Text: Psalm 136
We have looked at the WHO of worship. Worship is directed from us, the created, to God, the creator and sustainer of all things. It takes both for worship to happen. We do the worshipping, and God receives it.
We have looked at the why of worship from two different angles. First we considered the grace of God that transcends our sin in order to free us to worship. Second, we considered the love of God expressed clearly in His willingness to sacrifice His only begotten Son for our sakes, and, even further, the love of God as God the Son in willingly letting go of His position in heaven to come down to earth as a man who died in our place on the cross, the very worst kind of death.
We have looked at the when and the where of worship as we considered our response. We worship in all things – both all the time and everywhere. Every moment, every breath is an opportunity to bring praise, honor, and glory to the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, the God of heaven and earth. Every time and every place is an occasion and location in which we should worship.
This morning, as we look at our sixth word of worship, “Expression,” I want us to look at the practical side of worship – the how. As we look at the how, I want us to consider both the how of our corporate worship – the things we do when we are gathered together as a body – and the how of our individual worship – the things we do on our own or with friends and family members.
Ask any random church member or attender about worship, and he or she is likely to begin talking about their favorite songs, songwriter, or singer. We can talk about Charles Wesley, Fannie Crosby, Isaac Watts, or Bill and Gloria Gaither. Others of us might mention people or groups like SonicFlood, TobyMac, Petra, Keith Green, Steve Green, Chris Tomlin, Mercy Me, Casting Crowns, or the Passion Worship Band. We might mention particular songs like How Great Thou Art, Amazing Grace, Because He Lives, or I Can Only Imagine. Paul tells the church at Ephesus in Ephesians 5:19, “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart.” King Jehoshaphat, who we talked about last week from 2 Chronicles 20, led the people of Judah and Jerusalem to victory over the coming horde of enemies by placing the hand chosen singers at the front so that they could lead the army into the valley. David, the king of Israel who was called the man after God’s own heart, composed many of the psalms in the Bible and was such an avid musician that he was selected to play his lyre in order to calm King Saul when he was disquieted. Music is an important part of worship.
Indeed, music is an important part of worship, but worship and music are not one and the same. You can go to Wal-mart and purchase a gallon of milk, but that does not mean that Wal-mart is the milk store. Remember that worship is the attributing of worth or honor to someone or something. We are designed to do this. We will worship. What or who we worship is up to us, but we are going to worship. Yet, we are not all singers or musicians. Which means that there is more to attributing worth to God – more to worshipping God – than simply singing songs or listening along while others sing their songs. I repeat, these are (or at least can be) worship, but they are not the full extent of worship.
In Exodus, Moses recorded and then reported specific instructions from God about the construction of the Tabernacle – the place where God would dwell with His people while they traveled, wandered, and then conquered the Promised Land. The level of detail in the instructions is somewhat astounding. In Exodus 31, the Spirit of God is given to Bezalel so that he will have the ability to carry out the work of creating all of the specific requirements of the rods, the curtains, the utensils, the altar, the Most Holy Place, the priestly garments, and so on and so forth that will be needed to adhere to the instructions of God for how Israel was to worship Him.
I find it interesting that the Spirit of God was given for the creation and manufacturing of the things necessary for the house of worship that Israel would have and use. For Bezalel and the helper he was given, Oholiab, the building, designing, and constructing of all of these items was a worshipful act that would then go on to allow all of the people a magnificent place where they would be able to worship. Cities and craftsmen of the Middle Ages took great pride in the construction of their churches and cathedrals. They were the centerpiece of town, and they always contained the best materials, artwork, and craftsmanship. There was no higher calling for a stonemason, woodworker, or other craftsman than to create something that would be used in such a gathering place.
