Jesus tells the woman at the well that true worshippers will worship in spirit and in truth. We must resist taking a pragmatic approach to worship and our relationship with God, and instead see worship as “an impractical and beautiful act of adoration that flows from a heart transfixed by the beauty of God.” (Skye Jethani)
Speaker: Pastor Stephen “Tig” Intagliata
Main Bible Passage: John 4:19-24; Hebrews 10:23-25; Mark 14:4-6
This morning we’re going to look at Part 3 of Skye Jethani’s book, What if Jesus Was Serious About the Church? The Family Gathering. And though the title doesn’t spell it out, this part is all about worship.
It seems to me that what Jesus said to the woman at the well is a pretty good theme sentence for this section “True worshippers will worship God in spirit and in truth.”
There is so much here. (My orange highlighter is running out of ink, and I need to go to the yellow one now!) There are 14 chapters in this section, and as I read them and read over them again, in my mind I saw three different themes about worship here.
And the image of a cross can help explain those three themes.
First, there’s the vertical dimension of worship, which focuses on our relationship with God.
Second, there’s the horizontal dimension of worship, which has to do with our relationships with each other in the church.
And third, there’s kind of an intersection of the vertical and horizontal that deals with how worship of God connects with our relationship with the world around us, the world outside of the church.
I realize this might be a bit of a simplistic metaphor, as the horizontal and the vertical are intertwined in so many ways, but for those of us who like to organize things into boxes, or a tidy filing system, I’ve categorized each chapter into one of these three themes.
And my categories do not follow the chronological order in the book, but jump around a bit. Sorry, Skye, if I’m messing with what you had in mind, but here goes!
There will be quotes and some pictures along the way on the screen, with page numbers but not chapter titles. So let’s look at the vertical dimension first, our connection with God.
I liked Jethani’s explanation of why the Church worships on Sunday instead of Saturday, which is the Sabbath of the Jewish people, and also Seventh Day Adventists (which is good in a way, because that makes it convenient for churches which meet on Sunday to share a building with Adventists!)
Jethani links having our worship and sabbath on Sunday to Jesus’ resurrection which took place on a Sunday. In contrast, the Old Testament sabbath was linked to the Israelites’ Exodus from Egypt, which took place on a Saturday, their sabbath.
At its core, Sabbath is about freedom from bondage, not merely rest from activity…the earliest Christians recognized this cosmic deliverance was won for us when Jesus conquered death on Easter Sunday. Through the resurrection, Christ has inaugurated the final and ultimate rest by setting us free from slavery to sin, evil, and death. p. 133-4.
Then Jethani tells a great story in Chapter 23 of the astronauts aboard the Skylab space station in 1974. They were working 24/7, and they wanted more time to relax, just sit back and enjoy the view from space, so they asked ground control to give them time to do that.
But ground control denied their request, so they went on strike. Their astronaut strike worked and they negotiated to have that time of rest and enjoyment of the view.
Jethani says that like the astronauts, we also need time to rest and to contemplate our lives and our calling from a cosmic perspective. And he says that taking time to worship can help us do that. He says:
At their best, the songs, sacraments, and sermons are designed to raise our sights to heavenly beauties, to reconsider our lives and our world from God’s point of view, and then prepare us to reenter the atmosphere or the ordinary with a renewed sense of meaning and communion with God. P. 137
Then Jethani contrasts the Jewish Old Testament understanding of worship with the way that Jesus described worship in the New Testament. He uses the story of the woman at the well and his words to her that true worship takes place in spirit and in truth.
In the New Testament, Jesus and his apostles do not copy the old covenant’s model of mountains, temples, and external events. Instead, their focus is on a mysterious communion with God made possible through the indwelling presence of His Holy Spirit. …this power is not conducted through a sermon, song, or a service. P. 108
He talks about how worship in spirit and in truth can happen anytime, anywhere; worship isn’t confined to an hour on Sunday morning in a church building. The root of worship is communion with God, wherever we are.
Then Jethani spends several chapters talking about how worship is not something to view from a practical or pragmatic standpoint, but more as an intrinsic expression of love.
Too often we look at it pragmatically, thinking of what we concrete benefit that worship can give us. We ask questions like “did I receive enough from church to justify giving up Sunday morning?”
But instead we should see worship in Alex Guiness’ words as ‘a rather nonsensical gesture of love’, like giving flowers to someone whom we love.
Worship is what happens when God’s delight in us inspires our delight in Him, sparking an endless loop of joy between Creation and creature, between Lover and beloved….And if our primary goal for Sunday worship is self-improvement or institutional growth, then we should admit we aren’t really there to worship God at all, but to use Him. And if our worship is always driven by pragmatism, let’s confess that it isn’t really worship. It is witchcraft. P. 112
One danger of the pragmatic approach to worship and our relationship with God is that worship can turn into something that is transactional; we do something we think God likes, and then we expect God to bless us or give us some benefit in return.
He tells a football story to illustrate this point. Steve Johnson, a receiver for the Buffalo Bills and a professed Christian, dropped a pass in the end zone in a close game. After the game, he got mad at God for allowing that to happen, after all he had done to worship and serve God in his life.
“I praise you 24/7, and this is what you give me in return! I’ll never forget this!! Ever!!
Jethani says this is missing the point. He says:
We gather to worship for no more practical reason than to adore our creator and redeemer, and in the process we discover something equally impractical—that he adores us as well. P. 142
I’ve heard it said that the root word for worship means “worth-ship”.
