Today we’re talking about worship…. Now, I don’t want anyone to feel shamed or put on the spot today, but by a show of hands, how many of you have ever been to church before? Good. Most of you.
Now, you may not know this, but I grew up in a traditional Baptist church. My dad was the pastor and my mom was the organist, and some of you may remember these days… **sarcasm** but in my church growing up the words to the songs we sang weren’t projected on the wall with high tech projectors, they were typed up in this little thing we called a hymnal. And if you look right in front of you, there’s a red hymnal right in front of you that we pulled out of the archives… that had all the songs we sang in it.
I went to church every single week… Church was just something I did… it was just a regular part of my life.. I didn’t think much about it. We were a family that went to church. There was an organ… there was a choir… it was what I knew about church…
But then, at church camp, I experienced something different… it was different than any worship service I had ever been to. There was no organ… there was a live band with guitar and drums and keyboards… there were no hymnals, the words were on the wall with an overhead projector and transparencies… you remember those things? We sang songs I’d never heard before and the songs had energy and it was loud. And some people were raising their hands in the air… there was a group of people waving ribbons around… and there some people with tambourines…
At first I thought it was a little weird, but then I loved it. That was one of the first places I felt like I had a real encounter with God. I sang and sang and sang until I lost my voice. And I experienced God’s presence in a way I never had before.
So now I have these two church experiences in my life. The church I grew up in with an organ… and this very expressive worship with a live band and ribbons and tambourines… but it kind of leftme in a tough spot… which way is the right way?
Fortunately for us, Jesus had some words about what kind of worship is right, and I hope by the end of today’s message, we’ll know where we can find a better church where worship is done the right way.
So, after healing some folks in Gennesaret, Jesus was approached by some scribes and Pharisees, and these guys asked him this: (Matthew 15:2 NIV2011) – “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”
What? why wouldn’t they wash their hands? That’s just disgusting.
Now, we have to remember that the Pharisees weren’tupset about physical hygiene, they’re upset about ceremonial cleanliness… a few weeks ago we talked about how God is more Holy than we thought… and how he’s so holy, in the Old Testament, if a Jewish person came into contact with certain things, they would become unclean and they had to go through certain steps to become clean again before they couldgo back into the temple or be reintegrated with society again. And God set up a bunch of guidelines about what made you unclean and how to become clean again.
And that’s what the Pharisees were upset about. The Pharisees went crazy about different laws in the Old Testament and expanded them far beyond what God ever intended and by doing so made them more complicated and more invasive and challenging to follow.
So, while you were supposed to be ceremonially clean if you became unclean… the religious leaders added to that and said before you eat, you had to become clean JUST IN CASE you were unclean…AND between every course in the meal you had to become clean because uncleanliness was transmitted like the cooties. You remember how those work right? If you have cooties and you touch me, then I have cooties. So if you’re unclean and you touch a cup, then the cup becomes unclean and if I touch the cup, I become unclean. Just like cooties.
The Pharisees became obsessed with makingrules but sometimes their own rules prevented them from the main point of God’s law altogether… that’s what we see playing out here in this text… The Pharisees said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders?” The tradition of the elders meaning their rules, not God’s law…
And Jesus answers them with a question (Matthew 15:3-9 2011NIV) – Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?”4 For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’[a] and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’[b] 5 But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is ‘devoted to God,’ 6 they are not to ‘honor their father or mother’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. 7 You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:
8 “‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. 9 They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.
In this encounter, Jesus addresses one of the rules that the Pharisees set up that missed the point.
