Worship

This sermon first delivered at Pigeon Cove Chapel in Rockport, Mass, on July 16, 2006.

One of the dangers in allowing a new preacher to come speak at your church is that he tries to fit everything he knows into a single sermon. I heard somewhere that Billy Graham, the first time he preached, put everything he had into that one sermon. When he ran out of things to say, he stopped. It had been 15 minutes.

Well, I did a little better than that last month: I lasted about 20 minutes. I worked and worked until I put everything I could think of into a single sermon. As far as I was concerned, it was perfect. I was finished. There was nothing else to say. So when Alex mentioned to me he was putting me down for another Sunday in July, I told him that wouldn’t be necessary: I’d already covered everything. As you can see, my argument didn’t get very far.

So for about a month now I’ve been scrambling and I’ve been praying that God would give me something to say today. And as I was praying, I was reminded of what I believe should be the most important aspect of every believer’s life: worship. The Westminster Catechism begins with the question: “What is the chief end of man?” and the reply: “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” Worship.

Of course, worship is a pretty big topic, and it’s something I think about a lot, so the big danger today is that I might try to fit everything I know about worship in to a single sermon: just one big giant mess. The good news is we’ll get out early.

So I continued praying, asking God to give me somewhere to *start*. And so I came to Psalm 150, which Arthur just read.

 Praise the Lord!
Praise God in his sanctuary!
Praise him in his mighty heavens!
Praise him for his mighty deeds!

I have to say, I love this psalm. It’s short; it’s sweet; it covers everything. It starts off with the basics: “Praise the Lord!” Can’t get any more simple than that. In Hebrew, it reads Hallel u Jah! Hallel means ‘praise’ and Jah is short for “Yahweh.” Like Josh is short for Joshua.

Then it tells you *where* to praise him: in his sanctuary and in his mighty heavens. That is, praise him where he is, or maybe where his presence is. Then, it tells you *why* to praise him: because of what he’s *done*. And when you’ve covered all of that, just praise him for who he *is*.

Because no matter how you think about it, Yahweh is worthy of praise. More worthy than the Red Sox; more worthy than the Italian soccer team; more worthy than priests and prophets, presidents and politicians, more worthy than pastors or parents. More worthy of praise than anything in heaven above or on earth beneath, because of who he is and what he’s done. There’s no way you could give him too much praise.

Then it moves to the cool part. It tells us *how* to praise him. Because we’re human and we like traditions and doing everything just so, God’s given us a template in this psalm, so we don’t leave anything out.

 Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet.
Praise him with the harp and lyre.
Praise him with tambourine and dancing.
Praise him with the strings and flute.
Praise him with the clash of cymbals.
Praise him with resounding cymbals!

If you’ll look, you can see that the psalm actually mentions every classification of musical instruments.

    • “Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet.” There you’ve got brass.
    • “Praise him with the harp and lyre.” Now, I didn’t know exactly what the difference was. I thought the harp and the lyre were basically the same thing. Another translation I have says “praise him with the lute and harp” so apparently translators aren’t too clear on things either, especially since the lute wasn’t invented until around 500 years ago.So I looked some words up. Where the NIV says “harp,” the Hebrew word is *nebel*, which translates roughly as “skin bag,” or bladder. Well that’s exciting. How are you supposed to praise God with a bladder? Actually there are a lot of instruments that use a bladder: most prominently, the bag pipe, but also the accordion, and yes, the organ (hence the name: organ). The original organs actually had to have choirboys pumping a bellows behind it during the worship service.

      Based on this information, I think we can safely say that, in the event that we ever find it necessary to get rid of our church organ, scripturally it would be appropriate to replace it with a set of bagpipes. Or perhaps an accordion. Nevertheless, apparently when the translators looked at this word, they decided *nebel* meant a harp, since a harp looked like a deflated bag of air. I don’t know where they got that idea, but that’s what Strong’s concordance tells me.

