John 4:1-26; Rev. 1:4b-8; 4:2-11
I hope you have been enjoying this series on Why Church Matters. And it is not by accident that I am ending this six-week series today focusing on worship – and why worship matters. Not an accident that I have selected Christ the King [weekend] [Sunday] to talk about worship.
Worship is so important that perhaps someone else doing a similar series might have put today’s message first. But I want to talk to you today about who it is that we worship – and why and where and how. But first let me say something about why we call today – Christ the King [weekend] [Sunday].
“It began in the 1800's, when the world's great empires – British, American, Spanish, French, German, Russian, and Japanese – were all at war or about to go to war somewhere.
“The Pope seeing the world torn by war wrote a letter in which he dedicated the world to Christ the King. He reminded these empires that God is present with all peoples, that he alone is king. The Pope's idea was eventually adapted to what we celebrate this day: Christ The King Sunday. This celebration at the end of the year is a reminder that Christ will return at the end of time as ruler over all creation.” SO let’s talk about worship today – especially important for us when we consider that Christ is indeed our Lord, our Savior and our King.
There is a wonderful song that we sing often on Saturday night. It’s called “The Heart of Worship.” Now there’s a story behind this song. “Matt Redmon, the man who wrote it is a worship leader in England. His pastor was trying to teach his church the real meaning of worship, and to show that worship is more than music. He did not allow any singing in their services for a period of time. Imagine me trying to get away with that here. But during this time of no singing, they learned to worship the Lord in other ways. That’s how this song came to be written.” Listen.
“I'm coming back to the heart of worship, And it's all about you, It's all about you, Jesus. I'm sorry, Lord, for the thing I've made it, When it's all about you,
It's all about you, Jesus.”
Worship is not about us. And although worship is something that I think needs to be done well – worship is not about how spiffy and polished the worship service is. On the other hand – when we worship together – and by the way – when we worship together here in this place – it’s called corporate worship – when we worship together – worship that is boring and irrelevant is going to drive people away. So worship needs to be engaging – done well – and speak to people’s hearts and minds.
Having said all that – the music – the singing – the Word – the Sacrament – the fellowship – these are the things that go on in worship. These are tools – tools that enable us to worship. And they do need to be done well. But they are only tools – they are expressions of worship – but they are not ends in themselves.
Now – in this passage we are looking at today, John 4, we find that Jesus is having a discussion with a Samaritan woman. This episode in the life of Jesus and his disciples is known as the story of “The Woman at the Well.” And one of the things they talk about is the subject of worship.
What we learn is that there is something that God actually desires from us. And that thing is worship. Listen to what Jesus says in verse 23:
“Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.”
First of all, notice who it is that we are to worship. We are to worship the Father – God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Father “seeks” true worshippers – those who worship the Father in Spirit and in truth. So worship is important because of who it is that we worship – but it is also important because that is what God desires from us.
Worship. Simply telling God how wonderful He is. Praising God with our voices – with our singing – with our music. Thanking God for all that He has done for us. For all that He has done and continues to do for us. For all the blessings and gifts we have because God has given them to us. This is why we worship. Because of who He is and for what He had done for us.
But again – those who would worship must worship in Spirit and in truth. You know what that tells me? First of all, Spirit. More than anything else – worship is a matter of the heart. It is a matter of attitude. It is something to be passionate about! I want to tell you – there are sometimes – when I am standing up here – sometimes I am just going through the motions. Not often – not often at all. Just sometimes. You know! It is so easy to say the words. Especially when we’ve memorized so much of the liturgy – the Creed – the Lords’ Prayer. Which is a good thing! But it’s so easy just to say the words – and not have those words come from the heart. I mean – come on. When we say the Lord’s Prayer – don’t you sometimes find yourself thinking about something else? Of course you do. Sometimes I do too.
So when Jesus tells us that God is looking for – seeking – people like you and me to worship Him – what He desires is that we worship Him in Spirit and in truth. So attitude – as it is in all aspects of our lives – but especially when it comes to our worship of the Lord – attitude – the attitude of the heart – is everything.
But Jesus also says here that we are to worship in truth. We are to worship the true God – the Father of our Lord – in truth. And we find that truth in the Word of God. And that’s why our Scripture readings are so important. That’s why every worship service has one or more readings from God’s Word. Because as worshippers of the true God – we need to hear – we need to learn the truth about who God is – how God has revealed Himself to us – and we can find that truth only in the Word of God. We need to be very careful not to worship any old god we want. And we must not worship God as we imagine Him to be – or who we want Him to be. No. We need to worship God for who God is – for how God has revealed Himself to us. In Spirit AND in truth.
Therefore – when we gather every week to worship – we need to come prepared. Ready for worship. I know that’s hard when the kiddos are giving you a hard time on a Sunday morning or a Saturday evening. I can remember a time when I would rather stay at home and watch cartoons. But Nancy told me, “You’re the pastor. You have to go to church.” But really – when I was a boy I remember when I would rather stay home on a Sunday morning to watch cartoons. I never did win that battle. Or maybe your mind’s on something else that might be going on in your life right now. And I know what I’m about to say is not always easy to do – but when we come here to worship – and we need to work really hard sometimes – but for just one hour – to set aside those things – clear our hearts – clear our minds – of all those distractions from the past week – so that our attitude can be in the right place. So that we CAN worship God in Spirit and in truth.
And by the way – one of the neat things about the way Lutherans worship is that we start out each worship service with confession. I like hearing – even if I’m the one saying the words – I like hearing that my sins – that your sins – are forgiven. And when our sins are forgiven – they are gone. And because they are gone we can be bold to enter into the presence of God with clean hands and a pure heart and offer to God our worship and praise. So we need to be ready.
Now, the next thing I want you to see is that you can worship God anywhere. I know that that probably sounds shocking to you that I should say that – especially when we’ve been talking about why church matters these past six weeks. You would think that I would say that because church matters – that this is the place where we must come together to worship God together. But when Jesus and the Samaritan woman talk about where worship must take place – what we learn from Jesus is that the place is not important.
However – you knew there would be a however, right? –however – since church matters – and since this is God’s church – and since God desires that His people meet together – well then – it only seems right that God’s people meet together to worship Him – as our first priority. If your desire is to truly worship God – then it seems to me right and good to meet together with other people who have the same desire to worship God.
So when it comes to worship – what do we know?
1. Worship is focused – it is centered on God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
2. Worship is what God desires from us.
3. Why Worship? Because of who God is, and for what God has done for us.
4. God isn’t looking for church goers. He is looking for worshipers – people who worship in Spirit and in truth. In other words – it matters where our hearts are at. The truth of God’s Word matters.
5. You can worship God anywhere, anytime – as we should! BUT the coming together of God’s people to worship God corporately – that is what God desires from us.
Archbishop William Temple gave us one of the most beautiful definitions of worship you will ever come across. Listen to what he had to say:
“Worship is the submission of all of our nature to God. [So it’s not just something we do for an hour on the weekend.] It is the quickening of conscience by the holiness of God, the nourishment of the mind by the truth of God, the purifying of the imagination by the beauty of God, the opening of the heart to the love of God, and the submission of the will to the purpose of God.”
And as James Merritt says: “Worship is the honor and the praise and the glory of God Himself.” And that my friends – that is why worship matters. That is why church matters. Amen