Two young boys were walking down the street in downtown Atlanta when out from an alley a Pit Bull suddenly appeared and attacked one of the boys. The other boy grabbed a 2x4 lying near the alley and beat the dog to death and saved his friend’s life.
A reporter from the Atlanta Journal and Constitution got wind of the story and requested an interview from the first boy. He ran the story on the front page and the headline read: “Braves Fan Bravely Saves Friend’s Life From A Rabid Dog.”
The boy called the reporter and said, “I’m not a Braves fan.” The reporter said, “Well, I just thought that since you are from Atlanta that you would be a Braves fan. I’ll correct the mistake in tomorrow’s paper.”
The next day the front page read: “Falcon Fan Rescues Friend’s Life From Rabid Dog.”
The boy again called the reporter and said, “I’m not a Falcon fan either!”
The reporter asked, “Are you a fan of sports at all?”
The boy said, “Yes. In fact, I am a die-hard fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers.”
The reporter agreed to note the change in the next day’s newspaper. The next day the front page read: “Beloved Family Pet Killed By Yankee Idiot!”
Well, obviously, that was the reporter’s viewpoint. And it was, without question, a rather biased viewpoint – even though throughout the country there are certainly many people who might be sympathetic to it.
Well, everyone has his or her opinion.
How do you feel about President Bush? Who you voting for? What’s you favorite food? Which is the best school? And just where is the northern border of Georgia?
Get into any of these discussions, and there are all sorts of opinions.
Worship is no different.
Ask a Pentecostal and the answer may well be given with the same wonderful emotional passion in which a Pentecostal experiences worship.
Ask an Episcopalian, and you may listen to how moved he or she is by the inspired literature of the Book of Common Prayer.
Ask two people, and one will answer about the music of Handel or the organ or the strings and brass. Ask another, and that person will answer with comments of how wonderful it was to have the guitar and the drums.
“Come, and worship,” Psalm 95 teaches us.
“Come, let us sing for joy,” says our Old Testament lesson.
We do a lot of things, just for the fun of it.
For example, earlier this week, my son was visiting for a couple of nights and he came into my bedroom and asked, “Have you seen the front yard lately?”
“Oh it’s bad,” he said. “It’s really bad.”
So I went outside and found my lawn covered with plastic spoons and knives and forks. Not a few of them, but hundreds of them. All of them were sticking up out of my lawn. On the drive way and the sidewalk there was a substance of some sort. I’m not familiar with it, but I’m told it was something called, “Shaving cream.” It spelled out words and phrases, like, “Manny Rocks.” My son asked, “Do you think the youth group from the church did this?
And I said, “NO! Our youth group is led by an awesome lady. Katie Gomola Arnold would never, ever let the youth group do something like that to MY lawn.”
But there on the drive way was a vital clue. Written in Shaving Cream were the initials “GSPC.”
GSPC? GSPC? Ah – Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church!
Katie and the youth group!
So later that week, the Associate Pastor and I stole the door from Katie’s office and hid it in the Music Director’s office.
Of course, all of this was done in fun. Just for the joy of it.
We do a lot of things for the sake of joy.
Have you ever been on a picnic? Who in his or her right mind would want to sit on a hard ground with ants and bugs crawling around and eat cold fried chicken in an open field that has no heating or air conditioning? But we do it, because there is something about it that is a joy.
We go to sporting events, because it is a joy.
We go to the movies, because it is a joy.
We visit friends and family, because it is a joy.
And that is one reason why we worship – it is a joy.
Worship should have a sense of joy.
Why are we here? For the joy of it.
Come and worship!
Come and sing with joy.
And worship should also have a sense of awe and wonder.
I know, I know – my sermons are not always full of awe and wonder and inspiration.
But – come and worship. Come into the presence of God. And you will be filled with awe. There will be wonder. There will be inspiration. And if there is not, then you have somehow closed your spiritual eyes to the presence of God.
For the Lord is a great God. Our Old Testament tells us this, but we forget how great He is.
He is above all gods – which is not to say that there are other gods in the universe. There is only one God. But in our heart, we worship so many gods. We worship our baseball team. We worship celebrities. We worship cars, IPhones and the latest fads.
But the Lord is a great God. He is above all our other gods. The Psalmist says that in the hands of God are the depths of the earth.
