Wednesday, March 08, 2006

John 6:40 - "What-When-Why Worship"

Lenten Midweek
Wednesday, March 8, 2006

We gave you some of the topics covered in the Augsburg Confession and asked you to choose from those topics for our midweek services. Your questions about the topic of worship can be summed up in the phrase: What-When-Why Worship. What is worship, when should we worship, and just why are we worshipping anyway?

Well, you’ve got an insert in your bulletins that will help us walk through these 3 W’s of worship. As I said, our Lenten sermon topics come from the Augsburg Confession. The Augsburg was written in 1530 as way to pull together everything the early Lutherans were teaching, trying to explain it to the Roman Catholics who were against them. The Augsburg Confession is still one of the documents that this congregation agrees to uphold, because the Augsburg correctly explains what Scripture teaches. That’s why we’re going to go back to this document to see what it has to say about What-When-Why Worship.

First of all, then, WHAT IS WORSHIP? As you can see on your insert, an explanation of worship comes from Article V of the Augsburg where it says:

To obtain [the Christian] faith, God instituted the office of preaching, giving the gospel and the sacraments. Through these,…He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith…[and] teaches that we have a gracious God.

In other words, God set up the Church so that there would be preaching and teaching of His Word. Through His Word, He creates faith in our hearts. What is worship, then? Worship is hearing God’s Word preached and taught; it is the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. And through what we do when we come together, the Holy Spirit teaches us that God is gracious, that He offers His love and forgiveness to us free of charge.

This explanation isn’t any different than what Jesus said in the Gospel of John, you’ve got the quote on the insert there, “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” When we come together to worship and look at the Son through His Word, God’s goal for us is that we believe in Jesus. He wants us to believe so that we will have eternal life.

That then is the answer to WHAT IS WORSHIP? It’s really as simple as that—the preaching and teaching of God’s Word so that we may believe in Jesus for salvation. If you were hoping that I’d tell you what worship has to look like, what it has to sound like, what instruments and music it can and can’t include, well, that’s a whole different discussion about style and preferences. Those questions of style are going to change over time, are different for every person, and something a congregation has to figure out together. However, what we learn here from the Augsburg Confession based on Scripture is that worship must always build us up in our faith in Jesus. That’s the bottom line.

So if worship is the preaching and teaching of God’s Word with the goal of creating and strengthening faith, then what about the next question? When do we worship? Or like on the insert: IS IT A SIN NOT TO BE IN WORSHIP?

Again, we go to the Augsburg Confession, this time in Article 15:

We teach that those rites should be observed that can be observed without sin and that contribute to peace and good order in the church.

However, people are reminded not to burden consciences, as if such worship were necessary for salvation. They are also reminded that human traditions are instituted to win God’s favor, merit, grace, and make satisfaction for sins are opposed to the gospel and the teaching of faith. [These traditions] are useless and contrary to the gospel.

I thought that the easiest way to look at how this paragraph answers the question was to put it into a flowchart.

The second side of the flowchart, if you’re trying to get out of worship, trying to come up with a good excuse but still feel like you’re covered with God, that’s where something like the words of Jesus in John chapter 4 come to help us to understand what worship is really about:

[Jesus said,] “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

If we’re just trying to fulfill that minimum requirement, that’s not worship in spirit and truth, that’s not relationship with God, that’s simply going through the motions—and that’s a sin.

But now if you’re not here on Sunday because your family is out of town, or you have trouble getting here regularly because of your work schedule, it doesn’t mean that God’s going to punish you. Just like the Augsburg Confession says, worship services aren’t supposed to burden your consciences, make you feel guilty every time you miss one, because when it comes right down to it, we don’t earn salvation by our worship. Salvation, forgiveness, and life after death only come from faith in Jesus, which brings us back again to what worship is: the preaching and teaching of God’s Word so that we may believe in Jesus.

Flip your insert over, because now it’s important to take a look at the other question you asked: HOW CAN I GET MORE OF WORSHIP? We go to a quote from the Apology to the Augsburg Confession for an answer to this question. The Apology isn’t when the Lutherans said they were sorry for writing the Augsburg Confession. In this situation, “apology” means a further explanation. The Apology to the Augsburg Confession is where the Lutherans tried to explain in more detail what they were teaching.

In Article 24, the Apology says:

All ceremonies should serve the purpose of teaching the people what they need to know about Christ.

And in Article 15, the Apology says:

For although the [early Church] Fathers themselves had rites and traditions, they still did not maintain that these things were useful or necessary for justification. Instead, they taught that we are justified by faith on account of Christ and not on account of these human acts of worship. Moreover, they observed these human rites on account of their usefulness for the body, so that people may know at what time they should assemble, so that they may have an example of how all things in the churches might be done decently and in order, and finally, so that the common people may receive some instruction.

