Summary: True worship presents a challenge to everyone who comes in the presence of God. Our Scripture today is one of the most difficult to understand in the entire Bible because the insinuations of the story can be unsettling. It presents a view of God which mak
The Challenge of Worship
Camp Leach tells the story of some friends who took their 5 year-old grandson to church one Sunday. Bettie took her place with the choir while Christopher, their grandson sat in the congregation with his grandfather. During the service, Bettie motioned to Christopher to nudge his grandfather to keep him awake but Christopher didn’t respond. After the service, Bettie asked Christopher why he didn’t do what she asked, especially since she had given him 50 cents to keep his grandfather awake. And Christopher said, “Grandpa gave me a dollar to let him sleep.” Well today, we’re talking about the challenge of worship. Staying awake is not the challenge of worship. When I served at Rayne Memorial UMC as the associate pastor, we had a man who always arrived 5 minutes late and then pulled out the Times-Picayune and started to read it throughout the entire service until the last hymn, when he got up and left before the service ended. The challenge of worship is not to pay attention. Others of you with young children may be thinking the challenge of worship is just getting here. And for those of you who are exhausted by week’s end, you may think the challenge of worship is just getting to come to worship. While some of those might be challenges for you, that is not the true challenge of worship.
True worship presents a challenge to everyone who comes in the presence of God. Our Scripture today is one of the most difficult to understand in the entire Bible because the insinuations of the story can be unsettling. It presents a view of God which makes us uncomfortable to think of our God as one who asks for the sacrifice of a child, our child, to prove our dedication and commitment to God. Instead, we prefer a God who loves us and cares for us. So how could God demand such a thing of Abraham? I think the one great lesson of this story is how serious God is about worship. More than anything, this passage is about the worship of God. This is the first time the word worship is used in the Bible. Obviously, people worshiped before this. Abraham bowed down to God as two angels visited him in the desert. Noah made offerings to God as did Cain and Abel. There is a rule from Biblical scholars called “the first mention” which simply states the first time a word is used in the Bible, it sets the tone for all other uses of that word in Scripture. We often think of worship as singing or rejoicing before the Lord, but worship is much deeper than that. Worship is challenging. There are five challenges worship presents to us today.
First, worship challenges us to make a change. Worship is an encounter with a Holy God and you cannot encounter God and remain the same. The very revelation and presence of God demands a response which often is a called to change. Like Isaiah in chapter 6:5, “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.” Coming into the presence of God can be a dangerous thing. When Isaiah is confronted with the holiness of God, he sees himself as he really is, a man filled with sin. In that moment, he knows he is not who he is expected to be and that a change must occur. When you come before God and encounter Him, you will either be brought closer to God and be healed and changed or you will reject God by rebelling against him and demanding to go your own way, further separating yourself from God. But here is the good news: God’s grace is always available. As Isaiah grasps his sin, one of the angels cleanses him of it, “Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” That same grace is offered to you. God always calls us beyond our present self when we encounter him in worship.
Second, worship asks for a commitment to be made. When I was in my first year of ministry, I walked into our District preachers meeting at the same time as Bobbie Potter, who was pastor of Munholland UMC in Old Metairie. He asked if I preach last Sunday which I did. Then he asked, “What did you ask them to commit to?” I said I didn’t ask them to commit to anything. He then said, “Every time you preach, you need to ask the people to commit to something.” I disagreed. And I was wrong. I think that’s the attitude in worship. We show up as we are, do the worship thing, and expect to leave undisturbed, the same person we were when we arrived. God always calls to make a greater and even deeper commitment of our lives to him when we come to worship Him.