This Sunday I am speaking on worship--a subject which is incredibly vast. What can a person say in one lesson that could possibly do justice to the subject?
As a sort of over view, I am speaking on Worship - Entering into God's Story. Worship in English comes from the idea of ascribing worth to something. It is very easy, however, to over emphasize what we do in worship--our "acts of worship"--as opposed to the one whom we are worshiping--who he is, what he has done, what he is doing, and what he will do. When we worship God, we enter into this story of God, and through this also make meaning and sense of our lives, others' lives, and the world.
This story, and thus worship, can be looked at by dividing the biblical story into five sections--creation, the patriarchs, the law, Jesus, and the end of time.
- Worship and Creation.
The creation was an incredible act. In this act and account in Genesis, we see all of the things which God does (and who he is) that is worthy of praise. He creates, he speaks, he brings order out of chaos, he makes humanity out of love and in his image, and he gives them great gifts. Before sin entered into the world, there were no "acts of worship." No rituals. No sacrifices. Not even prayers or songs. Instead, Adam and Eve simply walked and talked with God. Adam worked the Garden. They worshiped God by living with him in community and fulfilling the purpose of their lives--enjoying one another, working the Garden, and ruling with God over the earth.
It is only after sin entered into the world that sacrifices--specific or ritualistic acts--begin to be offered. When God gave Adam and Eve animal skins as they left the Garden and went into the world, the first sacrifice was offered.It was as if God was showing Adam and Eve how to sacrifice. Cain and Abel offered sacrifices (and Cain killed his brother over this), Noah offered a sacrifice after the flood. The biblical narrative paints the picture that ritualistic worship was needed as a result of sin, which produced the break in the relationship with God.
- Worship and the Patriarchs.
The ritualistic worship that began with Abel continued with Job, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Job, who may have pre-dated the other patriarchs, offered a sacrifice each morning for his children, just in case they had sinned. Abraham offered up sacrifices throughout his journey to the land that God showed him, and offered up a sacrificial meal to the three strangers that appeared to him. He was called to sacrifice his son, though the angel stayed his hand.
Isaac offered up a blessing to his sons, invoking God's name, though he was tricked by Jacob. Jacob fled for his life, had a dream, and set up a pillar commemorating that God encounter and vowed that day to give God a tenth of all that God would bless him with.
- Worship and the Law.
Worship under the Mosaic law focused around the second defining act of God (after creation)--the Exodus. The giving of the Ten Commandments showed that God central concern was the restoration of relationships with God and people. (The first four commandments focus on God, the last six commandments focus on people.)
All of the rest of the many, many commands of the Mosaic law--which include seemingly random and mundane things like what fabrics can go together, clean and unclean animals, various sacrifices, civil law, etc.--do two things: 1) expand upon the ten commandments; and 2) help the Israelites to see that all of their lives ought to relate back to God, including even what clothes to wear or what to eat.
Israel, unfortunately, utterly failed in following the Law, resulting in the destruction of Israel and the carrying of the Jews into Babylonian captivity. There in a foreign land they discovered their dependence upon God. God also showed his faithfulness, acting in powerful and surprising ways, with the result that even the kings of Babylon and the Medes and Persians worshiped the God of heaven.
While in exile, the prophets spoke of a Messiah who would come and how God would give his people a new heart and new Spirit to actually follow and keep God's laws. The temple was rebuilt and the Jews returned to Jerusalem, but these promises were as of yet unfulfilled.
- Worship and Jesus
Jesus came into the world, and his arrival was marked with the praise of angels in heaven and men and women on earth. He spent time in the temple as a child, calling it his "Father's house." He announced the beginning of his ministry in synagogue in Capernaeum, in which he read from the great Isaiah scroll. While he often taught in the synagogue and attended various Jewish feasts, he seemed to spend most of his time amongst the people. He told the woman at the well that a time was coming when God's people would worship in spirit and truth.
Worship would be centered in a person, Christ, through the Spirit, and would not be limited to special locations. Jesus then began his trek to the temple, the house of worship that had become a marketplace, where he confronted the religious leaders. He was crucified, and upon his death, the temple current tore, symbolizing that access to God no longer required a priest or animal sacrifice, for Jesus is our high priest and the sacrifice for our sins.
The emphasis upon Christ-centered, spiritual worship continues throughout the New Testament, as Paul says that giving up our bodies as a living sacrifices is our daily worship to God. In fact, in the NT, most all of the sacrificial language of the OT is applied to daily living. The NT assemblies for worship were simple and surprisingly rarely spoken of, with no systematic laying out of worship acts as in the detailed worship texts of the OT. The difference between the two is striking.
- Worship and the End of Time
Christ will return some day, and the book of Revelation describes the world that will be upon his return. Worship at the end of time centers around the worship of God and the lamb (Jesus). The Lord's Supper is replaced with the messianic banquet. There is singing or chanting, with people of every race and tribe gathered around the throne of God and the lamb, each praising God in its own language and tongue. It is thus multi-ethnic and multicultural, a mosaic of a transformed, spirit-infused people who praise God. No rituals are needed to draw near to God, for the separation that was caused by sin in the Garden is gone. God's people now live in worshipful community with God and each other, serving God day and night.
This is the Christian story. It is the story that we tell over and over again in worship, and it is this story that gives hope and meaning to our lives.
What do you think of this "story" of worship? Does this cover the major themes of worship throughout the Bible? What would you add or take away in telling this story? With this story in mind, how can we be better worshipers of God?