Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Corporate Worship (Part 1, Reaching Up, Reaching In, Reaching Out)

[This was shared during the Wednesday evening Midweek Lenten service of Living Water Lutheran Church, Centerville, Ohio. It's part one of a series on Christian Discipleship: Reaching Up, Reaching In, Reaching Out.]

Hebrews 10:24-25
John 4:23-24

Discipleship, living as a follower of Jesus Christ, begins with worship. However, whenever, and wherever we first came to believe in Jesus Christ as our Savior and our God, it likely first expressed itself in worship. When the apostle Thomas, who had refused to believe reports that Jesus had risen from the grave, first realized that he had been wrong, Thomas worshiped, confessing Jesus as, “My Lord and my God!” [John 20:28] It was the true beginning of this one-time unbeliever’s life as a disciple.

At a well near the village of Sychar in Samaria, Jesus told a woman: “...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. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” For disciples of Jesus Christ, worship isn’t confined to a time or a place. Worship happens whenever people respond to the prompting of the Holy Spirit to honestly surrender themselves to the God we meet in the crucified and risen Jesus, declaring Him to be their God and Savior.

Worship then, is about an attitude of heart, mind, and will. It can even be an attitude or a posture of our bodies. The Old Testament Hebrew word for worship is shacah, literally to bow down, to prostrate oneself. The New Testament word is proskuneo, literally to kiss the hand of one we reverence.

Worship then is about offering praise and honor and glory to the King of kings, anytime, anyplace. Worship is reaching up to the One Who has reached out to us through Jesus. Worship is our response to God’s grace and forgiveness in Christ.

And when we worship, it isn’t about what we get out of it, but what we put into it. A clue to what worship is about can be found in the derivation of the word worship in the English language. The old word was worthship. When we worship, we reach up to God to declare Him worthy of honor and praise and the surrender of our whole lives.

This is why reaching up--including corporate worship, which is what we’re doing this evening, as well as individual times of worship--is the first and foundational element of being a Christian disciple. Think of it this way:

  • Until we sense that God is reaching down to us, we won’t know to reach up. 
  • Until we’re reaching up to honor and praise God, reaching in to our fellow Christians in love and support won’t make sense. 
  • Until we’re reaching up and reaching in, reaching out to others--whether by service or witnessing--will have no content. We’ll be serving without knowing who we really serve, or why or to what end.

Because being a Christian disciple is not a solo endeavor, corporate worship (corporate being from the Latin term corpus for body) is essential to the Christian life. The body of Christ is called to worship together as a body and God has many reasons for why that’s so.

One of them is that we need each other. Years ago, I read about a Scottish pastor who stopped by the country home of a parishioner who hadn’t been in worship for some time. In the middle of the visit, the pastor wordlessly stood up from his chair, walked to the fireplace, picked up the fireplace tongs, pulled a red hot ember from the flames, set the ember down on the stone in front of the fireplace, and sat back down. The pastor continued his visit, the parishioner occasionally stealing glances at the ember as it cooled, its color changing from bright red to dusty gray, no longer on fire. The parishioner understood that the pastor had just given him an object lesson. When we fail to worship with our fellow believers, our faith and our relationship with God goes cold and can die.

Every time we worship together, we drive a knife into the heart of our presumptuous notions of not needing God, of being self-sufficient, of being gods ourselves, of not being in as much need of the grace God gives in Christ as the person sitting next to us.

We also, more importantly, give God the honor and praise that is His due.

But as we gather around God’s Word, around the bread and the wine, and around the font together, God also comes to us and through His Holy Spirit, re-ignites the flames of our faith and our confidence in Him again.

That’s why the preacher to New Testament Jewish Christians says in Hebrews 10:24-25: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day [we see Christ face to face] approaching.”

At Living Water, we’ve come to characterize the life of Christian discipleship as reaching up, reaching in, and reaching out. Corporate worship--worship of the God we know in Jesus Christ in company with our sisters and brothers in Christ--is foundational to reaching up to God and so, foundational to a life with Christ. More next week.

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