[This is the second part of a series of messages on Revelation that I'm presenting during this Easter season. It was presented during Saturday and Sunday worship celebration with the people of Friendship Lutheran Church, Amelia, Ohio, on April 21 and 22, 2007. If you live close by and have no church home or if you're visiting the area, we invite you to worship with us soon.]
“Eighty percent of success is showing up.” So says comedian and director Woody Allen. Of course, some would say that Allen has shown up in places he shouldn’t have. I wouldn’t disagree with that. But there’s something to what he says. So many of the good things we experience in our lives--success, enjoyment--are the result of showing up.
And by showing up, I mean more than simply occupying space. Two people can go to the same restaurant, be served by the same waiter, order the same items from the menu, the items prepared well and served piping hot. And yet one of those customers can come away grousing about having had a bad experience, while the other goes on about how he’d love to go back to the same restaurant again and again. The difference? One of the diners was there in body only; the other was completely engaged with the experience. The second fellow soaked up the restaurant’s atmosphere, enjoyed the descriptions of the menu items, had fun interacting with his server, savored the taste of every bite of food, enjoyed the company of his wife and friends as they ate together. The first guy was there because it was time to eat.
We see this same thing happen in people who participate in public worship. For many people, worship is something they may do once a week for an hour. They sing a few songs, say a few prayers, and listen to a message. The entire experience is entirely unexceptional.
For others of us, at least some of the time, in spite of the humanness of the worship experience, worship is a lot more than that. As we saw when we read from Article 7 of The Augsburg Confession this morning, the founders of our Lutheran movement knew that worship doesn’t have to look the same all the time. The pastor may wear a robe, or chant, or not. The congregation may sing the same song week after week or not. The form of our worship isn’t as important as the degree to which we are engaged in worship. Do we show up? Real worship happens when we surrender ourselves--mind, body, spirit, soul, and will--to the God we meet in Jesus Christ.
I bring all of this up because in this second week of looking at the New Testament book of Revelation during the Easter season, our focus is worship. The early chapters of John’s book, written in about 90-AD while he was in exile on the island of Patmos, contained a series of messages to seven churches in a region known as Asia Minor, now largely encompassing Turkey.
But beginning in chapter 4 and running through the verses that make up today’s Bible lesson, John presents a vision of heaven. It’s very clear that John gained access to this vision during worship. Somehow, while singing praises to God and attending to God’s Word, even though shackled and exiled on rocky Patmos, he was in some way transported to heaven.
There, He saw the Lamb of God Who sacrificed Himself to give all who believe in Him life forever--Jesus, God in the flesh--on the throne, being worshiped by thousands upon thousands of angels and saints and creatures. All who worshiped Jesus declared Him to be worthy of sevenfold praises: power, wealth, wisdom, might, honor, glory, and blessing!
If John, in his painful imprisonment, could have a transporting experience of Jesus’ love and power while he worshiped, something that comforted and inspired him in his tough times, I believe that we can, too. We have our own tough times, after all. So how can we learn to truly show up for God and experience His presence and power in our lives?
First: We remember that worship is a twenty-four hour a day proposition. The Old Testament, of course, was mostly written in Hebrew. The Hebrew word for worship is aboda, which means service. True worship begins with a commitment to serving God and that includes serving our neighbor. God calls us to love and serve others as He has loved and served us in Jesus Christ. Serving God and loving our neighbor is something we do with more than just words.
This is a lesson I learned early in my marriage. My wife would come home from work and I, still a student with one year of college left, would sit there amid dishes I hadn't cleaned and messes I hadn't cleared. "Why is this place such a mess?" she'd ask. And I'd reply, "I don't know. But I love you." Those words didn’t wipe the look of frustration from her face. If you love me, my wife was saying, then clear away this squalor!
Once we understand that worship is offering our lives to the God Who offered Himself to us on the cross, we come to our corporate worship on Saturdays or Sundays with different attitudes. We’re ready to experience the presence of the real, loving Christ in our lives!
Second: We understand that corporate worship, worship with others on Saturdays and Sundays, is most meaningful when we take time to worship with our families and by ourselves. John was ready for the consoling experience of his heavenly vision because he took time to worship God even as he laid alone, cold and worn from his slavery, on the rocky ground of the island of Patmos.
One of the things that excites me about this summer’s mission trip with our youth is that every night, after a day of serving, we’ll worship together with hundreds of other youth and their adult advisors. Having worshiped God all day long through our service, we’ll then enter into God’s presence together, energized, inspired, and encouraged as John was long ago on Patmos!
Third: We know that true worship is a matter of spirit, of lives dialed into Christ. Jesus said as much once when he told a Samaritan woman that God didn’t care where people worshiped. What matters is that we worship in way that's truly connected to Christ. And God doesn’t care if we wear a three-piece suit or a T-shirt. He doesn’t care if we sport wing tips or flip-flops or are barefooted. God cares whether we give ourselves completely to Him or not. Like the elders John saw in his heavenly image, we worship when fall down--literally or figuratively--before God and let Him be the most important thing in our lives. One day, I hope to learn how to worship like this!
You and I are called to be living sacrifices to Christ. Living sacrifices don’t hold anything back from God. I once heard a man named Robert Coleman, a professor at Wheaton College in Illinois, tell the story of a little boy whose twin brother was very sick. I’ve shared it with you before. Without a transfusion, the brother would die. The situation was explained to the little guy and he readily volunteered to have his blood drawn. Laying on a hospital bed some moments after the IV had been put in his arm, the boy turned to the doctor and asked softly, “Doctor, how much longer before I die?” It was then that the doctor realized that the boy thought that giving life to his twin brother would cause his own death. The doctor asked him, “If you thought that you were going to die, why did you say it was okay for us to draw your blood?” The boy said, “Because he’s my brother and I love him.”
It shouldn’t be hard for us to remember how much Christ has done for us. It shouldn’t hard be when we consider all that Christ endured for us. How He was arrested, scourged, rejected, mocked, beaten, and crucified all to take the punishment we deserved for our sin! Gratitude alone should lead us to fall down before Christ. It shouldn't be hard to remember to be thankful. But it is. I’m ashamed to admit how often I fail to worship Him. God though, will take even our weakest desire to worship Him and turn it into something when we dare to submit to Him!
Worship is our twenty-four-hour-a-day call from God. Worship is service to the One Who has served us in Christ. Worship is something that happens when we make God our highest priority. Worship is a matter of surrender to Christ.
You and I can experience the presence and power of Jesus Christ in our every day lives. It begins with truly showing up to worship God, not just on Saturdays and Sundays, but every day we live.