This is no less true today. So often we think of worship as the songs that we sing, but worship is so much more than that. Billy Myers has been faithfully cleaning the church for several months now. He spends hours here each week making sure that the church is ready for our next time of corporate worship. He takes great pride and joy in making sure that the building smells nice and clean when we walk in the doors. He puts in great effort to dust the pews, windowsills, and even out-of-reach places we might not think of just on the off chance that we do. He sweeps and mops and vacuums with great care and attention. Whether he knows it or not, Billy is worshipping while he cleans. He is honoring God in taking care of our house of worship just as Bezalel and Oholiab did for the people of Israel in constructing their Tabernacle.
The same is true of Paul Wyatt, Dick Fisher, David Yeatts, and the other men who make sure that everything is in working order, the grass is trimmed, the sidewalks are clean, the gutters and spouts and working properly, and the air conditioners are on and running. Their pride, care, and attention to details that the rest of us rarely see or notice are all acts of worship that honor God.
I have before us today some of the other methods of worship that those from our congregation utilize. There is Billy’s mop and bucket. If there is anything that I have learned about Christine Mattox, it is that she loves two things: growing food and cooking food. This jar of tomato juice and pickle relish are examples of the gifts from God that she uses well. She tends the garden of this earth and uses it just as God designed it to be used, as a means of sustaining life. And as she takes pleasure in these things – and as the rest of us take pleasure in eating her hard labors – we can just as effectively worship God as we might when singing the Doxology.
I first saw one of these birdhouses this year at the Relay for Life. I am sure I have been around an example of it before, but I had never seen or noticed it. Dick Fisher and a friend of his work on these bird houses. They have made a number of them. From what I understand, it’s a pretty tedious process to get these put together just right. I heard a number of people at Relay that were very excited about the possibility of taking one of these homes as part of the fund raiser our Angels for a Cure team was doing at this year’s event. The detail of this craftsmanship is no less beautiful or holy than the craftsmanship that Oholiab and Bezalel exhibited in Exodus.
These may all be strange ways of thinking about worship. The last example may be easier for us to handle, because we are accustomed to pieces of art being expressions of worship. Music, after all, is a form of art. Kathy Bennett paints. She paints beautiful pictures, as you can see here. This, too, is an act of worship. It is a talent and ability that Kathy is utilizing and growing. And as she does so, she attributes worth to the One who gave her these talents and abilities. In other words, she worships.
What I want us to do is bring to the forefront of our minds these things that we do so routinely that are just as much expressions of our worship as any aria sung by any singer in the world. Scripture says a lot about making melody and music to God, singing songs of praise and thanksgiving as we worship Him. But it also describes other actions that please God. While leading the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem, King David, the musician and man after God’s own heart, danced with such abandon that it embarrassed his wife, Michal. Certainly there is dancing that is provocative and unholy, just as there is music that is harsh and provocative and unholy. But dance can be beautiful and inspiring and, yes, worshipful.
I thought about having all of us stand up and try swaying together here, but I won’t have us do that today. Perhaps you can thank me later. We are not all musicians, and we are not all dancers, either.
We are not limited in the ways that we worship. We can sing, as we are accustomed to, but we can also dance, paint, cook, build, sweep, and even change diapers to the glory of God. Centuries ago, a monk by the name of Brother Lawrence wrote his thoughts on worship that is now published in a book called The Practice of the Presence of God. Brother Lawrence was his monastery’s dish washer. Over his time, he learned that cleaning the dishes was just as much an act of worship as reciting the psalms in corporate worship or overseeing the sacraments.
Consider the things that you do. How do you worship? How do you make melody in your heart? When do you feel inspired, creative, complete, and fulfilled? Whatever you are doing in those moments, that is your mode of worship. Do it often. And remember God as you do. Then, you will be worshiping.
Now, think about the things that we do together as a church body. Consider the hows of our corporate worship – and consider the whys that are behind them. If you ever wander into churches of different Christian expressions of faith and worship, you might notice that things even look different. Often, a sanctuary will have two wings on either side of the stage. Why? It’s not because architects could not figure out how to add more space to a room. It’s because when you look at such a building from above, it has the shape of a cross.
