A little boy lived out in the country around the turn of the twentieth century. He had never seen a traveling circus, and one was coming to his town on a particular Saturday. When he asked his father for permission to go, his dad said he could providing his chores were done early. Saturday morning came. Chores finished, the little boy asked his father for some money to go to the circus. His dad reached down in his overalls and pulled out a dollar bill, the most money the boy had ever seen at one time. Off the little wide-eyed fellow went. As he approached the town, he saw people lining the streets. Peering through the line at one point, he got his first glimpse of the parade. There were animals in cages and marching bands. Finally, a clown was seen bringing up the rear of the parade. The little boy was so excited that when the clown passed, he reached in his pocket and handed him the precious dollar bill. Thinking he had seen the circus when he had only seen the parade, the little boy turned around and went home.
Isn’t it sad that so many people come to church like this little boy who went to the circus? They may come with the intent to worship God, but all they see is the parade – the parade of readings, singing, prayers, and preaching. They peer through their pews at all the activity and then turn to go home at 12:00 noon; thinking they have been to God’s house, but yet they missed the main event!
Worship is about so much more than what transpires here during this hour. This morning I want to leave you with a challenge: take worship to the next level; to make it the real thing! Will you pray with me…
When we were in Russia we visited the largest cathedral in Moscow, Christ Our Savior Cathedral. It was more of a museum than a church. Its beauty was beyond belief. But the thing that surprised me was that worship did not occur in this cathedral on a weekly basis, but rather only on Christmas and Easter. Every other week of the year the congregation met in a sanctuary in the basement. This was only for special occasions; only for when the big crowds showed up. On Christmas Eve this church is filled with over 10,000 worshippers. But most of those people only attend church once or twice a year, Christmas and Easter. Sound familiar?
Next week you will more than likely see people who you do not see on a weekly basis here. They will come from far and near to pay homage to the risen Christ? Why because it’s the thing to do on Easter. And much like the boy who missed the circus, they will miss the main event. Many of these people will never come to an understanding of what it means to truly be involved in worship.
And you should know. Most of you are regular worshippers. Yes, Christmas and Easter are special for you, but they’re special in a different way. You’re here most of the time. You’re faithful. You are committed. You know what worship is all about.
But, time out. Don’t get too comfortable. Do you remember who Jesus was the hardest on? It wasn’t the occasional Christian. It wasn’t even the down right dirty sinner. It was the religious people. The Pharisees. We always think of them in such a negative light, but did you know that the Pharisees were some of the most devoted church attendees? They were people who wanted revival! That doesn’t sound so bad, does it? They wanted people to become more devoted to the Law that God had given them. And they strove to go above and beyond what the Law asked of them. They went the extra mile to make sure that not only were they obedient but that they were totally committed.
But that wasn’t enough, because somehow, they missed the main event, they missed the real thing.
This morning my sermon is not aimed at the C&E (Christmas and Easter) Christians. I want to talk to you, the faithful, the disciples like myself, who are totally committed to this faith. I want to challenge you to take your worship to the next level.
Let’s stop and think about our worship. When you attend this worship service you know what do and when to do it. You know when to stand and when to sit. You even know where to sit. You know how long everything will take. You know the hymns. And you know when worship is over. Our worship is clearly definable. It’s neat.
Here’s the problem. We miss the main event when our worship ends at 12:00. It’s like we’ve watched the parade and we leave and miss the circus all together. This hour is supposed to be so much more than what we frequently make it. Rather than being the sole worship event of our week it should be the culmination of a lifestyle. This hour should only be a pit stop in the race not the main event itself.
Until worship becomes more than something we dress up for we will not experience what it’s all about.
Today is Palm Sunday. And while we often celebrate this Sunday with shouts of praise and joy, I believe that this is one of the saddest days of the year, sadder in some ways than Good Friday itself. Because on this day worship occurred that wasn’t real. On this Sunday people lined the streets to sing Jesus’ praise who weren’t committed to standing by his side on Friday. On this day the songs of praise came from ulterior motives. These people wanted something. They were happy to sing the praise of this prophet, because they believed that he was there to deliver them from the oppression of the Roman Government. They believed that they would finally be free. On this day worship was the popular thing to do. Every one was doing it. Why not join the crowd? On this day worship didn’t cost anything. No one would be persecuted for this. In fact, worship could be anonymous on this day, because the crowds were so large, that you could get lost. On this day worship was an event, and had nothing to do with a lifestyle.
