Sunday, October 23, 2011

What are you doing HERE?

Isaiah 6:1-8
1 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple.
2 Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying.
3 And they were calling to one another: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory."
4 At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.
5 "Woe to me!" I cried. "I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty."
6 Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar.
7 With it he touched my mouth and said, "See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for."
8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?" And I said, "Here am I. Send me!"

In a television program I watch, there is an episode in which the minister stood up before the congregation. It was a vast sanctuary -- but it was almost empty. The minister looked out upon all of the empty seats and surveyed the 4 lonely people in the congregation -- one young man, and three elderly women.

The minister begins to speak.

"I give thanks to God that there are at least a handful of us who have made the effort to come to worship, who have come to feed on the Word of God, and who don't believe that God is less important than the football game on television."

Suddenly, the young man in the back pew jumps up. "Oh no, I forgot about the football game." And with that he runs out of the sanctuary.

I look around and wonder, don't we have anything better to do right now than to come to worship service?

There are chores to be done at home, books to read, movies to see, games to watch, and web sites to surf. What motivates us to abandon the television and postpone a visit to the mall in order to worship?

I suspect that for some, the answer is "habit." And to tell the truth, not all habits are bad -- although we tend to speak in terms of good habits as discipline. Study habits, proper exercise routines, and good financial management and budgeting are all good habits -- good self discipline. And attending worship is a good spiritual habit. Some of us are here because it is our habit.

But there is something lacking in that answer, because some time earlier in our lives, we didn't come to worship out of habit. We had to make the decision that this was a discipline we wanted to follow. Why did we make that decision?

Others of us may come to worship because we are struggling with God. We are grieving or we are hurting. We are lost, or we are lonely. And our attendance at worship is part of our search for answers.

Still others may be here against our will. You come here because your parents make you and they are bigger than you are.

Or your wife made you come – maybe she’s bigger than you are.

Or maybe your wife made you come here and if you want your life to go smoothly over the next day or two, giving into her about coming to worship is the thing to do.

The story is told of a man who was enjoying a pleasant sleep in bed when his wife suddenly yanked the covers off the bed and announced, “Time to get up and get ready to go to church.”

Meekly, the man told his wife, “I don’t wanna go to church today. Just let me stay here and sleep in this one day.”

Without any compassion, his wife looked at him and said, “Look Bozo, you have to go to church today. You’re the pastor.”

By the way, that is NOT an autobiographical story.

Why come to worship?

Our Scripture Lesson from Isaiah is a great place to look for answers to these questions. For the past 3 thousand years, worship has found its basis in this chapter.

No matter how we change worship from generation to generation, we tend to gravitate back to the sequence that we find in Isaiah. In fact, much of our own order of our worship is based in part on this 6th chapter of Isaiah.

Worship begins with praise and adoration…
“Holy, Holy, Holy!”

Then moves to an awareness of our own sinfulness…
“Woe is me, I am a person of unclean lips.”

Confession leads to an assurance of God’s Grace…
“Your guilt is taken away.”

Then there is the proclamation of the Word and the sending forth into the world…

“Here I am, send me!”

But Isaiah does not just give us an order of worship. His experience gives us some important principles for worship.

First, true worship is not an escape from reality. It is something that happens in the midst of life.

Isaiah begins this passage with an interesting statement. “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord.”

It’s like saying, “In the year the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, I worshipped God.

In the year that Kennedy was assassinated, I worshipped God.

In the year the World Trade Center was attacked, I worshipped God.

In the year that I was married, in the year that my son was born, in the year my friend died, in the middle of life, in the midst of experiences good and bad, I was worshipping the Lord.

Worship in the Sanctuary can never be oblivious to what is happening out there.

Why do we worship God? It is not to escape life out there, it is to deal with life out there.

If you want your worship inside the Sanctuary to be true worship, then you bring in with you all of the baggage of what is happening out in the world.

In the Old Testament Psalms, one writer said (Ps 86:6-7), “Hear my prayer, O LORD; listen to my cry for mercy. In the day of my trouble I will call to you, for you will answer me.”

It is a natural part of worship to bring with you the concerns of your life. We gather here and we bring in the fears of life, the worries of our family, the concerns of the world and we lift them up in prayer, and we seek God’s comfort and guidance.

Why do we worship God?

Did we come because our parents made us? Or our wife nagged us? Or because we didn’t have anything else to do?

No. We are here to worship because our lives are so full of concerns and issues that we have to have someplace to take them.

That is the first principle of worship -- True worship is not an escape from reality. It is something that happens in the midst of life.

The second principle for worship is that true worship focuses on God.

This is where many of us make a mistake.

We assume that worship focuses on us.

I’ve heard many times people talk about how they are struggling in their worship life because they aren’t being fed. Have you ever heard anyone say that? “I’m not being fed. I’m not getting anything out of worship. I’m not being nurtured by worship. I don’t get a blessing out of worship.”

