October 17, 2021
• Rev. Dr. Jevon Caldwell-Gross
Worship is one of the most underutilized and often misunderstood disciplines of our Christian journey. It’s actually the things that has gotten me into trouble at every congregation I’ve served as the solo or lead pastor. It’s been the source of the biggest arguments. Not money! Not mission! Not bringing people closer to Jesus Christ... But Worship. In fact, in the first congregation, I changed the order of worship because the congregation had been in decline prior to my arrival. It was pretty clear that the values of our worship didn’t really fit the values of our community. So we made some shifts and saw some immediate results. I remember one Sunday when we had a noticeable number of adult baptisms for one service. These were people making a confession of faith for the first time. It was the talk of church gossip. Now I was on a spiritual high that Monday morning …...until I got a letter slid under my office door from the chair of the outreach ministry. She applauded what happened in worship, but noticed there were a few things missing. They even notified the DS! She couldn’t see the fruit, because it wasn’t in particular form. She didn’t use these words, but the letter really revealed her understanding of worship. This is where I think so many of us have totally err in our understanding as well.
We have spent so much time talking about how to worship, what happens in worship, where we worship, what time we worship, and have forgotten “who we worship.”
Our Psalm today gives us insight when we are clear about “The Who.” Psalm 122 is actually a part of a larger section in the Psalms called “The Songs of Ascent.” It includes Psalms 120 through 134. It’s believed that these particular Psalms were sang by the Jewish pilgrims as they were making their way to Jerusalem during the annual feasts. Thousands of people would make this journey even if they lived hundreds of miles away.
Because Jerusalem was a city set in a hill, worship was literally and uphill journey. And the presence of others was a reminder to them that they didn’t have to make this journey by themselves. There are a lot of things we are called to do by ourselves, but faith is not one of them…. It’s right there in the text! This is not an individual pursuit for God, but an acknowledgement that is for the tribes, this is where the tribes go up. The Pslamlist writes, I was glad when said to “us”....To whom? Let that be a reminder to someone here today you are not by yourself. You have a tribe. We were never designed to carry all of our burdens, all of our questions, all of our decisions, all of our child-rearing, all of our journey by yourselves. Faith is not just acknowledgment of a God that is real, but a tribe that is present to journey with us even on the uphill battles. It’s the value and gift of corporate worship.
Which is why I stand by first statement, that Worship is one of the most underutilized and often misunderstood disciplines of our Christian journey. So today I want to look at the role of corporate worship from the perspective of three questions.
1. What is worship and Why does it matter?
2. What do we experience when we worship.
3. What happens when we don’t.
What is Worsihp and Why does it matter? (slide)
Let me ask this question, “why do you come to worship?” Choir? Spouse? Fuel for the week? Impress someone your dating? Now there is no right or wrong answer.
But here’s the fundamental difficulty with this line of thinking. This places us at the center of worship. We become the audience. But as a starting point, let me say this. Our corporate gathering is not about you or me. Worship is not about me. (slide) It’s not about any one person in this room. The goal is worship is not to please you! Why? Because we are not the audience.
We live in such a consumer driven culture that we subconsciously view much of what receive but how it affects us or what it can do for us. Just about every area of our lives is geared around the consumer or the costumer. But worship is not something we consume. Worship should actually consume us.
We see a great example of this in the life of Jesus. Jesus had been invited to be a guest in the home of one of the Pharisees. But a sinful woman heard about where he was. She interrupted their meal and when she saw Jesus, she burst into tears. What she had was never going to be enough, but she simply brought what she could. Started wiping his feet with her with her hair. All of this is going in at somebody elses house! At somebody elses meal! She pours this expensive perform on his feet. Its all she has... Audience became upset. Could’ve used that buy something else. If he was really a prophet he would have known where those lips and dirty hair had been. But what they didn’t understand was they weren't the audience. She wasn’t trying to please them. She was trying to please an audience of 1
She shows us the true definition of worship. Worship is an expression of our love for God made public. (Slide)Worship is the outward expression of the inward beliefs and emotions that we have about the character and nature of God. (Replace this one with one before it). At its core, worship is a response. It’s not an expression of our desperation. It’s not because we want something from God. It’s not because we need something from God. But true worship is the outward expression or the response to who God is. Can you imagine being in a relationship with someone and never expressing how you feel? How many of you would want to work for a job or company that never expressed their appreciation for your work?
AND HERE IS WHY ITS IMPORTANT? Worship should be important to every single believer, because it was and is important to God. Worship should matter to us because it matters to God. (slide) Never. They were Egypt. God said let my people God so they can worship me! When they were in the wilderness, Gods tells them to build a mobile tent so that could have an opportunity to worship. It mattered so much to God….When they were in the promised land, God made them build a an elaborate temple, so they could worship. When they were exiles and had their temples, they had to learn how to worship in a strangle land. When they were delivered from that and allowed to return, God said before you start rebuilding you fancy homes, rebuild my temple, so you can worship. Even when Jesus comes around, God changes it up again, now you don’t need a priest, a burnt sacfrice, now you have direct access to worship me. Now the temple inside of you!
What we find is that there method and understand of worship often varied, but they were constantly trying to redefine worship and reimagine worship in their context. That’s why today is really no different. There has never been a time in the lives of Gods people where God did want create an opportunity to worship.
What do we experience when we worship? (slide)
When God’s people would gather together in corporate worship; God would meet them. God would be respond to their gathering by showing up. You find several scriptures that remind us that God would “fill the temple.” Psalm 22 explicitly reminds us that God inhabits or dwells in the praises of God’s people. here’s the logical question, “What happens when we worship?” Remember our definition. As the people are ascending to Jerusalem, there central hope was that would meet God. And they were willing to travel hundreds of miles just to be in the presence of God.
