Today is Mother’s Day. It’s the day when we have an opportunity to honor our mother’s and the mother figures in our lives for all that they have done and all that they do… and for some of us it’s an opportunity to honor them for all they have put up with and all that they will put up with in the future. But nevertheless, it’s on this day that we do our best… it’s the one day of the year that we work hard to get it right.
Maybe you’ve made cards for a mother figure in your life, reminding her that you appreciate her. Maybe as a kid you cooked dinner for her, so that she could have a break, and if she was really lucky, maybe you even cleaned it up after you were all done.
We did this in my family too. My mom loved family pictures, and I never understood this, because it was always a really high stress activity for our family. Getting everybody dressed, getting the gum off the collar of my shirt that I dropped in the car ride over… then trying to line 7 of us up in a picture… all smiling at the same time… and then in 2 years you look back, hate your hair cut, and throw the picture in a box.
So one year, when I was 16 or 17 years old, me and my siblings drove to Sears, and we got a sibling portrait done for her. My little brother wasn’t cooperating, so I had to physically hold him by the back of his shirt… my sister wanted me to wear one of her sweaters so we would all match, but I didn’t want to, so we compromised and I wore it.
And you can kind of picture this scene where we’re all fighting right up to the moment of the picture and then the person taking the picture yells smile, and then you all smile, and then you’re right back to the way you were before, fighting again.
It was a pretty thoughtful mother’s day gift, but since we didn’t have any money, we gave mom the proofs and she had to buy any prints she wanted. And then there was the ride home. I had my permit, and my sister was 21, so I wanted to drive… but she wouldn’t let me… and of course, she ended up hitting a curb as we left the parking lot and by the time we got out onto the main road, we had a flat tire… and it was raining… I reminded her how she had the opportunity to let me drive and how this would have never happened if I was driving. Then she reminded me that I was the only one who knew how to change a flat tire… and then I reminded her that I was wearing her sweater… after I finished changing the flat, my sister was trying to be nice, and she got all my siblings to celebrate when I got back in the car… and so, I need you guys to play along… I open the car door and she says, three cheers for David! Hip hip! Hip hip! Hip hip! Pretty nice of her, right? The only problem was that my little brother, as they were doing that… let’s do it again… hip hip! BOO! Hip hip, boo! hip hip! Boo! We still laugh about that today.
Sometimes it seemed like the only time we really honored mom the way we should was on mother’s day. It seemed like on Mother’s day we were making up for all the garbage she had to put up with during the rest of the year. Sometimes it feels this way for Father’s day, too… and for birthdays. I’ll sing you happy birthday and buy you a gift, but tomorrow, things are going back to normal. Your day to be honored is today, so I’ll honor you, but tomorrow, don’t count on it. Sometimes I wonder if we would have honored mom more, or dad more, by getting along all year round. I wonder if that would have been more meaningful to them, rather than one day a year.
I think there are times for each of us that we compartmentalize different aspects of our lives. Maybe your mom taught you amazing table etiquette. Elbows were to be kept off the table… sit up straight… certain silverware was for certain times, and you should never reach over someone else to get your food. Maybe today when you go over to moms you do that, but at home with your own family, you don’t value those things as much. Maybe when you get home from work you turn off your cell phone because now you’re not at work anymore… and you don’t want to be bothered by work calls or emails… or maybe for some people, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas… and somehow what happens there is not influenced by the rest of your life at home, and it seems like there are no consequences if it stays a secret.
Some of that compartmentalizing is healthy… setting up boundaries for your family and turning off your phone at a certain time in the evening is placing value on the things that matter most. Honoring your mom by eating the way she wants you in her home shows respect.
But what about compartmentalizing our relationship with God. Is that okay? Should our relationship with God influence the living out of the rest of our lives, or does what happen at church stay at church? We have this great struggle… I’m a Christian, but I’m also an athlete, manager, musician, student, lawyer, mother… and while I try to follow God, sometimes things are expected of me and I feel this pressure to separate certain parts of my life from my faith as if they don’t dpeak to one another.
Isaiah speaks to this very issue, although it is a bit harsh. There is a reason prophets were not well liked… their job was often to tell people to turn from the path they were going on, because it would inevitably lead to destruction… but the life that God had for them was better than anything they could dream up on their own..
At this point in Israel’s history, Israel was divided into the Northern and Southern Kingdoms. What I’ll be reading from is addressed particularly to the southern Kingdom, Judah… so if I’ll use Judah, the Jewish People, and Israel, but I’m talking about the same people. This is what he says in Isaiah 1: 11-15.
At first glance, this seems contrary to what God desires. In many ways we’ve got to imagine the people who were hearing this being a bit confused… they’re looking at Isaiah, and they’re looking at Deuteronomy and they’re thinking that what Isaiah is saying doesn’t line up. Deut 12:4-7 says… why is God telling them to stop doing what he told them to do?
What Isaiah is saying is not that God wants them to stop celebrating the holidays of their faith or to stop making sacrifices or stop burning incense to Him, because this is exactly what God had already told them to do. What he was saying was something different. They lost sight of what worship really was. As we can see in the language that Isaiah uses, it’s clear that God was not satisfied with their empty worship. For them, they went through the motions, but their worship was meaningless.
This is challenging for us, because sometimes it feels like what God really wants is for us to come to church on Sunday, sing a few songs, hear a sermon, maybe take a nap if we’re lucky, and then go home… but if what Isaiah is telling the Jewish people is true, then it seems that there is a meaningless way to Worship and a meaningful way to Worship.
