This Is Us - Worship
Passage: Luke 24:50–24:53
01.14.2018 This Is Us Worship
Scripture: Luke 24: 50-53
Who’s number 1? What’s the best? Who’s gonna win it all? In case you missed it last week, I want to officially welcome you to awards season. Last Sunday night the Golden Globes kicked off a multi-month season of evaluating the best movies, the best performances, the best cinematography, the best costume design, and the category that I don’t get why it’s a category, the best animated short movie. We just crowned a college football playoff champion and are about to crown an NFL Super Bowl Champ. NCAA Basketball conference play is starting and the AP Top 25 rankings are becoming more and more important. And conference standing is about to become the thing. Where will my beloved Tar Heels finish in the ACC? Can someone please oh please oh please beat Duke out for ACC Champ?!
Oh and like two weeks ago we were getting all these articles about the best albums of 2017, the best movies of 2017, the best moments of 2017. We were looking back on ever detail from the prior year and deciding which was most important, which was most lasting, which was most emblematic, which was best. For the past month and for the next few months culture will be all about ranking. Who is best? What is best?
This morning we are going to look at and talk about worship. For us at Spirit and Life we are about helping people authentically encounter Jesus Christ through worship and small groups for lives of service. You’ve heard me say this today. I say it every week. This month we are looking at what makes Spirit & Life Spirit & Life. We’re looking at the things that make us us. And those things are the big 3: worship, small groups, service. We think one of the primary ways you can encounter Jesus is through worship.
But worship comes from a Latin word that literally means “give worth to”. Worship is about what you think is important. Worship is about what you think matters. Worship is about what you think is best, what you think is lasting, what you think is memorable. Worship and Power Rankings get at the very same thing.
I want to break this down a little bit further and I hope you’ll indulge me as I do. You see, right now I’m a college basketball obsessive. And so much of college basketball is about rankings. There are over 300 division 1 men’s college basketball teams. And because a college basketball regular season consists of like 30 games and because most of those games are done in conference, there are a lot of teams that don’t play each other. But to rank college basketball teams or to seed the NCAA tournament requires that you decide which team is best among a groups of teams that haven’t played one another. Is North Carolina better than Duke? Eventually we’ll find out when they play in February. But for now, to answer that question, we have to ask another series of questions.
When you rank teams, when you seed a tournament, when you try to decide which team is better, how do you do it? Win-loss record? Do you look at who the respective teams have beat? Who they have lost to? Do you look at how talented you think the rosters are? Some combination of all of these things?
I apologize for getting in the weeds here, but for me this is an exercise in what it means to make value judgments. Figuring out what matters at what point in the season is essential when it comes to ranking college basketball teams. Worship is all about making value judgments. Worship is how we frame and reframe what things are important to us. Worship is how we show what we value and how what we value is transformed by God.
And this couldn’t be more fundamental to our lives. We are constantly asked to make choices. These choices could be large like where will I live, where will I work, what career do I want to pursue, whom should I marry, should we have a kid or more kids, etc. These choices could be small, what will I eat for dinner tonight. These choices could be so microscopic that they don’t even register as conscious choices: will I notice the homeless person in my periphery. Our brains are flooded with information constantly from the photons that are shot into our eyes to the sound waves going in our ears to the physical sensations around us like temperature. Our brains are constantly making decisions about what they are receiving, trying to make sense of it all. And then our conscious mind is also forced to make choices as to how we will react to our surroundings. I’m hungry. Will I have another donut? I’m tired. Will I have another cup of coffee.
How do we make these decisions? What influences our choices? Habit. More than anything else, habit determines what choices we make. I am accustomed to eating donuts in church. It’s what I did as a kid and it’s often what my breakfast is on Sunday mornings. So if I get hungry after this service chances are good I’ll grab another donut. Because its habitual for me. Our habits are formed on the basis of what we value or what our parents valued.
This sermon has admittedly been all over the place so far. However, before we can talk about worship we need to establish that our life is an infinite series of choices that are, for the most part, determined by the habits we form based off of what we value. The things to which we give worth.
My wife and I spend a lot of time telling our three year old to make better choices. Mainly because he’s 3. And a boy. He’ll do things that defy logic. Just after Christmas he was playing with a sticker book he’d gotten and needed some tape to make sure the stickers stayed on the paper. We gave him child scissors so he could cut the long piece of tape into smaller pieces. Which he did. But he also wound up cutting the sleeves of his long sleeve shirt. Inexplicably. And so we had to tell him how he had made a very bad choice and he needed to make better choices.
Oftentimes in life we realize that we ourselves need to begin making better choices. We need to change the life choices we make and continue to make. Maybe its in how we spend our time. Maybe its in how we spend our money. Maybe its in what we put into our body. Maybe its how we feed, or don’t feed, our soul. Whatever it is, we want to make a change. How do we do that? How do we begin to make different or better choices? As we’ve seen, in order to make different choices we need to change our habits. But how we change our habits? We have to change what we value.
And that’s where worship comes in.
Almost two thousand years ago a small group of very committed people changed the world. Almost two thousand years ago a small group of young men, having followed a teacher around for a couple years, changed the world. And the funny thing is that most of the stories we have about these young men are about them not getting it. About them missing the point. About them doubting their teacher. About them fearing, worrying. About them arguing over who among them was greatest. And yet they changed the world.
So what changed? What took these young men from guys who didn’t get it, would argue over who was most important, into people whose faith changed the world?