In the 10 commandments God said to “honor your father and mother.” And in part that means caring for your aging parents. And to care for aging parents, sometimes people would have to selltheir possessions to take care of their parents… but the tradition of the elders offered a loop holeif you had something you didn’t want to part with…
People would “devote to the Lord” things they loved so that technically, they didn’t own it… and therefore they wouldn’t have been required to sell it… they had a contract for this and everything… and by doing this, they followed God’s law… technically… but they didn’t have to part with their stuff. And they thought this honored God because they were following the rules…
Jesus is saying, the things you do that you think are “religious”… the things you do that you think honor me… they’re junk… they’re a waste of time… because clearly what you’re doing is going through the motions of what you think I want… you’re honoring me with your lips… but your hearts are far from me… and that’s not the worship I desire, that’s hollow worship…
They were going through these motions that they thought were right, but they failed to see that the motions apart from the heart were pointless. It’s like weekend at bernies, right? It doesn’t matter how much Bernie’s friends move his body around… Bernie’s heart isn’t beating… and therefore, Bernie’s dead.
It doesn’t matter how much we move our bodies around or how much money we give or how much we say amen and hallelujah… it doesn’t matter how loud we sing or how many times we kneel and say prayers… if our hearts are far from God, it’s hollow worship. It’s empty.
See, the Pharisees were confused about worship kind of like we get confused about worship sometimes…
So, what is the right way to worship? Church with an organ and hymns like I grew up with? Church with a Band and ribbons and tambourines like I saw at camp? Or maybe it’s church sitting around a table having dinner and hearing a message from the Bible and maybe singing no songs at all? Maybe it’s church pre 900AD when organs and other instruments weren’t allowed in churches because they were considered too worldly? Which one is right?
The answer is none of them are right. And the answer is all of them are the right.
If you do it wrong… none of them are the right way to worship. And if you do it right… all of them are the right way to worship.
And how can we judge whether we’re doing it right? It starts by realizing that worship has nothing to do with the style of the music, or the condition of the building… or with the clothes we wear, the smiles on our faces or the number of people in the pews… worship isn’t about whether or not the lyrics are on the screen or in the hymnal or the quality of the choir… worship only has to do with our triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
There’s this internet meme that’s been floating around and in it a random church goer says, “I didn’t really like worship today.” And this pastor, Francis Chan says, “good. We weren’t worshipping you anyway.”
We’re worshipping God. We’re doing it all for him. And what does Jesus desire in our worship, according to Jesus in Matthew 15? He wants our hearts.
Imagine my two kids, Nathanael and Cana, they come into the house and they run up to me right after they were playing outside in the dirt… and they’re covered in sweat and their socks don’t match… and they’re terrible at singing and they say, “Daddy! We wrote you a song!” And they let out this song in acapella about how much they love me and they honor me and they care about me….
Imagine me stopping them half way through and saying, “guys I appreciate the sentiment, but my preferred style of music is with an organ! Come back and share it with me when you rewrite it with an organ accompanying it.”
Would any dad ever say that? No! If my kids wrote me a song from their hearts and sang it to me I would pick them up and kiss them and tell them I love them and squeeze them until their eyes started bulging and then I’d squeeze a little bit more.
No dad cares about his own preferences whenever his kids are honoring him and showing their affection for him.
But the Pharisees spent all their time caring about the externals that the externals lacked any internal motivation.
And I think that’s what Jesus is saying to the Pharisees and to us… I don’t care what your worship looks like, I just want your heart. However you express that, go for it. But if your heart desires me… I love it. That’s what worship is, right? When we sing, we’re singing to God because our hearts are thankful for all that God has done for us and we’re overwhelmed by the length he was willing to go to offer us forgiveness… he was willing to die on a cross… When we give, we’re giving to God because we put our future and our trust in God, not in our stuff. When we pray, we’re praying right to God.
So in worship, our goal isn’t to go through a certain set of motions… well, if I sing this song, give a few bucks, bow my head during the prayer, mostly stay awake during the sermon, then I’m good. I worshipped.
