True worship (in part based on Matthew 6:9).
Here are 4 descriptions of worship we can find in the Church today:
1. 4 hymn sandwich, led by organ and choir, written order of service with corporate said prayers, gowns/ robes worn, strong emphasis on sermon
2. Informal, brackets of songs led by band, extempore prayer, relaxed message, power point
3. Café – cappuccinos, home-baking, jazz in background, poetry, DVD clips, interactive and discussion based
4. Choir, organ, candles, anthems, silence, built around the Eucharist, vestments, short homily.
And if we ask, which is true worship, the only answer we can give is, ‘it depends – all of them, none of them.’
According to one expert worship these days is meant to be characterized by these 6 ingredients: authenticity; community; the arts; abandonment of dogma; diversity and participation. But I think this describes not so much what worship is, as what contributes to its style.
When we talk about worship we usually regard it as something we do. Thus, ‘we go to church, we sing our psalms, songs and hymns to God, we intercede for the world, we listen to the sermon (sadly too often a mere exhortation), we offer our money, time and talents to God.’ And no doubt we need God’s grace to help us do all that. But look again at what is being done: the only priesthood is ours, the only offering is ours. In practice, this is UNITARIAN worship, with no sense of Christ’s sole priesthood, or him being our sole mediator. Previous generations would call this worship “Pelagian” or “Arian” – and they would be right. Too often, the modern Christian, stands up, does his/her thing, watches and hears someone else do his/her thing – after which we are encouraged to go from the meeting place and continue to do our thing, and we can go home, content that we have done our duty by both God and the leaders. But doing our thing soon pales, boredom grows, and other better things are found instead of going to church.
I want to suggest this morning that what makes for TRUE worship is this:
THE FATHER RECEIVES OUR WORSHIP; THE SON PERFECTS OUR WORSHIP; AND THE SPIRIT PROMPTS OUR WORSHIP.
No worship leader, pastor or band will ever bring us close to God. Worship itself cannot lead us into God’s presence. Only Jesus himself can bring us before the throne of God. God accepts and delights in our worship – not because it is good or well-rehearsed or sincere – but because our Lord Jesus Christ presents it to the Father in our place and on our behalf, and the Father is always pleased with his Son. We are accepted by God not because we have offered worthy worship (indeed that is not possible) – but in spite of our unworthiness because God has provided for us in Christ true worship, the Way, the Sacrifice, the Forerunner – he is our leader of worship and our representative.
You see, Jesus Christ is our worship leader. Hebrews 2:12 says, “In the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.” Jesus not only mediates our response of praise and worship – he participates in it. What a mystery! That Jesus Christ, who as God made flesh is worthy of all honour and adoration, should also as a man within the Trinity be a worshipper himself! As Calvin said, “Christ is the chief conductor of our hymns”. Hebrews 8:2 calls Christ a “minister in the holy places”. The Greek word used for ‘minister’ is ‘leitourgos’ – from which we get our word ‘liturgist’. He is our High Priest who leads his people in worship and any sacrifice of praise we offer is only through him (see Hebrews 13:15).
When Christ praises the Father, he leads the way for us. Because we are in union with him his worship is ours. We come before the Father, clothed in his righteousness, and he bears up our weak offerings and makes them one with his perfect worship. “The real agent of all true worship is Jesus Christ.” (JB Torrance) Christ is not an observer of our worship, but our worship leader.
Our Saviour, Jesus Christ, through his life, death, resurrection and ascension redeemed us. He delivered us from the powers of darkness and hell, and he raised us up to new life in the power of his Spirit. And all of that is reason enough for all eternity to sing his praises, to honour his worth, and to worship him – the God of all grace, who (astonishingly) has not treated us as our sins deserve.
He is our REPRESENTATIVE – filled with the Holy Spirit without limit; and he lives before the Father, in his holy presence, and there prays for us continually and there offers perfect worship on our behalf. As our Mediator, Jesus as both God and Man reconciles us to God. As our High Priest, Jesus offers to the Father the prayers that prevail (the prayers we ought to be praying if our sinfulness did not prevent and disqualify us) and he offers the true perfect worship that is the Father’s due.