I think it has something to do with the four short verses the end Luke’s gospel.
Just for a bit of context, this comes after Jesus is crucified and resurrected. Which I know, it’s weird, we just had the baby born like two weeks ago and here we are after he’s dead and resurrected. But that’s what we’re doing. So Jesus is raised from the dead and has appeared to the disciples a couple times. In Luke we’ve already had the Emmaus road experience, which we’ll talk about next week in more detail, and this is the final interaction between Jesus and the disciples in Luke’s Gospel. And it goes like this:
When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.
Now this is the last interaction we have in Luke between Jesus and his disciples, but its not the last words that Luke wrote. Luke went on to write the book of Acts that depicts the disciples turned apostles working in unison, working together, to start the church. The book of Acts has the disciples not acting like ambitious cut-throats, no longer missing the point, but as a faithful team bringing thousands of followers to the way.
Among other things, the disciples worshiped.
Jesus is with the disciples in Bethany, which is just outside of Jerusalem, and he blesses them. And while he was blessing them, he ascended into heaven. And the disciples response to this is to worship Jesus. Worshipping Jesus they came back to Jerusalem, not in fear, not in trepidation, not worrying that the same thing that happened to Jesus, capital execution, would happen to them. Instead they return with joy.
Then Scripture says they were in the Temple every day worshipping God. Another Gospel talks about how, after Jesus was crucified, the disciples hid in the upper room out of fear for the Jews. They were afraid of the chief priests and the Temple authorities as they were the ones who set up the plot to have Jesus killed. And yet here the Disciples go into the Temple to worship and praise God. They weren’t afraid that they’d be apprehended. They weren’t afraid that the Temple authorities would take them. They were there, in the Temple, worshipping their God.
The disciples had an encounter with the risen Jesus, they worshipped him and they praised God, and that made the difference in their lives, that changed them into people who went out and changed the world.
I think worshipping changed them.
This month our sermons are going to be all about how we encounter Jesus Christ here at Spirit & Life. Our goal here is to help you authentically encounter Jesus Christ through worship and small groups for lives of service. And worship is the first way we can encounter Jesus. Worship is the first of our big 3.
In worship we encounter Jesus. We seek to do that here as we sing together. There’s something about singing together that raises our spirits to another place. St. Augustine famously said He who sings prays twice. Singing together in praise and worship can help us experience the God we are praising.
In worship we pray. We pray to hear God speak to us. We pray to have God change and transform us. As we pray we let God teach us what we should value, what we should love. And we ask God to help us change our habits, help us make better choices.
In worship we listen to God’s word. God’s word comes to us as we read Scripture. But God’s word also comes to us when that Scripture is proclaimed and expounded upon. It is very strange that for twenty five minutes a week you all sit there in relative silence and listen to me. It’s not because I’m so funny or so engaging or because of my vast wisdom. It’s because there’s something that happens in preaching where God shows up and these words of mine become, by the power of the Holy Spirit, something that can affect and transform us. God speaks to us words of love and grace, words of conviction, and calls us to live into the discipleship to which we have been called.
We celebrate Holy Communion and somehow by the power of the Holy Spirit we encounter the risen Christ as we partake of the bread and the cup. We learn and remember that God takes the ordinary and through His presence makes it extraordinary. And we know God can do the same in our own lives.
We offer to God the fruits of our labor, we offer to God some of our money. We do this so God can teach us generosity, so God can teach us that we live in a world of abundance, not one of scarcity, so that God can teach us that God will be faithful to us if we are faithful to God. When how we spend our money is one of the most important choices we make, nothing helps change our values and our habits more than offering God our money.
We do all of these things in worship and we encounter Christ in them all. And in encountering Christ in worship we find that more and more we value the things Christ values. More and more we are intentional about making choices that are what Christ would want. And more and more we develop faithful habits in line with Christ’s teaching.
And as we are transformed into people who, more and more, make faithful choices out in the world, we take our place in the long line of faithful disciples and apostles who have changed the world. We are like the eleven young men who brought the message of Christ’s resurrection to the ends of the earth. We are like the countless faithful saints and martyrs who continued to spread and grow the church. We are like the quiet saints who have made the faith come alive in our lives.
My granny was the most patient woman I ever met. She was a kindergarten teacher which I imagine requires you to be the most patient person ever. I never heard her raise her voice. I never heard her mutter an unkind word. She found something to like in every person. I think encountering Jesus in worship makes a person like that possible.
My granddaddy was the most humble person I’ve ever met. He was an accomplished journalist who interviewed Hellen Keller, covered the space shuttle launches in Cape Canaveral, and won a Pulitzer Prize for an expose on Scientology. I didn’t learn what the Pulitzer Prize was until middle school when we talked about it in Civics class. Not from him. The man who’d won one. Of his Prize winning piece he said he’d written a good one. I think encountering Jesus in worship makes a person like that possible.
At some point in your life whether its in your family or here in church or in your friends you’ve encountered saint-like traits. You’ve encounter saint-like people. I believe encountering Jesus in worship regularly makes those qualities and those people possible. I come here each week hoping that God can transform me to be more patient, kinder, more loving, more generous, slower to anger.
I hope you encounter Jesus Christ here in worship. And I hope that in encountering Jesus what you value, your habits, and your choices are transformed by God’s grace so that we can be people who embody God’s qualities out in our community. Let us pray.