Jesus doesn’t like motions…. He wants our heart. So, our goal is to be all in when we worship… Our goal is to be present and engaged with God when we worship. Our goal is to acknowledge that God is present in this room right now. Our goal in worship is to declare God’s worth and value… our goal is to show honor and love for our God because of who he is… and it’s not just through our worship gathering that we do this, but it’s also through the life we live… the way we love the folks God has placed around us… the way we invite people to follow him…
That’s what God desires. He desires our hearts… our whole heart.
Several years ago I was on a mission trip and visited this localchurch because they were having a revival.
This was a tiny church so our whole team crammed in and there was no air conditioning… and it was hot… and we were too close together. And they started singing songs, which is my favorite part, but I didn’t know any of the songs.. but I’m okay with that cause I like new songs… but they didn’t have a projector so I couldn’t find the words… and there were no bulletins and the songs weren’t in the hymnals…
And I thought to myself, wow… this worship service is terrible. How are we supposed to worship when we can’t follow along with the words at least…
And God showed me something in that moment that I’ll never forget. He said, “you don’t need the words to worship me… you don’t need air conditioning to worship me…”
Because worship is honoring and loving our God… it’s declaring his worth and value.
When we think it’s about preferences, worship becomes about what? Me.
But when our heart is in the right place and we desire to honor God, it becomes about this, “Did my worship today honor God?” Yeah it was hot and the lyrics didn’t show up on the screen in time and the organ broke… but was my heart in tune with him? When I heard about God’s character in the songs, was I grateful for him? Did I listen to God’s Word during the sermon and allow it to transform my life? Was my heart open to what God wanted to say? Did I take his word seriously and consider how my life might look different because of it?
Did I sing out the truths in the songs the best I could from my heart right to his?
[first service: how many of you know it doesn’t matter if you’re a good singer or not because you’re not singing for me or for your neighbor… you’re singing for God.
[second service: I know from the way we have things set up here, sometimes it might give off the illusion that we’re the band and you’re the audience. But the real set up is that we’re the choir director, you’re the choir, and we’re singing for an audience of one. ]
And God doesn’t care how good of a singer you are… he cares about your _____… heart.
It doesn’t matter how you express yourselves… did your worship today honor God?And are you living a consistent life of honoring God in your home, on your street, and in your job? Did you give with a desire to put your trust fully in God to care for your needs and to see his kingdom at work in our world?
If the answer is yes, then Jesus sees that not only do we honor him with our lips… but our hearts are near him.
You know the reality is… there are days when I come to church still, and I find myself going through the motions… I find myself thinking of other things… I find myself annoyed that something isn’t going right or it’s too hot… And then I get a nudge from the Holy Spirit who says, “hey… I’m up here…” And even in that nudge I’m reminded of the grace and the love of our heavenly Father that he even invites a messed up sinner like me to worship him… and that alone turns my heart to him in thanksgiving.
How has your worship been? How has it been today? The good news is that it isn’t over yet. We still have communion and a closing hymn… and we have next week… and we have every day until next week to honor God… we can turn our hearts to God right now. Let’s not only worship him with our lips, but let us draw our hearts near to him.
What Would Jesus UNDo? – Hollow Worship
Read Jesus’ encounter with the Pharisees: Matthew 15:1-9.
James 1:22 says, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” Today we saw that Jesus wants our worship to be from our hearts and overflowing into our lives. Based on the sermon, what is one thing you want to do to grow in your relationship with God, the Church, or the World? Here are three ideas:
Relationship with God
Listening to the Holy Spirit and obeying him is one part of a healthy relationship with God.
Ask the Holy Spirit to show you how you can live a more consistent life outside of the worship gathering.
Relationship with the Church
Faith overflowing first and foremost in the home is one part of a healthy relationship with the church.
Think about your interactions with your family (spouse, parents, children). Have your actions and words been in love and grace? If not, find an opportunity to demonstrate your love.
Relationship with the World
Finding ways to make the world a better place is one part of a healthy relationship with the world.
Our kindness and love honors God. Do something kind for a neighbor that you wouldn’t normally do.