From these two quotes, the first thing we see is that in order to get more out of worship, we need to ENSURE that the Gospel is being taught. Article 24 reminds us that the purpose of everything we do together in worship is so that people are taught what they need to know about Jesus Christ saving us from our sins. Article 15 makes it clear that the ceremonies themselves do not save us; it is the Word of God, the action of Jesus on the cross and rising from the grave, that’s what brings us salvation.

As preachers, Pastor Miller and I must ENSURE that our worship services teach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And you must ENSURE that you are hearing Gospel in worship. If you don’t think that our worship services are talking about forgiveness, life, and salvation through Jesus, you also have a responsibility to point this out to us and the leaders of the congregation.

Our responsibility to ENSURE that the Gospel is heard in our worship is related to what is said in Hebrews chapter 10,
“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

We can’t waver from our teaching about Jesus. We need to come together, urge each other forward in their faith, and make sure that everyone is hearing the Gospel in worship.

To get more out of worship the first thing we must all do is to ENSURE that there’s Gospel in the worship services for us to get. The very process of looking to see how the hymns, Scripture readings, prayers, sermon, and anthems are holding up Jesus as our Savior, even that process will help you to get more out of worship.

And if you’re focused on looking at what we’re doing in worship and checking it against our goal of teaching about Christ, then you’re onto the second way of getting more out of worship: ENGAGE.

There’s obviously an emotional component of worship—the way music can lift us up, the way our silence can help us to be sorry for our sins—but you’ve got to ENGAGE your mind as well. In 1 Corinthians, Paul says, “I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also.”

Again, it goes back to what worship is: the preaching and teaching of God’s Word so that we may believe in Jesus. There’s joy, happiness, a healthy fear, sorrow, comfort, and peace, all of these emotions related to believing in Jesus, but the preaching and teaching in worship also engages the mind.

Why worry about the mind? Because it is vitally important to know why you have emotional reactions to God and worship. We can’t trust our emotions all of the time, and so God needs to train our minds, so that we can know that Jesus died in our place, that we will not die forever, that we will be forgiven and taken to live with God after death. We’re not just singing in worship because it makes us happy; we’re singing because we learned this incredible message from God about how He will save us.

So in order to get more out of worship, you’ve got to ENSURE that the Gospel in here in everything we do, and as you look for the Gospel, you will ENGAGE your mind, which helps you to keep learning and seeing what God’s message is teaching you.

Once you ENGAGE your mind, though, you’re bound to start thinking of questions, which brings us to the third part of getting more out worship: ENQUIRE. “Enquiring minds what to know,” right? Well, unlike the National Enquirer tabloid, in this case, that’s true in a good way. The more you ENGAGE your mind looking to see what you can learn from every part of a worship service, the more you will want to ENQUIRE, study, research, ask questions, learn more about what things mean.

For instance, open your hymnals and go back to the sermon hymn, #451, “Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise.” When you sang that first stanza, if you were engaged with your mind, you were not only trying to sing, enjoying the beauty of the melody, you were also trying to take in what the words are teaching you. However, maybe you sang that first stanza and wondered where those words came from. That’s an ENQUIRY. That’s a great question, one that you might not be able to answer during worship, but a question that you could write down. Then when you get home, you could do research. Or after worship, you could ask Pastor Miller or me. Or a lot of times in Bible studies or Sunday School, I see that people have gotten to the ENQUIRING stage during worship, coming back with great questions about what we’re learning in worship.

Well, in the case of hymn #451, I did the ENQUIRY and found that this hymn is based on Paul’s words in the New Testament book of 1 Timothy. The quote is on your insert,

To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

By asking the question, “Where did these words of the hymn come from,” I had to study and get back into Scripture. I learned that Paul praises God with these words because God chose to use him in ministry even though Paul knew that he was a terrible sinner. It’s a beautiful outburst of praise from Paul.

Maybe this all seems too academic, too intellectual, too bookish, for you. Maybe you’d rather just experience worship. But this is experiencing worship. I’m telling you, the emotional reaction we get from worship is pretty weak if we don’t understand what we’re saying. Now that we know that hymn #451 is based on Paul’s words of great joy, now that we know that this hymn has us singing words that connect us back 2000 years to Paul, now that we know that Paul’s words just as joyous for us—terrible sinners who are still part of God’s mission to the world—now that we have ENSURED the hymn teaches Gospel, now that we have ENGAGED our minds to listen, now that we have ENQUIRED to understand more, now we’re able to get more out of worship.

Of course, the “more” that we’ll get out of worship is really just more of the same, we’re going to get more of the preaching and teaching of God’s Word so that we may believe in Jesus. That’s still the bottom line. Getting more out of worship means seeing more and more how everything we do in worship points us to Jesus Christ.

As a way of bringing all of this What-When-Why Worship stuff together, let’s sing stanza 1 of hymn #451 again. As we sing, let your joy shine through your singing, because the words of this hymn are reminding you that God is tremendous for the way He will use sinners like us. Let’s stand and sing.

Quotations are from The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert, editors, © 2000, Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortess.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, © 2000; 2001 by Crossway Bibles, A Division of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Illinois. All Rights Reserved.