So how does Scripture portray meaningful Worship? First, we’ll turn to Paul’s letter to the Philippian church. Philippians 3:18-21. This church was facing some opposition from people who had distorted the message of the gospel. And so we hear Paul clarifying what makes them different from those who are worshiping idols, and he says, their minds are on earthly things… but our citizenship is in heaven.
As a citizen of a country or a state or of a region, there are certain things that are expected of you. For instance, since we live close to Penn State, it’s almost a sin to support any team but Penn State. In the same way if you’re from Philly, you have to like the Eagles or you’ll be shunned and possibly have soda poured all over you in the parking lot of wal-mart. There are expectations of loyalty.
But there is one exception to the rule… you can cheer on another team if you’re FROM somewhere else. So since I was born and raised near Pittsburgh, I can live in Philly and cheer on the Penguins or the Steelers. That’s where I came from… that’s where my roots are… that’s where I was born, that’s where my first loyalty lies! I think that’s what Paul is saying here… he’s saying, “don’t forget, whatever happens… your primary loyalty lies with God and you’ve got to remain loyal to the life that He calls you to, no matter what anyone else demands of you.”
This idea continues to be developed in some of Paul’s other letters. One that always challenges me is Colossians 3:23. In this passage of Scripture, Paul shows us today that Worship is so much more than coming to church, singing some songs, hearing a sermon, and taking a nap if you’re lucky… while it is all of that, it is so much more. I think Scripture paints a picture that Worship is a lifestyle. Sunday morning is not the compartmentalized time for Christians to gather and worship God… Sunday morning is our time to Worship God as one people so that we can go out from here and glorify him in everything that we do.
Who am I when no one else is watching? How do I form my decisions? How do I conduct myself at work? How do I live when I’m not in church? How do I treat my spouse, or my parents, or my parents? At 5th Qtr in the fall, I’ll often hear this conversation. It starts with a kid swearing, and then one of his friends says, “dude, don’t say that… we’re at church.” But the more important question, according to Isaiah, is how do I live when I’m not at church? Our faith should guide how we live our lives and I think that compartmentalization seems to be something that God despises.
So one part of living a lifestyle of Worship is that we glorify and honor God in all we do, and we glorify God together as the church body in corporate Worship. The other component of living a lifestyle of Worship is rooted in glorifying God in all we do, and it was something that the Jewish people were particularly bad at in the Isaiah passage we heard from earlier.
Isaiah 1:16-17. Because the people were not glorifying God in all that they did, they saw no issue with taking advantage of and oppressing the poor. They saw no issue with leaving the orphans and widows to fend for themselves. They saw no issue with doing evil, because they thought that by sacrificing at the temple and celebrating the right holidays that they were doing all that they were supposed to do, but what Isaiah is saying is that their Worship is meaningless because they are paying lip service to a belief that they’re not living out in their life. God is saying, “you are not glorifying Me in everything you do… you’re glorifying you in all that you do… and as long as you keep doing that, your worship will continue to be worthless and I will not hear your prayers.”
In other words what God is saying is that worship is only as meaningful as we are genuine about our worship of God. And when we are genuine about worshipping God, we will Worship him corporately, we will glorify him in all that we do, and we will care for the least among us.
How do we get there? I think it involves three things, and I invite you to grab a pen or pencil from your pew and write these down on the inside of your bulletin. The first thing is to say, “God. Today, I want to glorify you in everything I do.” Ask God to show you what that looks like. Ask God to lead you. By doing this, we are surrendering to God’s will, we’re reminding ourselves of our desire to worship him, and we are relying on God’s strength to sustain us. Without his strength, we can’t do any of this.
The second thing is to allow God to show us how we glorified Him throughout the day and how we didn’t. Maybe have two planned times. Maybe for me it’s over lunch and on my way home from work or school and maybe for you it’s something else. That way it’s still fresh and we’re able to remember, oh yeah, that was not glorifying to God. As part of evaluating the day, ask, “What would it have looked like for me to glorify God in that moment?” Allow God to speak to you. And the third thing is at the end of the day, ask God to forgive you and to lead you again tomorrow.
This is a challenging call for us. I think the hardest part is that this isn’t a call to do a bunch of things… if it were it would be easy…. But in the same way that GOd didn’t want Judah to offer up burnt sacrifices, He also doesn’t want us to “behave” just to “behave.” If our lifestyle of Worship is just obeying a list of commands, then our Worship is just as meaningless as Judah’s, who were simply going through the motions they thought God wanted them to go through.
But, when we realize that we were brought into existence by a loving God… and when we realize all that Christ suffered for us through his death on the cross to pay the penalty for our sin… and when we realize the depth of our sin and understand that we don’t deserve God’s grace, and yet he freely lavishes it on us, our hearts will worship him through song, we will desire to glorify him in all that we do, and we will want to be gracious to those around us who are experiencing pain.
Think about your life for a second… God still loves us. That’s why we Worship Him. That’s why we glorify him in all we do. That’s why we care for the those in pain… because of all that he did and all that he’s promised to do.
We see this so clearly in many of the letters in the New Testament, but today we’ll take a look at Romans… The letter to the Romans is 16 chapter long. If what Christians were supposed to do was follow a list of rules to appease God, then it would make sense that Paul would write for 16 chapters about rules to follow and tips for how behave. But that’s not what happens.
From Romans 1:1 the whole way through the end of chapter 11, Paul talks about God. He talks about God’s faithfulness, God’s mercy, God’s sacrifice, about Christians being saved by grace alone, the peace we have in the assurance of our salvation, God’s power, freedom from sin, God’s sovereignty… and then… only after they understand all that God has done for them and all that God has promises to do…he says this in Romans 12:1.
Thanks be to God. Let’s pray together.