      The second Hebrew word, where the NIV says “lyre,” is *kinnowr*, a stringed instrument that you would pluck with a plectrum, what we would call a pick. Basically it was a guitar. You might could slide a piano in under that one too. So: “Praise him with bladder instruments and plucked instruments.” Amen.

    • “Praise him with tambourine and dancing.” The tambourine was originally considered more of a dance accessory than a rhythm instrument, so that works
    • “Praise him with the strings and flute.” Stringed instruments and woodwinds.
    • “Praise him with the clash of cymbals; praise him with resounding cymbals!” You’ll notice percussion get mentioned twice. I think the psalmist really likes those. He’s probably a boy.

Over the years, I’ve heard a lot of stories about how this or that instrument was inappropriate for worship. I had a very nice girl in college explain to me very seriously that drums were bad for your health because they might throw off the rhythm of your heart. In reality, the tendency of the church has always seemed to be to follow what the musical trend was in the rest of society (with a little lag).

But what this verse tells us is that not only is every kind of instrument *acceptable* for worship, but we’re commanded to use them. All of them. You kind of get the impression that every kind of musical *style* is appropriate as well. This is good. Not every culture is able to express itself musically the same way.

I’d have a hard time leading worship with a service composed by Johann Bach. I might have similar problems if I thought the only appropriate praise should be accompanied by screeching electric guitars. It’s been done, but I’m not quite ready to do it yet.

But the psalmist goes one step further. While he doesn’t mandate a particular kind of sound or style, he does mandate what kind of praise we’re supposed to give:

 Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet.
Praise him with the harp and lyre.
Praise him with tambourine and dancing.
Praise him with the strings and flute.
Praise him with the clash of cymbals.
Praise him with resounding cymbals!
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Everything that has breath. There’s a certain zeal here that doesn’t just tell you *that* you should praise him. It tells you the attitude with which you’re supposed to praise him. And that attitude is *intense*. It’s something that should be a little startling.

I don’t mean that we should only have fast-paced happy songs. Some of the things we need to praise God about are slow and serious. But you can’t properly praise God with the back half of your mind. If you’re going to do it, you need to do it with everything that you’ve got.

Then the psalm ends as it begins, summing it all up: Hallelujah! Praise the Lord.

Like I said. I love this psalm. It covers everything. But I always get stuck here and I have to ask a question. Really, what does music have to do with worship? I know what it does for me: it makes me feel the right attitude about God. But so does prayer. So does meditating on scripture.

This isn’t the only place in the Bible that talks about using music as a part of our worship. Twice in the New Testament, Paul talks about using “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs,” in Ephesians 5 and in Colossians 3. (And in case you’re wondering, the Greek word translated “psalms” refers specifically to instrumental music, particularly an instrument with strings that gets plucked with a kind of pick. Kind of like a guitar.)

What is it about music that God likes so much? What’s the big deal? Worship has to do with relating properly to God. In Hebrew, the word is *shachah*, and has to do with falling flat on your face. In Greek, the word is *proskuneo*, to kiss toward, like an oriental servant prostrating himself before his king. What does that mean? As Dennis Jernigan says, “Isn’t it pretty simple? He’s God, and I’m not.”

But what does that have to do with music? I mean, in the worship that Moses instituted, there’s not a single note. Just sacrifices and offerings. Those sacrifices, of course, are concerned with getting us in right relationship with him by dealing with the sin in our lives that keep us from “glorify[ing] God and enjoying him forever.” And they called that worship.

And it *was* worship. Worship is being in right relationship with God and the point of those sacrifices was to *get* in right relationship with God. Of course, *we* know that those sacrifices really pointed forward to Jesus Christ, whose sacrifice on the cross truly sets us in right relationship with God. Jesus fulfilled all those sacrificial laws, which is why, shortly after he ascended, all those sacrifices stopped. Permanently. There was nothing for them to look forward to.

Jesus fulfilled all the sacrificial requirements, and set us in permanent right relationship with him by his death on the cross. Everything that we used to call worship was just about getting up to that point. And it’s a wonderful place to be. We’re able to come boldly before the throne of grace, unlike Esther, who was afraid to come before the king, even though he was her husband. She didn’t know if she could come before him in the throne room and live, because the king’s favor, by law, was capricious. If you came to the king without being summoned, you would live or die based on his whim. But when we come before God on the basis of what Jesus Christ has done, we are guaranteed his permanent favor. But now that we’re here, what do we do?

