Summary: Second Sunday after Pentecost: What is worship that is real and authentic? We look at Jesus’ teachings about this to learn how to honor God in worship.
The Bible describes perfect worship. It occurs around the throne of God. That is a place where there is no pain, or sadness; A place where no sun or moon are needed because God is there to provide light and warmth; A place where the chaos and all that disturbs is replaced by the perfect peace. It is a place where there is no distinction made among people, nations and languages. All are equals before the Almighty God and the Lamb, their Savior.
But we aren’t around the Throne of God yet. We are here in this world where worship for us sometimes becomes problematic. Oftentimes, we believe that worship is about things that we believe we need to do to please God. Sometimes we think that worship is about us measuring up. Sometimes we think that worship is about coming to church on Sunday in our best clothes. Sometimes we get to thinking that worship is about singing the right things using the right melodies in order to earn God’s favor. And in their proper context, each of these things can certainly be part of what God-honoring worship is all about. But worship is about much more than these.
Today we will begin to deal with the issue of worship. We deal with important questions such as: What is worship? What does true worship look like? How can we worship God in a real and authentic way? Let’s begin by looking at what we can learn from the Gospel lesson for today. The first two verses in our Gospel text say:
23 Once on a day of worship Jesus was going through the grainfields. As the disciples walked along, they began to pick the heads of grain. 24 The Pharisees asked him, “Look! Why are your disciples doing something that is not permitted on the day of worship?” (Mark 2.23-24)
It was a Sabbath day – the equivalent of our Sunday morning – the day of rest. Jesus’ disciples were engaged in activity that wasn’t permitted by the religious rules and regulations of the time. They were picking grain because they were hungry. Now there were people who were seen as the enforcers of the religious laws. Among them were the Pharisees and Scribes and those who ruled in the temple. They criticized Jesus because of what the disciples were doing.
You see, for these religious leaders – worship had become a series of do’s and don’ts. The Sabbath was a day when certain activities were permitted and others weren’t. Pleasing God had been reduced to a formula. God will be happy if you walk no more than 30 paces but He will be displeased if you walk 31. God will honor your worship if you give your tithe but He will be angry if all you can bring is a widow’s mite. Honoring God had been reduced to rules and regulations.
But this type of worship had been rejected by God through the centuries. Many years before the prophet Isaiah had told the people: “The Lord says: "These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.” (Isaiah 29.13) You see, it is a silly thing to imagine that we can make up the rules and requirements for God-honoring worship.
There is a story that involved the noted medieval poet, Dante Alighieri. Dante was deeply immersed in meditation during a church service. Because of this, he failed to kneel at the appropriate moment during the worship service. His enemies hurried to the bishop and demanded that Dante be punished for his sacrilege. Dante defended himself by saying, “If those who accuse me had had their eyes and minds on God, as I had, they too would have failed to notice events around them, and they most certainly would not have noticed what I was doing.” (Today in the Word, March 10, 1993)
You see, when worship becomes about rules and laws that have to be obeyed, it’s easy to take our eyes off God – the One to Whom we are rendering worship. The focus changes to what we are doing and how we are doing it and whether those around us are doing it well. We miss the boat and the point of worship when this happens.
Well, what is the contrast to this type of worship? I think it begins by understanding who God is and who we are in comparison to Him. We know that our God is almighty and all knowing. He is the Creator through whose Word everything came to be. He needs nothing from us and yet the creation depends entirely on Him. As you consider these eternal qualities about God, doesn’t it become clear that worship is not about what we do for God? Worship is all about what God does for us. And that is the key to Jesus’ response to the religious leaders who criticized Him. Jesus said to them: