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DECLARING GOD’S WORTH (Views from the Abbey 12)

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A man dreamed that he was escorted into a church by an angel one Sunday morning. There was something strange about the Service. The organist moved her fingers over the keys but no music came forth. The congregation sang and their lips moved but not a sound was heard. Other phases of the Service were routinely carried out but silence prevailed. ‘What does this mean?’ asked the dreamer. The angel replied, ‘You hear nothing because you see this Service just as God sees it. The people are not putting their hearts into their worship – only their lips – and God hears nothing!’ Jesus said, of the empty worship of the scribes and pharisees, ‘These people make a big show of saying the right thing, but their heart isn’t in it. They act like they’re worshiping me, but they don’t mean it’ (Matthew 15:8, The Message).

The root of our present-day English word for worship comes from the Anglo-Saxon weorth meaning ‘worth’ thus weorthscipe meant ‘declaring the worth of something or someone’, in this case declaring God’s worth. This is what the elders around God’s throne in Heaven model for us as they cry out, ‘Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and praise … To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honour and glory and power, for ever and ever!’ (Revelation 5:6-13). When we worship we not only lift God up, we affirm God as being in the highest place of all. We act in a way that is appropriate toward someone of infinite worth. As Psalmist says, ‘Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name … worship the Lord in the splendour of his holiness’ (Psalm 96:8,9).

Worship, of course, does not begin when we come together for a Worship Service in Church on a Sunday, but rather begins in the human heart long before we even set out for church. As Paul tells us in that pivotal passage in his Letter to the Roman Church, when he moves on from doctrinal truth to practical Christian living, ‘Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship’ (Romans 12:1,2).

Of course there is much more to ‘worship’ than simply attending Worship Services – it is as much about declaring God’s worth by the way we live as by the way we act in a Worship Service. To be one thing in a Worship Service and another thing in our daily life is anathema to God as he himself makes clear through the Prophet Amos: ‘I can’t stand your religious meetings. I’m fed up with your conferences and conventions. I want nothing to do with your religion projects, your pretentious slogans and goals. I’m sick of your fund-raising schemes, your public relations and image making. I’ve had all I can take of your noisy ego-music. When was the last time you sang to me? Do you know what I want? I want justice – oceans of it. I want fairness – rivers of it. That’s what I want. That’s all I want!’ (Amos 5:21-24). The Message). Worship is as much about lifestyle as anything else. The particular point I am trying to make here, however, is that worship – whether lifestyle, or personal or corporate praise – has to come right from the heart.

When it comes to corporate worship (and this may be indicative of a deeper problem for some) all too often on a Sunday morning I have stood up to lead worship and looked out at a congregation that reminded me of an old car I once owned that took 15 minutes to warm up before I could go anywhere. We need to come to church ready and prepared for corporate worship because we have already begun the day in personal worship, not take the first 15 minutes of the Service to get warmed up for worship.

As the late Donald Bridge said many years ago now (and it is still relevant for today), “The church that does not know how to worship is failing in the most fundamental feature of its calling. From the earliest time we find in Scripture believing men and women, unsophisticated by our standards, erecting altars, and worshipping God ‘in spirit and in truth’ (John 4:24). Let the Bible fall open at its centre and we find a book almost entirely devoted to the worship of God. The Psalmist pours out his whole being in adoration and gratitude to God, standing, kneeling, lying on his face, lifting up his hands, clapping, making use of a score of musical instruments, employing poetry and prose, constantly urging others to join him in this holy, happy exercise. Behind the Psalmist is a brilliant kaleidoscope of Old Testament worship with its sacrifices, symbols, vestments, music, and incense. The New Testament reveals those early Christians engaged in worship of a much simpler, freer kind as they met together to enjoy fellowship, to break bread, to learn from the apostles’ teaching, and to pour out their hearts in prayer (Acts 2:42-47). In the Bible’s final book we see that a throne sways the universe, and at the centre is One who is worshipped by heavenly beings and earthly multitudes, all crying out in praise: ‘Hallelujah for the Lord our God the Almighty, reigns!’ (Revelation 19:6).”

Old Ethel was a materially poor but spiritually rich Christian, who possessed little of this world’s goods but who was very enthusiastic in her commitment to, and worship of, God! A life-long Anglican-Christian Old Ethel was not – how shall I put this – hesitant about responding audibly during worship on a Sunday by shouting out ‘Praise the Lord’ or ‘Glory to God’ during the Vicar’s prayers or sermon (not just during the responses) whenever she heard something that exalted the Lord. Old Ethel was much loved by the congregation, who accepted her for who she was and, truth be told, often felt quite challenged by her enthusiasm for God.

Now, the Bishop was coming to visit for a special Service, and the Vicar was overly concerned that Old Ethel’s predilection to shouting out in a Service – albeit in praise of God – would offend the Bishop. Knowing that Old Ethel was materially poor, and desperately in need of new blankets for her bed, the Vicar decided to bribe her to restrain herself during the Bishop’s visit by offering to buy her some new blankets if she promised to keep quiet during the Bishop’s visit and not shout out. Thinking that the Bishop would be rather waffly, and that she probably would not find much to praise the Lord for during his visit, Old Ethel agreed. During the Service (led by the Vicar) she kept noticeably quiet but when it came to the Bishop’s sermon, to her surprise and delight, she discovered that he was a really good preacher and his sermon was wonderfully Christ-centred and God-glorifying.

Old Ethel tried desperately hard to keep quiet but the sermon was so good, so full of God, so full of Jesus, that eventually she could restrain herself no longer. Jumping up out of her seat she shouted out at the top of her voice, ‘Blankets or no blankets … Praise the Lord!’

Worthy, O worthy are you, Lord,
worthy to be thanked and praised
and worshipped and adored.

Worthy, O worthy are you, Lord,
worthy to be thanked and praised
and worshipped and adored.

Singing, Hallelujah, Lamb upon the throne,
we worship and adore you, make your glory known.
Hallelujah, glory to the King:
you’re more than a conqueror,
you’re Lord of everything.

~ Mark Kinzer

~ Jim Binney

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