This week in worship, Pastor Doug will continue our worship series, “Tools to Build Your Spiritual Life” sharing the second of the Corporate Disciplines: Worship. Can you remember an experience of worship that impacted you in a significant way? Where were you? What made it special?

Thank you for worshiping with us.

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The first video below is JUST THE SERMON.
If you would like to watch the entire service, scroll down a little more.

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The video below is the WHOLE SERVICE.

The Focus of Worship

Psalm 122:1 proclaims, “I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord!”

That’s how I feel today, and I hope that’s how you feel when you worship with us.

What do you think of when you hear the word, “worship”?

Do you think of singing and music, prayer and scripture and a message?

Do you think of a particular place or time?

Do you envision yourself with other people or alone?

It’s exciting for some of us to be worshiping here at Brewster Baptist Church while at the same time being blessed knowing that there are many more of you participating online.

The sense that some of us are worshiping in one place and at the same time we’re part of a much larger group of worshipers is true in several ways, for us as a congregation in person and online, here on earth as people worship God all around the world in many countries and cultures, and in heaven where more people than we can imagine are sharing in worship at this very moment. 

For the last two months in our worship services, we’ve been talking about spiritual disciplines as Tools to Build Our Spiritual Life.

We’ve looked at the inward disciplines of meditation, prayer, fasting and study, and the outward disciplines of simplicity, solitude, submission, and service.

Last week we began the corporate disciplines, ones we do with other people, and shared about confession.

Today our theme is the discipline of worship.

Can you remember an experience of worship that impacted you in a significant way? Where were you? What made it special? Our tool for today is a ladder because one of the things worshiping does is lift our attention higher as we focus on God and it takes us to places we can’t reach on our own.

God Exalting Worship is a priority in the Bible.

We began the service with the words of Psalm 84, “How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God.”

In the Psalms we’re reminded again and again that worship engages our mind, emotions, spirit, and body.

We read in the Psalms of shouting, clapping, and praising God aloud in the congregation (Psalm 47:1); rejoicing and expressing thanksgiving (Psalm 100:1,4); being silent before the Lord (Psalm 46:10) and bowing down or kneeling in worship (Psalm 95:6). Lifting our heads and eyes (Psalm 3:3), waving our hands in praise (Psalm 63:4), playing instruments (Psalms 33:2, 92:3, 98:6, 144:9, 150:4-5) and even dancing before the Lord (Psalms 30:11, 149:3, 150:4).

C.S. Lewis said, “The most valuable thing the Psalms do for me is to express the same delight in God which made David dance.”

One time my sister Suzanne and I went to hear the Boston Symphony Orchestra perform Igor Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms, a work that was commissioned by the BSO in 1930 to celebrate their 50th anniversary. There was a lecture before the concert, and it was like listening to a Bible study in Symphony Hall led by someone who didn’t believe the Bible.

Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms is based mostly on Psalms 39, 40, and 150 as well as some other Bible passages. At one point the woman giving the lecture said with disbelief in her voice, “Stravinsky said this section was inspired by the vision of Elijah’s fiery chariot. I don’t know if he really was, but he actually said that.”

As if someone could be inspired by a Bible story, God forbid.

During the performance, I was awed by the Tanglewood Chorus. These volunteers had memorized in Latin, significant parts of three psalms, even though at least some of them probably didn’t believe what they were singing. I thought to myself, “Today I’m listening to a music professor and singers who have diligently and passionately invested who knows how many hours on scriptures they don’t believe, for the sake of a performance for a human audience.”

How do I, how do you, how do we prepare ourselves to worship our audience of One, Almighty God? What kind of preparation and effort do we give?

Another book in the Bible that describes worship in addition to the Book of Psalms is the book of Revelation.

Revelation is perhaps the most misunderstood book of the Bible.

As with any Biblical text, finding out what it may have meant to its original audience is a key to interpreting what it may mean for us today.

The word revelation comes from two Greek words. One means to undo, the other means veil. Revelation seeks to reveal something that is hidden.

John used vision, symbol, metaphor, and allusion in writing so as not to arouse the anger or suspicion of the Roman authorities, but because of that Revelation has been interpreted many ways, not always accurately.

What confused the Roman government has also confused Christians for centuries.

There are some people who mistakenly believe that Revelation is directed only to our age, which misses the point that there were seven congregations of real people like us with specific issues and challenges to which John was writing.

At the time, the Roman Emperor Domitian, who reigned from 81-96 AD, was determined that all citizens would worship the emperor which was impossible for Christians because it’s wrong for Christians to worship a political leader or to give anyone allegiance or loyalty that belongs to God alone. Christians in the late first century were facing temptations brought about by power, affluence, and absorption into the popular culture. We face similar temptations today. John also wanted to give warning, encouragement, and hope to Christians were suffering or about to suffer persecution.

So, in Revelation John is writing to seven churches to encourage their faith in God’s power and love. Revelation was addressed to people who were facing oppression and the threat of death if they made public their faith in Jesus as Lord and refused to worship or bow to the emperor. How would that impact your decision to join in worship with other people or to worship God at all, even in your home or the home of a family member or friend? Do you think that would clarify your focus in worship?

One of the phrases people sometimes use when talking about worship is, “I come to be fed.” That statement can reflect our good and sincere desire to feed on the truth of God, to get something out of worship, to have something happen that makes the time we invest worthwhile. Nothing wrong with that. However, in another sense, the statement “I come to be fed.” can reflect even unintentionally an attitude toward worship that is focused on us receiving, rather than our giving to God.

Often in life we’re fed when we’re incapable of feeding ourselves. When we’re a baby, when we’re severely incapacitated, or at the end of our life when we’re dying. Is this truly the approach or attitude we want to have toward worship? I don’t think so.

Revelation 4:8-11 invites us to a far different understanding of worship. Listen to Revelation 4.8-11,

“And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and inside. Day and night without ceasing they sing, “Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God the Almighty, who was and is and is to come.” And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to the one who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall before the one who is seated on the throne and worship the one who lives forever and ever; they cast their crowns before the throne, singing, “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”

The greatest difference between John’s vision of worshipping God and the approach to worship of “I come to be fed,” is who is at the center of worship. To me the most striking part of John’s vision is that everyone and everything is centered around and focused on God.

The four living creatures representing all of creation and the 24 elders representing the 12 patriarchs of Israel and the 12 apostles all are giving their focus, praise, and energy to worshipping God. The elders bow, they cast their crowns, and they sing. When we worship God, we also can use our whole being to pray, give, and worship. The overall mood of worship in heaven is joyful praise and adoration of God.

Remember, John is writing his revelation to seven churches that are dealing with their own challenges, failures, and opportunities. Several of them are facing persecution or declining vitality. All are trying to cope with a changing culture.

Henri Nouwen wrote, worship is “the discipline by which we remain in touch with the true story of God in history.”

The true story of God in history is that no matter how bleak the world may seem at times, God is still on the throne, and there is still hope.

John is trying to redirect the vision of Christians and churches out of our own circumstances to the God who has gone before us in the past, the God who is with us in the present, and who will be with us for all time, no matter what happens.

Notice there is no mention of individual moods or preferences in heavenly worship.

Nothing about how Baptists, Episcopalians, Pentecostals, and Eastern Orthodox are going to handle worship with each other in heaven which will be different than what everyone is used to, much less what language(s) will be spoken and how everyone will understand each other.

I trust it will be like the Day of Pentecost where everyone hears of God’s deeds of power in a way they can understand.

The focus of worship in heaven was, is, and shall be Holy, Almighty God who has created all things and who is worthy to receive all glory, honor, and power.

God doesn’t like to share glory, honor, and praise. One example of that appears in Acts 12:21-23 (NIV) in a story about King Herod. “On the appointed day Herod, wearing his royal robes, sat on his throne and delivered a public address to the people. They shouted, “This is the voice of a god, not of a man.” 23 Immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died.”

Our worship of God takes part in the larger context of worship around the world and in heaven and it’s so much greater than our limited experience.

If we’re not careful we can think our way of worshipping, or our theological approach is the only acceptable one, and that’s not the case.

For example, because of the influence of the Roman Catholic Church in the west, Christ on the cross and then an empty cross became the dominant symbol. In the eastern church, Christ triumphant emerging from the tomb has been the more dominant image. Both are vital to our faith and worship.

Most of you didn’t grow up Baptist, and even those of us who did had very different experiences depending on what type of Baptist church you grew up in and where it was located, so you may not know that early Baptist worship was very simple in form and setting. There were no images, no crosses on walls, no raising of the host or bread at communion. Even many people who were raised Baptist don’t know that for the first fifty years or so as Baptists were emerging as a group that sprinkling was the preferred means of baptism. Baptism by immersion was a later development.

Worship is more than what we’re used to experiencing. Some people say they prefer older, traditional worship. Well, how old and traditional do you mean? The early Baptists spent eight hours in worship every Sunday! Under the leadership of John Smythe and Thomas Helwys, in Gainesborough, London, England the church had four hours of expository preaching and singing metered psalms in the morning and then again in the evening. Any one for a few verses of “Gimme that Old Time Religion?”

Rather than evaluating worship like a critic, we want to invest ourselves in worship.

While every style of music may not appeal to us, (we all have our preferences), and of the different forms of worship from highly formal to informal we each have forms we resonate with more, it’s important to remain open to the truth that any form of worship can be a means of engaging God and refocusing our lives on God. That’s part of what regularly worshiping God does, it re-orients our life, reminds us what’s important and that God is the center of all things, not me.

My car is nine years old, so it doesn’t have a computer screen and all the latest tech equipment. I like it because it’s simple and spares me what happened to a woman who bought a new car that was loaded with all the latest high-tech features.

The first time she drove the car in the rain, she turned a knob she thought would start the windshield wipers. Instead, a message appeared on the screen, “Drive car in 360 degrees.” She had no idea what that meant, so when she got home, she searched the owner’s manual for an answer. It turned out while trying to turn on the windshield wipers, she had inadvertently turned off the car’s internal compass, and the car had lost its sense of direction. To correct the problem, the car had to be driven in a full circle, pointed north, and then the compass had to be reset. When we’re feeling overwhelmed, lost, turned around not knowing what we should do or what to think or where to go – worshiping the Lord can restore our perspective, our sanity and our hope.  

Each time we gather to worship, both privately and publicly, we’re resetting our internal compass. We establish “true north” in our soul, remembering who God is and what God’s word proclaims. Engaging in some of the spiritual disciplines we’ve been learning about during the week prepares us to be able to give of ourselves to God when we worship on Sunday. The more we come to give in worship the more we will receive.

As followers of Christ, we’re called to regularly engage wholeheartedly in meaningful, God-focused worship.

The word worship means “to attribute worth” to someone or something.

Since we become like who or what we praise, the focus of our worship is critically important and life shaping.

One of my favorite quotes about worship is by William Temple, who was the Archbishop of Canterbury in England during the middle of the last century. He said, “To worship is to quicken the conscience by the holiness of God, to feed the mind with the truth of God, to purge the imagination by the beauty of God, to open the heart to the love of God, to devote the will to the purpose of God.”

Each element of that definition expands our understanding and appreciation of worship.

Worship impacts our conscience, mind, imagination, heart, and will.

Worship is transformational. Worship which is focused on God gives us something to think about, moves our emotions, and gives us a challenge to take up as we continue on the road of discipleship.

Our goal for worship at BBC is for you to be able to say every week, “I learned something, I was moved, and I intend to do something about it.” That’s how worship contributes to the process of growing in Christlikeness week by week, month by month, year by year.

Have you ever felt after worship, that you were different than you were before? This happens not because we focused on ourselves, but because we focused on the loving and holy God who graciously invites us into the divine presence and calls us to a life of worship, love, and service. Amen and amen.

Blessing: In heaven there will be people from every tribe, language, people, and nation worshiping God. Revelation 7:9-10, “After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. 10 They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

Questions for Discussion or Reflection

  1. Share or reflect on a specific experience of worship that you remember that impacted you in a significant way. Where were you? How old were you? What made it special?
  2. Why is it important for worship to be about focusing on and exalting God? What can get in the way of God being the focus of our worship?
  3. Thinking about the story of the Tanglewood chorus, how do you prepare yourself to worship our audience of One, Almighty God? What kind of preparation and effort do you give to get ready for worship?
  4. Why do you think Jesus tells the Samaritan woman, and by extension the rest of us, in John 4:23-24, “true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” What does it mean to worship God in spirit and in truth?
  5. Discuss or reflect on this quote by William Temple about worship: “To worship is to quicken the conscience by the holiness of God, to feed the mind with the truth of God, to purge the imagination by the beauty of God, to open the heart to the love of God, to devote the will to the purpose of God.” Which part of this description of worship feels most familiar to you? Which part would you like to experience more?
  6. How will your approach to worship be different because of hearing this week’s sermon and/or reading the chapter on Worship in Celebration of Discipline? What can you do to make your experience more about giving than getting or evaluating?

Questions: Worship

  1. How can we cultivate “holy expectancy”?
  2. In the book Richard Foster says that “God is actively seeking worshipers.” Have you had any sense of God as the “Hound of Heaven” seeking you out and drawing you into fellowship and communion with Him?
  3. The seventeenth-century Quaker theologian, Robert Barclay, spoke of the Quaker worship experience of being “gathered in the power of the Lord.” He was obviously referring to more than the fact that they had come together in the same room.  Discuss what the phrase might mean and once you agree on the meaning, consider what could be done to encourage a fuller sense of that experience in your local church.
  4. Which forms of worship you have experienced have been especially meaningful to you? Do you have any sense of why these particular forms have been more meaningful than others?
  5. Critique Richard Foster’s rather bold statement that the Bible does not bind us to any universal form (that is wineskin) of worship. Can you think of any worship forms that should be universally binding upon all cultures of Christians at all times?
  6. What advantages or disadvantages do you see in the formalized liturgy used in churches like the Episcopal church as opposed to the more informal worship forms used in churches like the Southern Baptist church?
  7. If we truly believe that Christ is alive and present among His people in all His offices, what practical difference would that make in our approach to worship?
  8. Do you think experiences of Divine ecstasy are central to worship, peripheral to worship, or destructive to worship?
  9. What covenant can you make that will open the door to worship more effectively for you?
  10. Richard Foster writes, “Just as worship begins in Holy Expectancy it ends in Holy Obedience.” What does that mean for you this next week?

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