Friday, February 3, 2017

Make a Joyful Noise (Psalms 100 & 150) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

One Sunday morning in church, the older Pastor glared at the young new worship leader they had just hired.  It was the worship leader’s first Sunday.  The pastor said to the congregation:   "Please disregard our worship leader’s instruction when he said: “During the next hymn, I want you to clap your hands, stomp your feet, and boogie till you drop.”

This morning well over a billion people around the world will go to worship God in cathedrals and chapels, sanctuaries and schools, storefronts and living rooms or gather in the great outdoors. 

I prefer the phrase “Going to worship” rather than “Going to church.”  It’s a subtle difference I agree.   Why?   Going to worship implies going to do something, going to participate in a sacred activity.  Going to church focuses on going to a building, a location. The question Christians face each Sunday is: “Am I going to worship God this morning?”

Now there are 168 hours in a week.  And it has inspired me over the years at how many believers worship God regularly each week, but it also has amazed that other people can’t commit to spending one hour a week or even one hour a month worshipping God.  I realize there are good reasons for having to miss church, no question, but I have also heard many excuses.  I am not going to insult you by giving examples of the difference between them; you are intelligent people and you know the difference.

What is worship?  What does it mean to worship God?   The word is derived from the Anglo-Saxon language and it means “to ascribe worth.”  To worship God is to ascribe to God supreme worth.  It is as the Psalmist says, “to give unto the Lord the glory due His name.”

Who is God?  God is that which nothing greater can be conceived.   The 16th century Reformer, Martin Luther wrote: “If you have a God, you must of necessity worship Him.” “Oh, God, I believe in you, thou art my God.  You are worthy to be glorified.”   If worship acknowledges God’s supreme worth, then worship is the expression of our faith, our belief, our love for God.

Christian worship is our faithful response to the living God, the triune God: God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Worship expresses our trust and gratitude for God.  It expresses our thankfulness for what God has said and for what God has done, is doing and will do.   Worship is an encounter between people of faith and the living God.    We worship God privately and publicly.   But worship is always personal, a personal encounter, with a personal God.

People respond to God in worship in a variety of ways.   A young mother writes: “An elderly woman was sitting with eyes closed and hands raised in prayer and praise.  Our three-year-old son was standing on my lap in the pew in front of her.  Suddenly, he turned around, raised his arm, and gave her a high-five!”

The Bible says: “God is a Spirit and we must worship God in spirit and in truth.”   Worship flows in two directions: the downward movement of God’s revelation and presence and the upward movement of our response to God in Christ through the Spirit.  Worship is the response of our whole being to God’s amazing love and mercy.

According to the Bible and the tradition of our Christian faith, both individual and community worship are necessary in the Christian life.   Now this differs from the opinions of some in our culture today.  Some people say: “I can worship God at the beach or at home reading the newspaper or on the golf course.  I don’t need to go to church.”  That’s of course our culture talking, not our Biblical/Christian tradition.  Can you really play golf and worship God at the same time?  Not the way I play golf that’s for sure.

The letter of I Peter says: “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”  Psalm 22 says: “Yet you God are holy, enthroned on the praises of your people.”

God is here. We are standing on sacred ground. God invites you to worship Him.  God desires for you to worship Him.  God is glad you have come to worship Him.   God is open to your joys and concerns, your gladness and needs.

What is the tone or mood of worship?  It’s a celebration.   The psalmist captures it beautifully: “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.  Worship the Lord with gladness; come into His presence with singing.  Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise.  Give thanks to him, bless his name.  For the Lord is good, His steadfast love endures forever and His faithfulness to all generations.”

The psalmist says: “God made you, you belong to God; you are His people and the sheep of His pasture.”  Worship says God is my creator, redeemer, and sanctifier.  I am here to thank God and honor God.    To worship anything else in this world is idolatry.  Many things compete for our worship and allegiance in this life.  The first commandment is: “You shall have no other gods before me.”   This commandment is as applicable today as it was 4,000 years ago.  Worship is praising God.

