February 18, 2024. Sermon Title: True Worship Is a Life on God’s Altar

First Mennonite Church

February 18, 2024

Sermon Texts: John 4:21-24; Romans 12:1-2

True Worship Is a Life on God’s Altar

The Bible commands us to worship God. And, as we remember, the very reason God ordered Pharaoh to let Israel go was so that Israel would worship God. “Let my people go, so that they may worship me in the wilderness,” God repeatedly told the pharaoh in Exodus (Exodus 9:1, and others). In Psalm 29, verse two, we read, Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness. And in Psalm 100, verse two, again we read: Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. Israel was called to worship God and we now are called to worship the Lord, our God.

In the gospel passage in John, the Samaritan woman brought out in her discussion with Jesus the Samaritan and Jewish controversy about the proper location for worship. The Samaritans only accepted as authoritative scriptures the Pentateuch. That is, the first five books of the Old Testament attributed to Moses’s authorship. They also believed that Mount Gerizim was the place where they should worship God. In Deuteronomy, Moses instructed the Israelites that once they crossed the Jordan River into the Promised Land, six tribes should stand on Mount Gerizim to pronounce the blessings of God and other six on Mount Ebal to pronounce the curse of God (Deuteronomy 27:9-26). For that reason, the Samaritans called Mount Gerizim the “Mountain of Blessing.” Interestingly enough, the issue at stake in the Samaritan/Jewish controversy was not about whom to worship or how to worship, but the location for worship. It resembles, to a certain degree, today’s discussion among some Christians as to whether to have contemporary music or to sing traditional hymns during the service. The discussion, although important to some degree, is not the central issue when it comes to worshipping God.

But Jesus brings to the Samaritan woman’s attention the real issue at stake with it comes to worship. Jesus also points out that God, the Father, is the one we should worship. He indicates that his coming has ushered a new worship condition for worshipping God. Jesus points out that location for worship no longer is an issue because God is Spirit; thus, not bound to a specific location. Then Jesus goes on to emphasize the way God now desires to be worshipped: in spirit and in truth. To worship God in spirit does not mean an internal and spiritualized private worshipping of God. To worship God in spirit and in truth means to offer God our lives in ways that honor and exalt his name. This way of understanding worship renders every discussion about contemporary or traditional singing preferences shallow and irrelevant. So again, God is actively seeking worshippers to worship him in Spirit and truth. God is searching for a people whose lives reveal the wisdom, love, power, and holiness of the God they worship. This leads us to Paul’s words in Romans 12.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing, and perfect will.

In Romans chapter 11, Paul declares that Israel’s brokenness and rejection of Jesus Christ opened the gates of salvation to the Gentiles. In that chapter, Paul marvels at God’s graciousness and mercy towards the Gentiles who before Christ were far away from God. But now in Christ, all the Gentiles have become recipients of God’s mercy too.

Therefore, in response to God’s mercy, Paul urges the Corinthians to offer themselves as living sacrifices to God, which Paul says, is their true and proper worship. Implied in Paul’s statement here is that God’s mercies are what prompts us to worship him.

And as we saw last Sunday, we worship God not because he is in need of a constant stream of praise and adulation in order to be God. Our God is not broken to require humans to give him compliments. God is not a narcissistic deity who demands praise and admiration in order to be God. No, our God is perfect and out of his perfectness he restores and heals our brokenness when we worship. God is holy and out of his holiness he cleanses us from our sins when we bow in adoration. God is righteousness and with the essence of his very being he reconciles us to himself and makes us into peace-loving people and peacemakers. God is love and when we worship God, he pours out his love into our heart by his Spirit, as Paul says. Thus, we concluded that worship transforms us. We are the most benefitted when we worship God. He re-centers lives and realigns our priorities to his purposes and will. He opens our hearts to others in love. We are made aware of our sinful inclinations and of the world’s injustice, thus we shun evil and advocate for justice. Worship truly sets us free from ourselves to be free for God and his purposes in the world.

Therefore, the benefits of worship are not for our hoarding. What God gives us when we worship him is neither to make us feel more spiritual, nor self-righteous. The benefit of worship is for us to reach out to our neighbors. We are empowered to love even the unlovable, just as Jesus did. We can open our hearts to those in need because the love of God has broadened our hearts.

You see my dear friends, when we worship God, we are empowered and endowed by and with the very nature of the God we worship. Worship enables us to live the beauty and presence of God in the world. And our neighbors get to see that. We become “living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God,” but also a sign of hope and a force for change in the world. By being “living sacrifices” we display the character of God in our daily lives through kind words, even in the face of unkindness. We offer a helping hand to those in need, especially in a world where everyone seeks only for themselves. We speak truth amidst all the half-truths and lies that fly around. We advocate for life, whether our friends’ or the unfriendly. We sympathize with those who suffer violence, injustices, or the victims of war. But because of that, we will surely feel the fire, like the sacrifice on the altar. Our stance for what is right, what is truth, and what is just will surely make us the target of those who do not share those principles. True worship of God, therefore, can be a dangerous endeavor. True worship of God can be costly; thus, might be the reason the church is constantly tempted to avoid it. This will be the topic for next Sunday.

To conclude today, let me read Paul’s words once more.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing, and perfect will.

True and proper worship of God, which takes the form of offering our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God, does not allow us to conform to the pattern of the world. That is why the world resists a people who worship God. However, that is the kind of worship that is most effective in God’s hands to reach out to the world. May we seek to become or remain living sacrifices to our God every day. Amen!

Pastor Romero