Let me ask you something, Christian: Is your worship like that of the Palm Sunday worshippers? Do you come to this place with ulterior motives? Are you here because your friends and family do it, because it’s the popular thing to do? Are you happy to be here as long as it doesn’t cost you anything? Is this one hour that you spend here the worship event of the week for you?
I know that it’s easy to get stuck in that type of living. It’s easy to slack off on our commitment level, and to find ourselves worshipping on Sunday hoping that we will gain what we need until the next Sunday comes around. We think we’ve done our duty. But we haven’t. We must take our worship to the next level. We must make it the real thing. Next Level worship has four characteristics:
First, it’s worship out of love. Next level worship doesn’t ask “What’s in this for me?” “What can I get today?” But rather, “What can I give?” Next level worship comes from the heart. It’s about being moved and touched deep down inside.
Second, it’s worship when worship isn’t popular. I’ll never forget my first visit to Russia in ’93 when I discovered that in spite of communism, worship still had occurred. There were devoted and totally sold out followers of Jesus Christ who desired to worship God so much that the cost didn’t matter. Next Level Worship is about worshipping when it isn’t the popular thing to do. We live in a culture which values increasingly less the importance of faith. We live in a culture which teaches the skill of compartmentalization. In other words, put your religion over here, your work over here, and your play over here. When you attempt to bring your faith into another arena of your life you’ll meet opposition. It’s not the popular thing to do. But Next Level Worship is not about seeking approval from the crowds, but about worshipping in spite of what others think.
Third, Next Level Worship is worship that Costs. Six years ago next Sunday, two angry teenage gunmen walked into Columbine High School and opened fire on their peers. The horrific story has been told time and time again. But from that horror came something even more powerful than the evil itself. Rachel Scott was a seventeen-year-old student whose faith in God was evident to those around her. On that day in April, Rachel was shot in the back and when the teenage boys discovered that she was still alive they went to her lifted her head by her hair and asked her if she still believed in God. Apparently Rachel had shared her faith with these two young men just weeks before. Her answer according to a witness was “Yes, I do.” The gunman then pulled the trigger and killed her. For Rachel, worship cost her life.
While chances are you and I will never be asked to choose between abandoning our faith or death, we are challenged every day to worship at a cost. When you stand up against something that you know is wrong at school, you’re paying the cost. When you refuse to laugh at that dirty joke at work, you’re counting the cost. When you get up early in the morning to spend time in prayer and devotions you’re worshiping at a cost. Until worship becomes inconvenient for you, it’s not real worship. Until worship demands something from you, it’s not real worship. Next Level Worship will cost you.
Finally, Next Level Worship is a Lifestyle. Everything that I’ve said this morning has been leading to this point, which I believe is the most important one. If you only remember one thing today, remember this: worship is a lifestyle. You must see worship as more than what you do here on Sunday mornings. Worship is about everything you do. You don’t need to come here to be in God’s presence. God is with you everyday and you must be worshiping God through your actions, through your words, through your service to others. What you do here is really just a culmination of what should be taking place in your life all week long. Worship is about your response to what God has done for you through the giving of his son Jesus Christ. It’s about responding to God’s love out of gratitude by surrendering your life to God’s control.
If you’re like me then worship is not always what it should be in your life. Sometimes I find myself coming to Sunday morning realizing that I haven’t really been worshiping like I should be throughout the week. I find myself wanting to get something from worship. But I need to be reminding myself that unless I am living in God’s presence every minute of every day, unless I’m challenging myself to make my worship a lifestyle, Sunday morning will mean nothing to me.
Where are you? Are you a Sunday morning worshipper? Are you faithful in your attendance, but not faithful in your worship? This morning as we go to prayer I want to ask you to ask God to help take your worship to the next level. To make it the real thing.
Let us pray…