Sunday, September 25, 2005

Real Worship

[This message was shared today with the people of Friendship Church.]

Philippians 2:1-13

This past week, I read the story of a boy named Chad. One day he came home from school and told his mother that he wanted to make Valentine’s Day cards for his classmates. His mother wished that she could somehow persuade him to forget about the idea. You see, his classmates were always putting Chad down, picking him last for baseball at recess, and laughing at him. But Chad was insistent; he wanted to make those Valentine’s cards for his classmates.

So, Chad’s mom bought the construction paper and the crayons and for three he worked hard on making the cards: Thirty five cards, one for each classmate!

On Valentine’s Day, Chad was so excited! He carefully picked up the cards, put them in a bag, and ran out the door. Certain that he would be disappointed that his classmates had failed to remember him on this day, Chad’s mother baked his favorite cookies and had them waiting for the moment he got home from school.

At the usual time, she heard the other children laughing and talking as they walked toward their houses. Behind them all, walking by himself was Chad. It broke her heart to see him.

But when he came through the door, there was a spring in his step, even though she could see that, unlike the other kids, Chad wasn’t holding a bag of Valentine’s cards. Choking back tears, she announced that she had his favorite cookies and some milk for him. But Chad seemed not to hear. His face was glowing and all he could say was, “Not a one...not a one.” Now, his mother thought she would cry. But then Chad told her, “I didn’t forget a one...not a single one!”

Today, I want to talk with you about real worship.

By worship, as you probably know by now, I don’t mean just what we do on Sunday mornings. Worship is something that we do with our whole lives.

And it begins not with our words or our songs or our offerings. It begins with our attitudes, with the thoughts, actions, and feelings that we allow to be the controlling motifs of our lives. Chad could have been resentful. Instead, he adopted a different attitude, the attitude of a servant who isn’t looking out for himself, but for others.

This is the very attitude that the first-century preacher Paul commends in our Bible lesson for today. Quoting from what had by that early point in the Church’s history, already become a valued worship song, Paul tells the followers of Jesus in the Greek city of Philippi:
If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. [And then he says:] Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, [You see, he’s describing Jesus’ attitude and he goes on to "flesh out" his portrait] ...though he was in the form of God, [Jesus] did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Worship, real worship, is something that the authentic Christian is called to offer whether they're in a shanty or cathedral; accompanied cowbells, guitar licks, organ pipes, or silence; on Sundays or Tuesdays or Thursdays; while at work, at home, on the football field, in the class room, and even in a church building.

Worship, in short, is a life lived in gratitude for the new life God gives to all with faith in Jesus Christ.

The word worship, as I’ve pointed out before, is the descendant of a compound word from Old English, worth-ship. Lives of worship convey the worthiness of Jesus Christ. They say, “This Jesus is the most important presence, power, and force in my life!”

When we gather for our worship celebrations on Sunday mornings, we do so for several important reasons.

First and foremost, we do it because the God we know through Jesus is really worthy of being honored and praised by His people.

But there’s a second reason, one that a former bishop of our Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Herbert Chilstrom, used to talk about.

While he was in college, Chilstrom earned his tuition money by working as a door-to-door salesman. He sold Fuller Brushes.

Now, I’ve done a lot of door-to-door sales work, starting from the time I was a little boy. I began by selling Christmas cards door-to-door. Then address labels. And after I proved pretty good at that, my Mom sent me out to take orders for potholders she crocheted. After that, I sold subscriptions to a weekly community newspaper I carried and sought out people who wanted their lawns mowed. In later years, I went door-to-door in political campaigns. During my seminary internship, I did the same thing to promote the new church start of which I was a part. And when I came here fifteen years ago, my door-to-door efforts continued as I knocked on thousands of doors to introduce this new congregation to the community.

Let me tell you something, folks, door-to-door sales can get pretty tough. You get to see a lot of front doors up close and personal and you hear the word, “No” countless times.

But Bishop Chilstrom says that the Fuller Brush people had an antidote for the discouragement that could result from those experiences. Every week, they had a pep rally for their salespeople. That pep rally allowed those often-discouraged people to see other possibilities, to get inspire, to refocus on their mission.

“Sunday worship,” Chilstrom concluded, “is the Church’s pep rally!” And he’s right, our Sunday worship is meant to be the Christian’s irreplaceable weekly pep rally.

But if the purpose of the Fuller Brush rallies was to give encouragement to discouraged salespeople, what exactly is the purpose of these Sunday morning gatherings? The preacher in another book in the New Testament, the book of Hebrews, explains it as he urges believers not to miss weekly worship:
Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another...
In other words, the worship we do together on Sunday mornings is designed to do two things.

First: It encourages us for the living of life. Yes, Hurricane Katrinas happen. So do Ritas. But God is bigger than our storms. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, God incarnate, proves that God is able and willing to reach down to us, stand with us, inspire us, and empower us through all the moments of our lives.

Second: It reminds us to keep worshiping Christ with our lives. Christianity is a team participation sport. If you’re not serving, then you’re not really worshiping, no matter how often you show up for Sunday worship or how much money you toss into the offering plate.

Some people have the attitude that they’ll get involved with service in Christ's Name if they’re asked to be a leader of something.

Or, more frequently, they think that they'll stay tangentially involved in the church as long as they get something out of it, an assessment that's often the result of their fleeting moods.

But these weren't the attitudes of Christ, Who though He was God Himself, willingly divested Himself of the advantages of Deity in order to be a slave for you and to me.

Most folks want to be involved, but not committed. Twice this past week, I ran across a quote that defines involvement versus commitment. "The difference between involvement and commitment," it says, "is like an eggs and ham breakfast. The chicken was involved. The pig was committed." Followers of Jesus Christ are called to die to self and to rise to the new life Christ gives believers in Him. Real worship is rooted in commitment to the Savior Who is totally committed to us.

I have to say that I was so inspired and encouraged by something that happened in this building this past Thursday night. Carol, our outreach chairperson, convened a brainstorming session for those who wanted to help plan our outreach program for 2006. Outreach for Friendship is composed of two elements: (1) Undertaking acts of service in Jesus’ Name; (2) Inviting others to know and follow Jesus. Nine Friendship members showed up for this meeting!

I’m sure that others may have been prevented from attending by scheduling conflicts. Some are deeply involved in other ministries of our church. And some may have had pressing family matters that kept you from being here. But I’ve got to tell you, I wanted to hug all nine of those people--and Mike’s Mom, who also was in attendance, visiting from Houston--for their commitment to finding ways to worship Jesus beyond just Sundays.

Worship begins with an attitude, a willingness to serve God and others in response to the incredible act of service God once undertook for us when He became a human being, went to a cross, and rose from death so that people like you and me can live with Him forever.

As our pep rally ends this morning, ask God to give you the same attitude that burned within Jesus for us. It’s after we leave here today that our real worship can begin!

[The story of Chad, originally told by Pastor Dale Galloway, is recounted by Chuck Swindoll, in his book, Improving Your Serve.

[I personally heard Bishop Chilstrom tell about his Fuller Brush experiences at a profession leadership retreat a few years back.

[Continuing to inspire this series is the work of the pastors and staff of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church of Burnsville, Minnesota.]

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