January 26, 2020
Rev. John Watts
Nampa First UMC
FAITH PRACTICES: WORSHIP
Psalm 105:1-3 I Corinthians 14:1-4
The third in a series of five.
Mona Simson was a struggling writer living in New York City. She had learned she had an older brother she didn’t know about. Her parents had him before they were ready to start a family. They gave him up for adoption. But now Mona got this phone call. She was told this brother she didn’t know existed was looking for her. It was like the plot line for one of her novels.
They met. She told him she was a writer. He told her he worked in technology. She said, “Well, maybe you can help me. I’m still using my old manual typewriter. I’ve been thinking about getting a computer.” He told her to wait. He said he was working on one. When he was done, he said it would be way better than anything out there. She would be glad she waited. His name was Steve Jobs. This is a true story.
You hear a story like that and you go, “Wow!” Imagine finding out you have a brother you didn’t know about. That would be “Wow!” enough. Then you find out he is Steve Jobs. That would be like “Wow!” to the “Wow!” power! You may not be able to top that story. But I’m pretty sure even your ordinary, boring life is plenty full of “Wow!’
Of course, you might not think so. You might not even notice. You might not say, “Wow!” You might instead say, “Ehh.” I learned that word from our son. You may not be familiar with it. You’ll find it in the urban dictionary. Here’s the definition:
The end all be all word used by young males when speaking to their parents. Used as a response to questions they do not wish to answer.
“Ehh.” Who says you need a big vocabulary? You might be able to go through your whole life with just that one word. But if you only had one word, a better one would be “Wow!” Like this little girl. Her parents thought it would be funny if they wrapped up a banana and put it under the Christmas tree. But though she doesn’t say the word, this is a “Wow!” reaction if ever there was one:
(You Tube video: “Little Girl Gets Banana for Christmas”)
So her grandparents call later that day. They ask their adorable little granddaughter what she got for Christmas. She says, “Banana!!” And they tell each other: “We never should have given our blessing to that marriage.”
This is part three in our series on faith practices. Today we are taking about worship. So what does “Wow!” have to do with worship? Everything.
“Wow!” is built into creation. But we can miss that. We can lose the wonder and the joy of that little girl. WE can get busy or distracted or old. IN spirit, if not in age. Instead of praise, we complain. “God hasn’t done much for lately, I hate my ob. My car is embarrassing. My hair is a disaster. I have this itch. I don’t have a spouse. Or, I do have a spouse, but I’m pretty sure I got the wrong one.”
It was one of my first sermons. August 12, 1979. Six days before I married Helen. (I do have a spouse, and I’m pretty sure I did get the right one!) The only part of that long ago sermon that any good was something from Rachel Carson’s book, The Sense of Wonder. She was walking along the coast of Maine. It was a crystal clear night. Dark as dark can be. She had never seen so many stars. She wrote this:
It occurred to me that if this were a sight that could be seen only once in a century or even once in a human generation, this little headland would be thronged with spectators. But it can be seen many scores of nights in any year, and so the lights burned in the cottages and the inhabitants probably gave not a thought to the beauty overhead; and because they could see it almost any night, perhaps they will never see it.
Do you see what God has made? I mean, really see it? We live in a universe of light and life that exploded into existence from something smaller than the head of a pin. And you are in it. You are alive. God has given you another day. Your heart is beating. Your lungs are breathing. Your mind is thinking. You have a great church. You have a God who loves you. You have a Savior who died for you. You have a Holy Spirit who will guide you. Can you see that? If so, what do you say? How about this: “Wow!”
There is the “wower”. That is God. There are the “wowees”. That is us. And when our “Wow!” gets directed to God, there is a word for that. That word is worship.
We read about worship in our scripture from Psalms:
Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name. Make known among the nations what he has done. Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts. Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice. (105:1-3)
The way this is worded, it’s not a suggestion. It’s a command. “Give praise . . . proclaim . . . sing . . . tell . . .glorify . . . rejoice.” These are action verbs. These are things we are told to do. Not because God needs it, but because we need it. We need more “Wow!” and less “Ehh”. It’s good for us. C. S. Lewis said, “Praise almost seems to be inner health made audible.”
