2009-09-27 (am) Mark 2:18-22 New1
I almost completely changed our worship service this morning. How much of what we do is real? How engaged are we in worship? Do you focus on the words of the prayers? Do you focus on the words of the call to worship? Do you pay attention to the lyrics in the songs?
This is hard to do. It is easy for other things to distract us. Even now, some of you might be thinking of your work week. You might be thinking about the weather and how it will affect the harvests. You might be thinking of midterms. You might be thinking of things you’d rather be doing. You might be thinking, “When are the new padded pews going to be ordered!”
Or you might be thinking, “Why didn’t we sing more hymns this morning?” Why doesn’t this worship service have more spontaneity? Why do we do things in such a regimented order? Why does the sermon come so late in the service? Why aren’t we more like other churches? Why are we so similar to other churches?”
When we ask questions like this, we are asking questions like the Pharisees. Now, we’re so used to disparaging them that we might miss the intention of the meaning of their question in our passage.
The Pharisees and John’s disciples practised fasting. The Old Testament law taught the Israelites to fast one day per year, on the Day of Atonement. That was the maximum required. There were many other fast days observed as well, during times of difficulty, of spiritual renewal, of individuals fasting. But God did not require these, but rather were expressions made by God’s people.
Now, what often happens is this. During a time of spiritual renewal, someone does something and it has a huge impact. For example, during the great awakening, during the time of huge revival in the early United States, preachers would travel all over and draw huge crowds. Such was their passion, that Christ transformed people.
But Rather than focussing on the work of the Holy Spirit in people’s lives, other preachers tried to copy the methodology and produce the same results.
We still do this today. Mega churches like Saddleback or Willow Creek have huge success, so others try to copy them and do what they are doing. They go to conferences. They learn all about the five purposes of a purpose driven church. They run workshops and have meetings. They follow a formula and try to recreate the same results in their own churches. Sometimes the Spirit is inclined to bless them, other times He is not so inclined.
What the Pharisees were saying to Jesus is this, “We have this practise. John’s disciples have this practise also. Why don’t you? Why are you being blessed in your ministry when you’re not doing what we do?”
Like the questions I began this sermon with, these questions are worth asking. Why do we do the things we do? Do we do things without even thinking of the meaning or the intent behind them? When we come to church, where is our focus?
Let me ask you, seriously, what did you think of the songs this morning? Did you do a count to find out that there six Hallelujah songs and only one from the hymnal? And if you did, were you upset that there were so many from the Hallelujah book and so few from the Hymnal, or were you happy there were so many from the Hallelujah and so few from the Hymnal?
Now let me ask this question, who is the focus of that attitude? I’m not saying one attitude is more right than another is. I’m actually saying that they are both wrong. Does it really matter if I am able to sing my favourite songs or my favourite kind of song? Isn’t it about having a heart for worship, a heart focussed on God, a heart so in awe of Him that I will do everything I can, sing for all I’m worth, concentrate on the lyrics, focus on singing to the best of my ability for God’s praise alone. If I’m focussed on God, what does it matter what my preferences are? As long as God is glorified, my feelings are secondary.
We are not the reason we come to church. God is the reason. We come not to sing our favourite songs, not to hang out with our friends, but rather, to visit with God as Christ’s body. There is a communion among us and God, and among ourselves that you cannot get through a television, that you can’t get from listening to a sermon via an iPod, that you can’t get even from being home as a family.
What happens in a worship service is we say prayers together that are witnessed together. We sing songs to God, and to one another. When we sing words like, “Here I am, Lord” we’re putting our lives up for God to use, just as he used the prophet Isaiah. We’re sacrificing ourselves as God commands us to do in Romans 12. And we say so in front of one another with the expectation of being held accountable to one another.
But well do we do that? Let’s take last Sunday as an example. We sang a song called “Take Time to Be Holy”. In addition to that song, I encouraged everyone to meet with God by coming to the second worship service. No one new came! I was here, God was here, and the people who usually come were here. But the rest of you were not here. Some, I know, have a very hard time making it because of other responsibilities.
No one talked to me during the week. No one told me about different ways in which he or she was able to grow in their relationship with God. What I did hear, through the grapevine was this. “Boy he sure wants us to come to the second service, doesn’t he?”
It’s not about me! I don’t give a rip what you do! But God does! He was here! He was willing and ready to meet with you; he had a message prepared for you, through his servant. But you declined to come. You chose to do something else. I don’t know what justifications you came up with for not coming. Again, I encourage you to examine them. Really, examine them to see if they truly are justifiable, or if the reason isn’t just selfishness. Be honest with yourself. Then act on it.