We live in an age of amazing things. In 1960, two explorers entered a vessel launched from a Navy ship. They spent almost 5 hours diving down to the deepest part of the ocean, where they spent 20 minutes. No one has ever been back, and now, 48 years later, no vessel exists that can repeat the trip. We’ve been to the moon. We’ve sent robotic vehicles to Mars. We’ve sent orbiters to Saturn. Through the Hubble Space Telescope, we have seen the edges of the universe.
We have seen amazing things, and God created all these things. God maintains all these things. And more – because the things we see now are nothing to what our children and grandchildren will see in this universe.
Can you really see the wonders of this universe and not be filled with awe?
Have you ever been to the Grand Canyon? Have you ever experienced one of those Fall afternoons when every tree is still full of leaves and every leaf is full of color and the sky is clear and sun is shining? Have you ever walked on a beach and listened to the waves hitting the shore and smelled the salt air? Have you ever held in your arms a child who is so young that his or her age is not counted in years or even days, but hours or minutes?
We are invited to come and worship, and to experience the wonder and awe of God almighty who has made us and who has made this universe.
We come in here, not so much to satisfy our hunger for God, but rather to deepen that hunger.
Eugene Peterson, author of The Message, said, “Worship does not satisfy our hunger for God – it whets our appetite.” (Eugene Peterson (quoted in Leadership magazine, Winter 1995.)
Come and worship in such a way that you are not satisfied, but in such a way that you experience the awesomeness of God that leaves you wanting more and more and more of God.
Worship needs to be filled with joy, it should give us a sense of awe and inspiration, and it should motivate us.
Psalm 95 begins with this wonderful section, “Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving and praise him with music and song. For the LORD is the great God.”
However, the Psalm then moves to an ending that we would prefer not to read…
“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” And then, the Psalmist reminds the listeners that their ancestors were disobedient in such a way that they were forced by God to wander in the desert for 40 years before being allowed to enter the Promised Land. The Psalmist ends with, “For forty years I was angry with that generation; I said, "They are a people whose hearts go astray, and they have not known my ways." So I declared on oath in my anger, "They shall never enter my rest."
I don’t want God to be angry with me. Some translations are even more harsh – “I loathed that generation,” says one version. Another says, “I was tired of that generation.”
None of those appeal to me. I prefer, “God was happy with me.” But, by Psalm 95, God is not always happy, and he sent the people who had been freed from slavery in Egypt into a period of wandering in the desert for 40 years.
If you walk straight there, from Egypt to the Promised Land, do you know how much time it takes?
Me? I might take 15 days.
With all of that luggage and supplies, the children and elderly being slow to catch up – let’s double it, and it still takes less than a month.
But it took 40 years.
So we have a choice. Follow God’s leadership, and get where God wants you to be in quick order. Or follow your own desires, and wander aimlessly.
Worship ought to motivate us and direct us.
Leonard Sweet, in his book “Aquachurch,” writes: “Our pews are occupied by people who want to be moved, but who don’t want to move.” In other words, our pews are occupied by people who want to be moved emotionally, but who don’t want to move obediently. (Leonard I. Sweet, “Aquachurch: Essential Leadership Arts for Piloting Your Church in Today’s Fluid ")
Someone once said, “Worship always leads to action.” True worship must always lead to the implementation of God’s plan and purpose for our lives. So come – come and worship, not simply wanting to be moved emotionally, but with a commitment to move forward obediently.
Stephen Dow, a pastor of a Wesleyan Church, tells a parable about a community of ducks waddling off to duck church one Sunday to hear their duck preacher. (Steven Dow, pastor of the Westside Wesleyan Church, Bristol, South Dakota. Quoted in Sermon Central “Loving God Through Worship.”)
After they waddled into the duck sanctuary, the service began and the duck preacher spoke eloquently of how God had given the ducks wings with which to fly.
He pounded the pulpit with his duck beak and said, “With these wings, there is nowhere we ducks can not go! There is no God-given task we ducks cannot accomplish! With these wings we no longer need walk through life. We can soar high in the sky!”
Shouts of “Amen!” were quacked throughout the duck congregation.
The duck preacher concluded his message by boldly saying, “With our wings we can fly through life! WE … CAN … FLY!!!” More ducks quacked out loud AMENS in response.
Every duck loved the service. In fact all the ducks that were present commented on what a wonderful, powerful message they had heard from their duck preacher … and then they left the church and waddled all the way home.
How often do we waddle to church, waddle through our worship and then waddle back out the same way we waddled in? And we are not moved. We are not changed.
Come, and worship. Our God is a great God. A God above all other things in life! Come into His presence, and let His Spirit lead you.
Copyright 2008, Dr. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved.
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