Like the story of a poor, elderly lady who sometimes visited a church.  The elders of the church were always embarrassed when she did, because she got so excited in the service.  She would shout “Praise the Lord,” “Hallelujah.”  That was more than the dignified members of this congregation could stand.   One Sunday morning the elders greeted her at the door and promised her a brand new heavy coat for the winter months if she would not shout in the service.  She agreed, and took a seat near the front of the sanctuary.  She held her silence at first, but as the pastor got into his message, and as the choir enthusiastically praised God, she was overcome with joy, stood up and shouted – coat or no coat, Amen!

We worship because God sent his son Jesus to earth, to live for us, to die for our sins, to save us, to forgive us, to restore us to fellowship with God and to promise us eternal life.   Worship is the heart of the church.  Like the heart beating in your chest, worship is the heart-beat of the church’s life.  And music is that life-blood which courses through our veins, lifts our souls, and stirs our hearts.   And I am so appreciative of our music here at PBPC.  Everything – our desire to learn, to give, to witness, to serve arises out of our worship of God.

Does worship require spiritual discipline?  Absolutely.   There are so many things that compete for our time on Sundays.  To worship takes spiritual discipline. What is your attitude when you come to worship?   Are you coming expectantly?     We offer ourselves to God in humility and gratitude and love because in Jesus Christ’s life, and death on the cross on Good Friday and resurrection on Easter, God first loved us.   Jesus says: “Love God with your heart, soul, strength and mind.”  In the 17th century, in Puritan New England, it was customary for preachers to preach two to three hour sermons.  It may have taken a little more spiritual discipline in their day than in our day.

God is deeply concerned about the attitude we bring to worship.   God invites us to offer to Him our doubts and struggles, as well as our joys, to listen and to raise our voices.   God says: “Come to seek my will for your life, come and draw closer to me, come and seek my power to change things about yourself.”

We worship as a member of God’s family.  Worship is individual yes, but it’s also communal.  It is both/and.  This is where our culture differs from our Biblical and Christian tradition.  Our culture says you can worship by yourself, you don’t need the church.  Christian tradition and the Bible says worship is communal, the celebration of the family of God, the body of Christ.  The psalmist says: “We are God’s people.”  It’s a time to celebrate that we belong to the same family of God.  We are spiritual brothers and sisters.

In worship we find encouragement and support.  We pray to God for one another, for our community and our world.  We sing together and affirm our faith in Christ together.  We laugh together and cry together when fellow members have passed on.  Worship reminds us that we are a covenant community.  We are stronger together than separately.   In worship, we are saying: “You are my brothers and sisters in Christ, you are important to me; I have come to worship with you as members of my spiritual family.”

When we worship we witness to others.  Worship is also a witness to God.  Going to worship shows others that you value God, you value the church, and that God is central in your life.  Going to worship demonstrates to God, to the congregation, to neighbors and friends that God is important to you.  It says we care about one another and God.

I truly believe God blesses us in the context of worship.  God surprises us with His grace.  I have heard many times: “Pastor, I just feel better after I’ve been to worship; it gets my week started off right.”  Frances Roberts wrote: “Rejoice in the lord always, for as you rejoice and give thanks, you release heaven’s treasures, and shower upon your head the blessings of a delighted Father in heaven.  Nothing so thoroughly delights the Father’s heart, as the praises of His children.”

The meaning of Christian worship is captured brilliantly by the 19th century Danish theologian and philosopher Soren Kierkegaard.  He wrote: “Worship is a drama.  Some people think of God as the director, the worship leaders as the actors, the stage as the chancel and the people as the audience.  Worship is a drama.  However, the stage is the sanctuary, the worship leaders are the prompters, the people are the actors and God is the audience.”

Make a joyful noise.  I close with psalm 150: “Praise the Lord, Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty firmament.  Praise Him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his surpassing greatness.  Praise him with trumpet sound, praise him with lute and harp, praise him with tambourine and dance, praise him with strings and pipe, praise him with clanging cymbals, praise him with loud clashing cymbals, let everything that breathes praise the Lord.”  Amen.

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