Now different people have different thresholds for “Wow!” The amount of goodness required to trigger delight is not the same for everyone. Some of you say “Wow!” all the time. Maybe not the word out loud, but the feeling inside. A flower, a sunset, a crisp January morning, a banana. It doesn’t take much, and you feel so thankful and so blessed! Others of you might require a bit more. You have become jaded to the everyday wonders of life. You haven’t said “Wow!” in a long time. God is going to have to do something big to get your attention.
So we might say we tend to line up on one side or the other. We either have a worshiping mindset or we have a non-worshiping mindset. If you have a worshiping mindset, you are open to joy, looking for it, expecting it, grateful, humble, and generally happy. If you have a non-worshiping mindset, you are more likely to be negative, take things for granted, irritated easily, pre-occupied with self, and generally unhappy.
If you have a worshiping mindset, you worship because you want to, If you have a non-worshiping mindset, you may not want to, but you need to. We all need to. And the great thing is that wherever we might be on this continuum, regular worship has a way of making us feel this “Wow!’ that we can’t help but direct God’s way more and more and more.
So today we are going to talk about worship and specifically, how we can get worship right. Our scripture from I Corinthians shows that we can get worship wrong. Even in the pristine early church, their faith practices weren’t perfect. In this case, they were emphasizing one of the spiritual gifts way out of proportion to the others. Speaking in tongues was causing problems for them. That’s why when I gave my sermon on spiritual gifts, I left that one out. Maybe you noticed. Not that it isn’t a valid gift. But it can be misunderstood and misused. It takes Paul 33 verses here to deal with the problems speaking in tongues had caused in First Church Corinth. They got worship wrong. There are many ways we can get worship wrong. But here are two things to remember if we are to get worship right.
1) God is worthy of our very best. Not that worship is a carefully scripted performance. Not that one little mistake ruins everything. That’s not worship. That’s “America’s Got Talent”. God is not sitting next to Simon Cowell at the judges’ table. God is pleased, no matter how imperfect our worship might be, if we worship with our whole heart.
Which means at a minimum that we show up. I challenge you to make the commitment that, unless you are sick or out of town, you will be here when we worship.
This also means that when we are here, we are all here. There are other times to catch up on you e-mails. There are other times to catch up on your sleep.
I have always found it interesting that whenever I mention sleeping in church, everyone’s eyes suddenly pop wide open! I may have mentioned to you that the first church job I was paid for was in addition to a night watchman job I already had. So I would be working all night Saturday and then go straight to church Sunday morning. The pastor insisted that I sit up front where everyone could watch me sleeping through his sermons. Don’t think I don’t understand those of you who are fighting the urge to sleep during church!
We want you here, not just present in body but also present with your whole heart. I love the verse in Psalms that says God “inhabits the praise of his people” (22:3, KJV). It’s “people”, plural. That means that when we worship, we experience God together in ways that would not be possible separately.
Every time we come together there are many different life circumstances that fill this room. Someone has lost a family member. Someone is struggling with depression. Someone has received a serious medical report. Someone has been betrayed. Someone is not able to sing because emotionally that’s just not where you are. But the rest of us can sing for you. We can pray for you. We can love you. You might not be feeling the “Wow!” in your life right now. That’s true for everyone who ever lived, even Jesus. But whatever you are dealing with, we’ll get through it together. Worship helps.
Another verse in Psalms tells us to “make his praise glorious” (66:2). Which I’m pretty sure means that we are supposed to make his worship glorious! And that’s not my job as pastor. That’s our job as church. So we come here in anticipation of what God is going to do. We come here expecting something good. And you know, what you expect is usually what you get! We come not to make his praise so-so. We come not to give God our “ehh”. We come to “make his praise glorious” – to give God our best possible worship. Because he is worthy.
By the way, “worthy” and “worship” come from the same root. We worship because he is worthy. And because he is so very worthy, we worship with our very best. Will you do that? I will. God tells us to “make his praise glorious” because God “inhabits the praise of his people”. It will bless us. It will bless other people. It will bless God.
