this fear. Fear of being messed up was there since the very beginning. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God and God was looking for them, they hid themselves. When Peter realized Jesus was not a common man, Peter begged, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8). But Jesus replied, “Do not be afraid, Peter. From now on, I will make you fish for people.” In other words, “Peter, your life is ruined! You will no longer be what you used to be!”
Again, traces of Adam’s rebellion are still found in our heart. Rebellion feeds on fear and fear is evidenced in rebellion. Fear makes us echo the very words of Adam. When God asked the man, “Where are you?” his answer was, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid” (Genesis 3:10). What is more, Adam’s fear led him to try being self-sufficient for his need. He wanted to cover his nakedness, therefore, he sewed leaves to clothe himself and his wife. The unredeemed human heart is always in pursuit of hiding itself from God. We hide behind self-sufficiency, self-righteousness, self-confidence, and all other forms of self-sin. And when we begin to see the futility in our pursuit of self-love we then turn to self-pity, self-loathing, and self-commiseration. While we try to hide behind this self-hyphenated something, we drift farther away from God. We deny or numb our senses to pain and close our ears to the cry of our heart. We postpone getting help from God by hiding ourselves from his love and fellowship.
Let me tell you a truth we find in the Bible. Knowledge and instruction of what is the will of God or how to overcome self-love is not enough. The only way to overcome self is by personally experiencing the holiness of God.
On the other hand, if we were to admit our dissatisfaction and longing before God we would discover the river of God’s peace that surpasses all human understanding and reasoning. To worship is to fully surrender to God without inhibition, without regard for human approval or disapproval. It is fear of God that leads to worship and worship is what restores our true identity as belonging to God. The self-identity by which we are commonly known becomes of marginal importance because we become consumed in God. This truth is time and time again demonstrated in the biblical stories.
Worship led Abel to offer God of his flock when no one had ever done so—where did he learn that?
Worship made David dance like crazy, which led his wife to hold him in contempt.
Worship made Isaiah to shamelessly admit he was a man with unclean lips.
Worship made Daniel disregard his own life.
Worship caused John to fall like a dead man.
Worship has the power to make us lose what we hold sacred—our selfish identity.
There is a song we sing that should remind us of the power of worship: Spirit of the Living God. In part it goes:
“Spirit of the Living God,
Fall afresh on me.
Melt me, mold me,
The question we are left to answer then is, What can we do to discover the joy and blessedness of worship?
First, ask yourself: What gives me that sense of self-sufficiency I have? If it is some-“thing” you have or are, that means you have to solve the issue of God’s place in your life. Self-love and all the other kinds of self-sins are a veil that prevents us from looking at God clearly. The veil of self can be thicker than the one that was rent in the Temple when Jesus died. Jesus cannot rip that veil over your heart unless you ask him to do it.
A second advice I have is to be deliberate in your effort to enter the presence of God.
In the letter to the Hebrews chapter nine, verses 19 to 22, reads:
19 Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.
The imagery used in Hebrews about entering the Holy of Holies with confidence can help us conceptualize how we should approach God in worship. When the high priest entered the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement, first he to come into the outer court where he offers a sacrifice for himself, and then washes himself, and from there he enters the Holy Place where the only light shining was that of the Menorah and where the Table of the Showbread is, and then from there the high priest enters the Holy of Holies where the glory of God radiates from between the cherubim.
The writer of Hebrews uses the rending of the temple curtain at the death of Jesus as the opening of God’s presence to all who dare approach him in faith. For our clarity: God is everywhere as I said two Sundays ago, but entering into his presence demands conscious awareness and full break away from the surrounding distractions of the mind. Coming into the presence of God might at times require a process of entrance as the priest went through on his way to the Holy of Holies. That is, we might need to prepare our soul as we gradually enter into worship. This can be by humming a song, asking for forgiveness, giving thanks to God, reading a Bible verse, etc. and then becoming in tune with God’s Spirit. This is not a mechanical process, nor will the process be the same for everyone. But regardless of the way, coming into the presence of God requires a deliberate effort on our part.
Let us be mindful, worship has the power to reshape our lives. Worshipping God touches deeply into our being—our “self.” And it can be painful; it can make our heart bleed. Jesus calls this “self-denial.” Paul calls this “stripping the old self” and “clothing of the new self.” Paul also calls this, “dying with Christ” and “rising up with him.”
The power and promise of worship as an act of crucifying and dying to self is that God will never leave us hanging on the cross. He will raise us up! God will give us new life and a new self in Christ. Through worship the intimacy of God and humans in Eden becomes a daily experience and not only when the cool of day hours come.
Let us take the first steps of approaching God. Let us take time to prepare our soul to meet with our Creator God. Let us allow his light to shine and as our closing songs says, “may everything else grow dim in the brightness of his glory.” Amen!