Well, that is a legitimate question with some people, but what concerns me is that I never, ever hear people say anything about whether or not God is being blessed in the worship service.

I never hear anyone concerned about whether or not GOD is enjoying worship.

Why do we worship?

We worship so that WE can get something out of the experience, but we also ought to worship PRIMARILY so that GOD can get something out of it.

And until God gets something out of our worship, we never will. Until God is blessed by our worship, we won’t be blessed.

All too often, we treat worship as something that is supposed to entertain us. But it isn’t. What is most important is that God enjoy the worship experience. We are here to worship HIM. We are here to bless HIM.

In Isaiah, the prophet goes to the Temple, and he says “I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple.” It is the presence of God that fills the worship. One of the principles of worship is that true worship always focuses on God.

Another principle of worship is this -- true worship always begins with an awareness of God’s holiness.

We’ve lost something of that in our worship services. There was a time when people were so aware of this aspect of worship that the very churches themselves were being constructed in ways that emphasized the awesomeness of God. It is difficult to walk into one of the cathedrals of Europe built centuries ago without feeling awe and wonder. The quiet, the slight aroma of incense or candles, the artistry of stained glass windows and classical music moves one to acknowledge awe and wonder.

In recent years, theology and worship have emphasized the personal nature of God, the love God, and joy of God to such a degree that for some reason we’ve forgotten that our God is also an awesome God. We have almost reformed God into a “little buddy” or someone to pal around with. We have forgotten that God is such an awesome and holy God that to be in His presence is to be filled with wonder.

When Moses was aware of God’s presence in the burning bush, Moses was overwhelmed.

When Jacob had a dream of a staircase or ladder to heaven, he woke up and was afraid, because he said, “Surely the Lord is present and I didn’t know it.” And the Bible says he was filled with awe.

Time and again, when people are aware of the presence of God, the Bible describes the experience as one filled with awe and even fear.

Why do we worship God? Because He is holy, and His holiness demands our attention.

It is one of the principles of worship that true worship must begin with an awareness of God’s holiness.

Another principle of worship is that true worship helps us understand ourselves and our shortcomings and to seek God’s forgiveness.

In Isaiah, the heavenly beings sing, "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory." And immediately, the prophet cries out, “Woe to me!” And he speaks of his own sinfulness.

You cannot come into the presence of God without becoming aware of God’s holiness, and without becoming aware of our own unholiness.

Paul, in his letter to the Romans, said (Rom 3:23), “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” As people who have fallen short of the glory of God, it is impossible to approach his presence without being aware of our own shortcomings and sins.

That is why in our worship, a prayer of confession is always present. And what happens after our prayer of confession?

The answer is in your bulletin in the order of worship. The Assurance of God’s Grace.

Our confession always results in God’s forgiveness. In Isaiah, the prophet becomes aware of the holiness of God, which moves him to become aware of his own sinfulness and to admit that sin. That confession leads to the free forgiveness of sins. In Isaiah the heavenly being symbolically takes a hot coal and touches the lips of the prophet as a gesture that declares his sins are forgiven.

In one of John’s New Testament letters, (I Jn 1:8-9), we are told, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our faults, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from unrighteousness.”

Why do we worship? One reason is to be able to experience that forgiveness. We need to hear the same message the Prophet Isaiah heard. “Your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for."

Let me suggest one more principle of worship – true worship makes a difference in our lives.

One of the main reasons why we worship is so that our lives will be different. And the difference should be in terms of service. Worship at its best, always motivates the worshipper to roll up the sleeves and to get to work.

There is a sense in which worship and service must go hand in hand. In the Christian life, one cannot have worship without service to follow.

In our Old Testament lesson, the Prophet Isaiah is in the Temple worshipping God. He hears the call to worship, with angels singing “Holy, Holy, Holy.”

He is moved to confess his sins, which is followed by the assurance of his pardon.

He hears the word of God proclaimed, hearing the voice of God saying, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?"

And what follows then is the service.

The work.

The rolling up of sleeves and the reaching out to others.

In the Scripture lesson, the Prophet said, "Here am I. Send me!"

True worship will always result in service. We cannot enter the sanctuary to worship, without departing into the world to serve.

So, why are we here? Why did we come to worship today? We came in here, in part, to be challenged to do something out there.

So the question for us today not why do we worship? Or why do we come to church today when there are other things we could be doing?

The real question is what will we do when we leave this place of worship.

For the prophet Isaiah, he was sent out to speak a message to the people.

But what are we sent out to do?

What is God calling you to do this week?

Who is it in your life that you need to love a little more?

Who is it in your community that you need to reach out to a little harder?

Who is it that you know of who is not coming to worship who should be invited to come here to Chapel by the Sea?

Are we working at God’s Table? Are we signing up for Habitat for Humanity? Are we helping with the youth programs?

We started this morning by asking the question, “Why are we in worship?”

Forget about that question – the more important question is “what now?” What happens when you leave worship?

Copyright 2011, The Rev. Dr. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved.
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