2) God is the author of joy. So worship needs to be joyful. And when we aren’t feeling especially joyful, that’s when we especially need to be in worship. Because however hard life might be for us, we can always choose joy.
Life was hard for the Apostle Paul. He was in trouble. He was in chains. He was facing death. That’s when he wrote those words: “Rejoice in the Lord always.” And just in case somebody didn’t catch his meaning, he kept going: “Again I will say, Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4)
God’s call to joy runs all through scripture. We saw this in our Advent series. We discovered that there are over 400 references to joy in the Bible. And they fall into those three categories: joy as happiness, joy as anticipation, and joy as choice. We may not be happy. We may not be able to anticipate anything much better in the future. Life can be really hard. But still we can choose joy.
Mattie Stepanek chose joy. Remember him from last week? He knew he would never be an adult. He only lived to age 13, which was quite a bit longer than the doctors expected. If anyone had reason to have a “Ehh” attitude toward life, it was Mattie. But it was just the opposite. Life for him was one big “Wow!” He chose joy.
There are lots of Mattie Stepanek sayings that can help us whatever our circumstances might be. Here is one: “If you live feeling like your glass is half empty, it may as well be empty all the way.” So how full does your glass have to be for it to produce joy and delight in you?
Our granddaughter, Harper, is almost two. Hard to believe. And our Christmas present this year was a picture of Harper wearing a shirt that said, “Santa is promoting me to big sister.” The due date is August 12.
If you are ever feeling down and discouraged, spend time with a small child. They cry a lot. They are often unhappy. But they also are joyful in ways most of us older people have forgotten is even possible. Take a look at this.
(Video: “Funny Babies Laughing”)
The average four-year-old laughs 300 times a day. The average forty-year-old laughs four times a day. Why do you suppose that is? Does the world change as we grow older? Or do we change? What if the little ones have it right? What if being made in God’s image means we were made for joy? There is a time to weep. But there is also a time to laugh. For everything there is a season (Ecclesiastes 3:4). If we laughed more, maybe we would weep less. Jesus said, “unless you become like little children, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 18:3).
We can choose to become like little children. We can choose joy. And worship is a big part of that choice. We all worship something. Or someone. We can’t avoid it. Something or someone will be your god. It might be your money. It might be your job. It might be your appearance. It might be your reputation. It might be something you are addicted to. There are lots of gods out there, all competing for your devotion. But there is only on God. And God invites you at least once a week to show up here for worship. God is worth it. So are you.
There is more to that story about Mona Simpson and Steve Jobs, the sister and brother who didn’t find each other until they were adults. I’m guessing Mona got a very nice computer to replace her manual typewriter. But then her brother got cancer. Steve Jobs died at age 56. Mona Simpson spoke at his memorial service.
Steve Jobs of course was a genius. As is true with most geniuses, he was also a complicated and sometimes difficult person. He was not universally loved. He was driven in ways most of us cannot begin to understand. You might say that his god was his work. So, great as he was, the spiritual side of his life was maybe not so great.
His family was with him when he died, sister Mona included. Here is what she said at the memorial service:
At the very end, as his breathing was becoming labored, lying in that bed, his family was gathered around him. He looked at his sister, and he looked at his children, and he looked at his wife, and Steve Jobs, this amazing life, spoke one last time. He said, “Oh, wow! Oh, wow! Oh, wow!” Then, he died.
Why did he say that? What did he see? We cannot know for sure. But I’m pretty sure of this: The wonder and joy we have known in this life, great as it is, is like nothing compared to the wonder and joy waiting for us in the life to come. What do you say to that? How about, “Wow!”
God, you are so great! You are so good! You are so wonderful! Worship is not a choice for us. Not really. It is a necessity. We may not be there yet, God. We may be sleep walking through life, not fully tuned in to you and the glory of your creation. Wake us up. Give us that worshiping mindset. So we will know where we belong on Sunday morning. Where we will make your praise glorious. Where you will inhabit the praise of your people. Thank you, God. In Jesus’ name, Amen.