You might also notice that churches arrange the front of their worship space in different ways. In our setting and most Baptist settings, the Lord’s Supper table or altar is set on the floor at the level of the people in front of the pulpit, which is raised above it. And then at the very front of the church, raised even higher than the pulpit, is what? A baptistry, and it almost always has a cross in it. Without much thought, you might consider that things are arranged so for ease of seeing. But that’s not true, at least not primarily. This is a very specific arrangement that speaks to our view of the importance of various parts of our ritual practice of worship.
In other congregations, such as Catholic and Episcopal churches, the altar for the Lord’s Supper is placed at the front and center of the platform area, raised above like our pulpit. The priest or rector’s homily or sermon is given from a small lectern or music stand set to one side. There is no baptistry, as baptisms are done by sprinkling a little bit of water from a cup or small bowl. For Roman Catholic and Episcopal believers, the highest and most important portion of a service is not the homily or message, it is the taking of communion or the eucharist. This is the body and blood of the Savior, and for them that is the single most important thing in their worship service.
So what’s most important for Baptists? The sermon. The time of the Word. That’s why our pulpits are enlarged and raised over the congregation like they are. Presbyterians take the Word even more seriously, giving even more impressive and larger pulpits, raising them higher. For us, baptisms are the highlight of our worship practice. The welcoming of a new believer, a new disciple into the kingdom reminds us that we are working to accomplish the Great Commission. There is no greater act of worship for us than bringing to Jesus another committed follower. So our baptistry takes the position of greatest importance in our architecture. There is always a why behind what we do.
Each time we gather to worship, there are three moves that we make that are vital to the way we worship. Sometimes we add a fourth or a fifth. First, we come in. We leave the chaos of the world outside and move inward, toward a more focused attention on God than we ordinarily keep. This begins from the time we get out of our car when we arrive. It continues through Sunday School, if we attend that, and on until we find our seats in the pew. The announcements and the music continue helping us transition from all that goes on outside into a place where we can more fully encounter God, as Elijah did on the mountain, or Moses did inside the Tabernacle.
Once we are adequately prepared, then we feast on the Word. We do so occasionally through Scripture songs, but we always do so through our Scripture Lesson, when we read the words of the bible together, and through the sermon, which is the Word of God spoken and proclaimed.
Occasionally to these two, we add two other movements of worship. One is the Lord’s Supper, which we observe on the first Sunday of each calendar quarter. The Table of the Lord spread before us serves to remind us of the high price paid to allow us the privilege of worshipping. And fourth movement, also occasional, is baptism. I look forward to the day when we have reason to include baptism in our service again. It is such a rich and wonderful time of honoring God and celebrating what He has done for us.
After all of these things, there is what I think is the most important part of our service of worship: the sending out. We get up and we leave. We depart this place and move out, back into the routine and ordinary. But we should not go out unchanged or unchallenged. We should go out different than we came. When Moses left the Tent of Meeting after conversing with God as friend does with friend, his face radiated a glow, such that he took to covering his face with a veil so as not to frighten the people. He was different. He was changed by his encounter with the Holy God. We should be no different going into the world. We should be taking the holy with us as we go out and practice our normalcy.
And that bit of holiness will redeem and sanctify those ordinary moments. The holy we encounter here will remind us that the holy is always present. So we can always worship.
How do you express your worship, and why do you express it the way that you do? I encourage you to think about worship differently this week. It’s not just singing hymns from the hymnal, or any other musical expression. Of course we can worship through music. But there are so many other avenues for us to use as we worship God. I encourage to explore all the things that you do, and I challenge you to find your encounter with God through them and in them. Washing dishes or playing Bach, excelling in your homework or acing your performance review, mowing the grass or getting the seasonings just perfect in your soup. There is no reason for any of these to not be manes for us to draw close to God and attribute to Him all the worth that He is due.