Jesus isn’t putting an onerous burden upon us. We have cars with cruise control, climate control, garages we can park in, abundance of funds to pay for gas. It really isn’t much of a sacrifice, is it? So why not come?
And what will you say to each other after this service is over? Will you say, there he goes again, bringing up the second service. Why couldn’t we just have left it cancelled? Why does he hold it over us like a big stick? Can’t he see that some of the people who go twice use it to lord themselves over us who only go once? Can’t he see that our lives are so busy we don’t have time to spend with family and go to church twice?
Isn’t there other things that are more important for us to focus on? Why isn’t he encouraging us to do other things? Why does he keep on talking about the second service?
This is my answer. Worship. If we are not here to worship God, then what are we doing? What you do affects me, affects all of us gathered here. We are a community. We are a body, together. If one suffers, we all suffer. If one is absent, we all notice. Honestly, it is discouraging for those of us here when we look around and most of the seats are empty. It begs the question, “What’s the point?” Are we just spinning our wheels?
Or is it indicative of our age? People worship everything alongside of God. We want to follow Christ as long as it doesn’t cost us anything. We want to have Jesus, but we don’t want to talk about the cross or sin, or anything dirty and disgusting. We don’t want to be challenged in our thinking, and heaven forbid if the preacher should dare say that our attitudes our actions are wrong.
Why is this important? Two reasons. If we can’t do something as show faithfulness in a simple thing like driving back here for a second opportunity to learn from God, how will he entrust us with greater responsibility?
The second and most important is that God has made us new. Christ has transformed us by His Spirit! We’re like new wine, we’re like new cloth. If we try to force our new lives into our old ways of doing things, we’ll burst. That is to say, if we try to live a selfish life we’ll run into all kinds of trouble.
Christ has given us new lives that are God oriented. Where the Israelites failed to be a holy nation, that is a nation set apart, we’re able to live holy lives. We’re able to be set apart from the rest of society. We’re able to live such good lives that though people might mock and disparage us in this life, they’ll end up giving honour and glory to God.
The problem isn’t worship attendance. It is the attitude. I have the right to do what I want. I have the freedom to do what I want. I don’t have to do what the pastor tells me. I don’t have to do what the church expects of me. Those are just man made things, that’s just an idea some dude came up with. I don’t have to fast because I have everything I need in Christ.
You’re right. You’re absolutely right. You have everything in Christ. You’re new. You’re able to be like Christ. Jesus gave up everything. All his rights. He gave up all his adoration, the glory and the honour poured upon him from the angels, and the heavenly creatures.
Jesus came to earth to live a life of perfect submission. He was humble. He was obedient. He was beaten, he was whipped, he was mocked, and he was rejected. He wasn’t able to do just whatever he wanted. When he wanted to be alone, people followed him. When he wanted some space to just hang out with his disciples, people crowded around, demanding to be healed. With compassion, Christ laid aside his desires and he served.
Come out to the second service. Even if you’ve heard everything you can possibly learn from me, come out anyway. Come out to be the body of Christ. Come out to be a blessing to others. Come out to be encouraging to another person, maybe in such simple a way as saying, “Have a good week.”
Still, maybe you’re sitting there thinking, “He’s still on this whole second service thing.” After the service, we’re going to hear about a ministry to Muslims. We’re going to hear about sacrifice. We’re going to hear about prayer, we’re going to hear about passionate service.
As you listen, ask yourself how God is leading you. What sacrifices is he calling you to make? Believe me, even something as simple as coming to a second service demands a sacrifice.
For example, let’s say that a typical family has at least one parent who works full time. Children are at school, and if out of town, children are on the bus for an hour at least. Then there are meals to try to eat together. Then there are extra-curricular activities. There are sports, boys and girls clubs, 4-h, catechism (soon) and other things.
So, time together during the week is kept to a minimum. Then you have Saturday, there are chores to do, work to do often. So that leaves Sunday. You go to church in the morning, and then you spend the afternoon together. You don’t feel like driving back to church, so you stay at home and you do things as a family. Sounds good and reasonable, doesn’t it?
The only problem is, you’re elevating family over time with God and God’s people. In order to honour your time with God, you’ll have to sacrifice something else. Maybe it means getting less work done on Saturdays, and going to the pool as a family. Maybe it is being less active in extra-curricular activities. Maybe it is something else.