There was one preacher’s interpretation that left a lasting impression on me and many others. He was the Rev. Dr. Gardner C. Taylor, the former Pastor of Concord Baptist Church in Brooklyn, NY. He pastored the church for 4 decades….Coming out of Seminary I served at a Church with his successor, who has now been there for almost 30 years. Now Gardner C. Taylor was a world-renowned preacher at the height of his ministry. Ive never met him personally, but I’ve listened to some of his sermons and read some of his books and he just a way with words. People would come from all over just to experience this moment in worship. The sanctuary sat over 3 thousand people and some have said that if you didn’t get to church early, then you were not going to get a seat. In fact, here’s a picture. (show picture) Do you see the pulpit? Its so small isn’t it?! You can barely see it! That was the point. When they rebuilt the church after a fire, they intentional built the ceilings really high. This world renowned preacher talked about in that moment when he would get into the pulpit with three thousand people watching and listening, just how small he felt under the height of God. Not just for him, but for the many people who journeyed there every Sunday were reminded how big God was compared to them and what they were going through. Now it becomes this habit or being reminded of who God is. It is a constant reordering of our lives. Worship then becomes not just our expression of Love, but Gods as well.
Its in that moment that worship itself becomes an act of grace. We experience the unearned favor of knowing that God has graciously decided to be in our presence. In that moment, we experience a God that is so big desiring to have an intimate moment with us in our smallness. Its not just our decision to connect with God, but it’s a reminder that the creator and designer of the Universe what’s to meet with us. And this intimacy is not predicated on our perfection. Regardless of what we’ve done, God doesn’t shrink to the level of faithfulness. God shows up in all Gods “bigness”. When we fall short, God shows up. Fail, still shows up. Bad choirs. Bad preaching. Somtimey people.......We still experience the Love of God. You are enough for God to keep showing up. You’d don’t have to come as anybody else.
And that’s when the Psalm to a turned for me. There’s a small note at the beginning that suggests may have been the writer. Makes complete sense now, why he (especially) would be glad to go into the house of the Lord. Remember David was the one that was almost looked over when they came looking for a King! Remember David was the one that had to rely on his faith to defeat the Giants in his life. David was the one that was called to play a harp when he knew was appointed to be the next King. David was the one that to run to save his life. David was the one that to start off learning how to lead the people nobody wanted. David was the same one that had known moral failures. He could run a King, but not his household. That’s why you can never judge someone’s expression of worship. Because you don’t know their story. You don’t know what they’ve ben through. You don’t know what they had to go through just to make to a place where they could in the presence of the Lord. Because we are not their audience!
Something happens when we don’t.
When we don’t develop the habit of worshipping together, we miss out on the opportunity to publicly express our love for God. When we haven't developed the habit of corporate worship, we don’t experience the grace that is offered to us. When we don’t develop the habit of worshipping together, we will redirect our worship to something or something else. In the absence of the habit is redirected worship. (slide) Its when something else get our attention. Something else get our devotion. Something else get the best of us. Not because we didn’t have it in us, but because it got redirected. Can I prove it?!?!?
In Exodus 32, the people have been traveling in the wilderness for quite some time and it was their custom for Moses to go up on the mountain and…But this time, it was taking too long. As time passed, they got impatient. But remember, we have to worship something. If its not God we will replace it with someone or something. So guess what they did, they made something to worship. Out in the middle of the wilderness, they literally made up something to worship...anything to worship. Sometime had to fill that void. They took all their jewerly and made a Golden Calf. They needed something to worship. We are created to worship. It just takes a life time to figure out what things are actually worthy of our devotion.
Maybe its not made out of Jewelry, but all of us at some point in our lives have constructed our idols to worship. They weren’t made out of Gold, but it was the thing that had our time. It had our attention. It became our priority. We were devoted to it. We were committed to it. We would give anything for it! Maybe it was a Golden Image of the life we thought we should be living. Maybe we constructed an image of ourselves. Maybe the idol was the job that we thought was going to give us purpose. God was always trying to vie for people’s attention. Thats why whenever they would move to a new city, God would remind, “Make sure you destroy all the idols.” Take out all of the images. Because it doesn’t take much to redirect our worship.
Remember the commandments. What’s the very first thing God tells them to do. You shall have no other Gods before me. You shall not make yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You hall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God, am a jealous God..” (exodus 20: 3-4a). Out of all the thing the Lord wants from us..Believe it or not, its not our money. Its not our admiration. Its not our fear. Its our heart. Worship is the one of the few things that we have to give to God….No one else is worthy of that which we have to give to God. No one is worthy of the that devotion. Nothing is worthy of that time.
Let me say this, its hard getting into the habit, but easy to get out of it. Let me talk to someone who has fallen out of the habit, chose one thing that will help you stay connected. If its watching online and joining in on the chat, getting into a short term class, subscribe to the podcast, like a youtube channel. They are all different forms of engagement, but just commit to some form of engagement that keeps you connected. People have always had to redefine and reimagine the worship community and today is no different.
But when we fall out of the habit we will eventually choose something else to worship. But remember worship is about Love. And love is a choice. Worship is getting into the habit of choosing God over and over and again. So much that it becomes our Worship becomes a lifestyle. And our lives become a living reflection of our love for God. Not because of how we feel about the church. Not because of how we feel about the preacher. Not even because of what we have and what we don’t. But simply because of who God is. Simply because God is worthy of our worship. Worship could have packed room and thousand of people who have logged for all different kind of reason, but the reality is that its still for an audience of 1.