And so (at last!) to the text...
“Our Father” proclaims our unity with Jesus Christ, our great High Priest. Only in Christ is God our Father – for Christ in his Person has opened up a new and living way to the Father. When we are born again, Christ unites himself with us – and God in Christ becomes our Father. The Father has adopted us. He is ours in an indissoluble bond of love. We are not homeless, alone, or adrift; we are not uncertain of who we are, why we are here, and where we belong and where we are going. O here are deep reasons enough to worship!
We are one in Spirit with the whole family of God in earth and heaven. We are one with all believers on earth and one with the redeemed in heaven – with saints and angels all around us. This adds both perspective and historicity to our worship. We are never those who worship by themselves. Every time we gather there is a whole company lining up behind us (so to speak), and we are part of a much greater whole (what is properly called the “Catholic” or “Universal” Church). Our worship is timeless and need not be married to the spirit of the Age – but transcends it at every level. Every time we celebrate together we are living out our citizenship as colonies of heaven.
“Our Father in heaven” – God is far greater, far more wonderful than any earthly being. These words speak of God’s Majesty, his Power and his Glory. He sees all things, knows all things, and holds all things in the hollow of his hands. When we worship we are coming close to the Trinity – of magnificent splendour, of dreadful aspect, of shining brilliance and of burning holiness. Worship is a proper response to the ineffable – the numinous before whom we are properly silent. The Lord is Almighty – and our worship has become too trivial, too cartoonish to take him seriously.
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name”. ‘To hallow’ means ‘to revere, to regard with the deepest reverence possible, to regard as holy.’ In our worship, when we look up into the face of God in Jesus Christ, when we are aware of the presence of God, when we remember his wisdom and majesty and grace, and when we see and are aware of the all-embracing redeeming love of God in Christ, we are moved by the Holy Spirit to cry out, “hallowed be your name”.
What happens then is that our worship becomes fuelled by a burning desire, a heartfelt deep yearning, that the whole world may know, honour and glorify Jesus Christ; that the whole world would bow in adoration and praise before God – for who he is and what he has done in Jesus Christ. There can never be an end to thinking about and thanking God for all he has done for us in Christ.
So we must always begin in worship when we come before God in prayer. We would do well to pause, to think of who God is, how he loves us; to think of all he has done for us and is doing for us in Christ; and how he longs
for the whole world to welcome him and receive him as Saviour. This is how we honour his name and hallow it.
So often today, the leader’s prayers and worship are crammed with his/her personality. It feels so difficult to get past him/her to worship God in the name of Christ by the power of the Spirit. Such an experience explains why folk go around saying, ‘that kind of worship is not my cup of tea’ or ‘that worship really stirs me up’. The worship is being built on the cult of personality not on what Christ has done, or is doing now.
Let me end with a quotation that says it much better. “The Church on earth lives and acts only as it is directed by its heavenly Lord, and only in such a way that HIS MINISTRY is reflected in the midst of its ministry and worship. Therefore from first to last the worship and ministry of the Church on earth must be governed by the fact that Christ substitutes himself in our place, and that our humanity with its own acts of worship is displaced by his; so that we appear before God not in our own name, not in our significance, not by virtue of our own acts of confession, contrition, worship and thanksgiving, but solely in the name of Christ and solely by virtue of what he has done in our name and on our behalf and in our stead.
“Justification by Christ alone means that from first to last in the worship of God and in the ministry of the Gospel, Christ himself is central, and we draw near in worship and service only through letting him take our place. He only is Priest. He only represents humanity. He only has an offering with which to appear before God and with which God is well- pleased. He only presents our prayers before God, and he only is our praise and thanksgiving and worship as we appear before the face of the Father. Nothing in our hands we bring – simply to his Cross we cling.” (TF Torrance)