I love this quote that I saw on Twitter the other day:
If your Christianity doesn’t take you into a deeper understanding of your belovedness and the belovedness of everyone around you, you might be missing something. –amanda the Hope-ist on Twitter
Jethani then uses the story of the woman who poured ointment over Jesus as a great example of worship as seeing God’s intrinsic value rather than how He can be useful to our needs,
Jesus said…leave her alone…she has done a beautiful thing to me. –Mark 14:6
What the disciples saw as wasteful, Jesus saw as beautiful. What they interpreted as selfish, Jesus received as worship.
Real love sees the intrinsic value of that which it adores rather than its transactional value. P. 145
The other day I heard that a popular talk show host said something that really made me angry. He was commenting on a banner that was hanging over a 5th grade classroom.
The sign said, “the world is a better place because you are in it”. And the radio host got really worked up and he scoffed ‘What has a 5th grader ever done to have made the world a better place because he or she is in it?”
I say to that talking head, “you’re missing the point!” You have a transactional approach to the value of human life; where our value is determined by what we do, not who we are. And that’s not how God sees us, nor how we should see each other or God.
Jethani reminds us:
Worship is an impractical and beautiful act of adoration that flows from a heart transfixed by the beauty of God. P. 146
Jethani concludes this section by using King David as an example of the kind of heart that can lead us into true worship:
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. –Psalm 51:16-17
And then a great example of how a transactional approach with God can be like giving God a pacifier to keep him from getting fussy and irritated with us:
Premodern societies saw God like an irrational child given to tantrums when His pacifier is taken away. Some of us still hold this view…we scramble to offer the right sacrifices, say the right prayers, or write a large enough check as a means of putting the pacifier back in His mouth. P. 157-8
Now moving from the vertical to the horizontal, Jethani has some interesting reflections on Hebrews 10:25
“do not give up meeting together, but encourage one another” –Hebrews 10:25
This kind of encouragement is personal, relational and reciprocal…It requires us to be fully present and engaged. That kind of gathering is needed now more than ever. P. 116
Then he takes it a step further by using the biblical example of when John the Baptist was in prison and he was discouraged, and he began to doubt if all he had done to pave the way for Jesus and suffer for him was really worth it.
And Jesus, instead of scolding him for lack of faith, sent words of encouragement with John’s disciples to bring back to him. And Jethani says,
If we, like John’s friends, have seen the power and grace of Christ, we must not withhold that news from our sister or brother who sits in darkness and doubt. Our testimony can be the eyes through which they catch a glimpse of God again and receive the strength to journey on. P. 120
Hopefully we can all think of a time when someone spoke an encouraging word to us that lifted up our spirits and gave us hope when we were down in the dumps.
Then Jethani talks about the worship service, emphasizing that true worship means being active participants, not just passive spectators.
Have you ever been to a worship service that felt more like a concert than a worship service? Where the musicians were playing so loud and their mics were turned up so high that you couldn’t hear anyone in the congregation singing. Jethani says
The presence of God is revealed in the relationships between His people, not on a stage in front of them. P. 123
Then he has a chapter that I found really interesting that was about preaching. The title of chapter 27 is ‘if Jesus was serious, only the mature should teach, but anyone can preach’. He unpacks it by saying:
Preaching requires only experience, teaching requires more understanding. If you have a story of encountering Christ, his power and His Kingdom, then you are qualified to preach, even if you can’t fully explain the experience. P. 126
If only one person is expected to arrive to the gathering with something to share, what are we communicating about the value of everyone else? P. 126
I really like this idea. I’ve appreciated having people in the congregation preach, and I’ll bet there are more of you who could share your experiences of how you’ve encountered Jesus and his power in a way that would really connect with us, encourage us, and build up this body of Christ. I hope we can make this happen.
Now I’ll briefly touch on the last theme, which is how our worship connects with and is a sign and witness to the world around us. Jethani says:
‘because through Christ we have become a new creation…the community of the church is supposed to be a sign to the world of the new reality that has begun—one in which ethnic and social divisions are mended, hatred is undone by love, and evil is overcome by good. P. 129
Then he goes on to say that:
The church’s worship gatherings should be full of beauty, art, and all sorts of impractical things. They serve to counteract that utilitarian impulse of our culture and remind us that the most important things in the world—God and people—do not exist to be used but to be adored. P. 149
Maybe you heard what the governor of Florida did this past week, using immigrants, people created in God’s image just like you and me as political pawns by flying them to Martha’s Vineyard and just dumping them there. It was a cruel, heartless, action done as a political stunt, (and I secretly hope that it backfires on him).
Then I love what Jethani says about the connection between beauty and justice:
…we must confront the utilitarian ethic that enslaves us all. We do that by learning to value what is not useful. We do that by cultivating beauty in our worship. Beauty is the prelude for justice, and justice is true worship. P. 149
By the way, did you notice that our bulletin image today is a painting by our very own Hija Yu? Isn’t it beautiful? Thank you, Hija, for adding to the beauty of our service with your artwork.
And then he tells the story of how beautiful worship defies the world. It’s about a cellist in Sarajevo, Vedran Smailovic, played for 22 straight days in crater where bomb fell killing 22 people waiting in line at a bakery.
Smailovic and his cello became a symbol of hope to the people, and a reminder to the soldiers destroying the city that another way besides war was possible. Jethani says:
Worship is an act of creation rather than destruction, of order rather than chaos, and of beauty rather than ugliness. P. 154
We’re going to end this time by listening to a song that was inspired by Smailovics cello playing in Sarajevo. It’s called “Why it Matters” and it’s by one of my favorite singerss, Sara Groves. The album is appropriately titled “Add to the Beauty”.
I think that the song touches on so much of what Jethani brings out in this chapter on worship== beauty, justice, and love as being intricately connected with worship.