A few years ago, I joined The Perfect Church. Maybe you’ve heard of this church. Every one of us, it seems has an idea of what life would be like if they were part of the perfect church, that is, the church where everything is going exactly the way I think church ought to go. Everyone is committed and working toward the same goal. All the right programs are in place. The church has absolutely no financial restraints of any kind, and you know God is with them because they have been in the fever pitch of revival for at least 6 years. Unfortunately, The Perfect Church is inevitably clear on the other end of the country.

Well, 10 years ago or so, I packed up my bags and moved across the country to be a member of The Perfect Church and attend their ministry school. But when I got there, I realized something: I didn’t know what to do. I’m the kind of guy who jumps in with both feet and make a difference. I like to fix things. But at The Perfect Church, nothing was broken. They had plenty of volunteers, and in terms of revival, they were about as vived as you could get. I had traveled across the country to join The Perfect Church, and now that I was there, I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. It hadn’t occurred to me to think about what kind of life I would be living once I joined The Perfect Church. I still had to set about living the kind of life I was supposed to have been living all along.

The same thing happened when Jesus rose from the grave, and it happens to each one of us when we first become Christians. Up to that point, the goal has just been to get right with God. But now that we’re here, we still have to live our lives. What is that supposed to look like? Now we can finally set about doing the things that we were created to do in the first place. You know: “to glorify God, and enjoy him forever.” Worship.

But what does it *look* like? Ultimately, our worship should be the sum total of our entire Christian lives: lives led by the Spirit and dedicated to reflecting His goodness in the earth. But I think that there is a special purpose for when we come together, particularly during the musical part of the service.

It turns out that there was one kind of offering in Moses’ law that Jesus didn’t *exactly* fulfill. It was called the wave offering. Normally, when there was a sacrifice, the thing that was being sacrificed was destroyed, usually by burning it. That’s why it was called a sacrifice.

But occasionally, God had a purpose for the thing being offered, and so he gave a ritual for setting that thing apart for God’s service. The classic example was the firstfruits offering.

Whenever the harvest season came along, before harvesting any other grain, the farmer was supposed to cut down one sheaf and bring it to the temple. There he would wave the sheaf in the air before the altar. The sheaf was supposed to symbolize the whole crop, and the point was to recognize God’s grace in providing the harvest and to demonstrate before the people what God had done.

Now in the church age, every sacrifice has been fulfilled by Jesus work on Calvary. There is nothing left to be done to earn God’s favor. In fact, all that’s left is the wave offering: to come before God and recognize the grace in the work that he has already done, and to come before the world and demonstrate what God has accomplished in us.

That’s what praise and worship is. We demonstrate what God has done with all the exuberance we can muster, with shouts and singing, hoping somehow to approximate the splendor of what God has done. And our hands and our voices just aren’t good enough, so we break out the instruments.

Even then, we can’t do it good enough. We’re just waving a sheaf of our lives, not the whole harvest. We haven’t even seen the fullness of the harvest of what God has done; not in our lives, and not in this church. But that’s the point.

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.” We *guess*, and then we try to praise him in proportion. All we know is that “All God’s promises are ‘yes, yes!” and we know the “amen” is coming. And while we wait, we praise him.

 Praise the Lord!
Praise God in his sanctuary!
Praise him in his mighty heavens!
Praise him for his mighty deeds!
Praise him according to his excellent greatness!
Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet.
Praise him with the harp and lyre.
Praise him with tambourine and dancing.
Praise him with the strings and flute.
Praise him with the clash of cymbals.
Praise him with resounding cymbals!
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord!!

1 thought on “Worship”

  1. You know, I think your friend may be right — maybe the purpose of the drums in worship is specifically to throw off the rhythm of your heart — get it beating to His cadence.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s