When Mark came to worship, he did so because he felt like he had to. A Ph.D. psychologist, he explains his presence at worship with these words: "I went to church with my wife, Sue, because as a professional counselor, I never heard one of my female clients tell me that her going to church alone was a good thing. So, I came to be present with her. Actually," he said after a pause, "I came so that she could never say I wasn't there." But his attitude was, in his words, "literal and concrete."
"When the pastor talked of Jesus' rising from the dead, I'd ask my wife, 'Now, just how did that happen? Was there an escalator up or what?' Well, she knew I was just trying to get to her. And after her many honest attempts at answering my questions, she finally told me she was through with them. And that's when I began to listen for myself--it was either that or not come, which wasn't an option."
Beloved people of God, Worship is God's answer to The Problem of Isolation.
There are three cultural myths that support the problem of isolation. The first is the myth of rugged individualism. We've all heard of this if not by name. Rugged individualism suggests that if we're well-adapted and healthy people, we don't need anyone. This is particularly active in males.
We're one of the few countries in the world where men are not supposed to be spiritual. In the vast majority of cultures across this globe, men are demonstrably religious. In our culture, men are not supposed to need anyone or anything except their own resources and intellect.
Perhaps our friend Mark was reacting in part from this cultural myth. The problem is that it isn't real, let alone healthy.
The second cultural myth is self-sufficiency. Like the myth of rugged individualism, this one makes us feel inadequate if we acknowledge any need of anything or anyone outside of ourselves. Notice I said, "acknowledge," because the truth is that we've been created as social animals and have inborn needs for others.
And the Bible tells us that we have just such an innate need for God and worship. Unlike the previous myth, this one affects men and women equally. Mark may have operated, in part, out of this myth.
The last cultural myth we'll consider, which works against worship, is an extension of the myth of self-sufficiency. It's you and me against the world. This tends to place the self-sufficiency myth within the context of relationships, within families. There's an added sense of anxiety or paranoia in that we, whoever that may be, are in this together, and those outside the circle, which is always a small circle, are opposing us.
Now the former myths are strengthened by the relationship. No wonder. Unlike the vast majority of peoples in the world throughout history, we wonder if worship can add value to life. And this is especially intriguing when we honestly review the data that shows reality to be otherwise. But isolation is destructive because it can lead to imagination run amok.
One of the problems of isolation is that we are left to ourselves and we begin to focus on self-gratification. Well, we know that the stability of family and community are significant deterrents to destructive behaviors. Those with family ties or community involvement are much more likely to demonstrate a willingness to delay personal gratification for the sake of the greater good.
When we are isolated, we tend to gnaw on our desires. And as a consequence, they grow and can become obsessions. Satisfy my desires and needs at others' expense is much more likely the more isolated I become. A second problem with isolation is a companion of the first: the shrinking world of the self. The more isolated the person becomes the less conversation we have about personal and social responsibility and this leads to a loss of reality. We no longer view others as real, feeling persons who can be hurt by our actions. It's no surprise to me that the violence of Columbine, Atlanta, and elsewhere is done by males who are isolated. They'd lost the sense that others were real, feeling persons, and this leads to the greatest tragedy of isolation. Isolation is an open door to evil. When self-gratification takes over the heart, the de-personalizing of others takes over the mind. When people become objects to satisfy my desire, the evil one has a heyday. And now the seven deadly sins and all of their cousins can find a home in the human soul. Now I'm not saying that the person is evil, but that evil takes up residence there.
Beloved people of God, worship is our welcome to the presence of God and in our prayer window at Prince of Peace, the rose is the symbol for the presence of the Savior Jesus Christ.
You know, Mark's story doesn't stop where I left off earlier. In fact, worship became an essential part of his life. He said, "I've seen that faith works for me and for others. It really helps in daily life. Now I know that this stuff is real. This is so helpful in real life and real time. I don't know about others, but I need it every week."
Unlike isolation, worship in the presence of the God who alone is God creates spiritual confidence, and this spiritual confidence is established in reality. We are invited and forgiven in worship according to verses 19 and 20 of our text. Jesus has made a way for us--this is God's invitation to you and me. This way has been established by his blood, that is, through his sacrifice that we might be forgiven. There's no need for pretense here. Together we are welcomed to be real in worship. This spiritual confidence creates sincerity of soul: to live honorably.
The language of our text is that we can approach with true hearts. True hearts are a matter of feeling and will. A true heart before God is made possible, not by human perfection, but by trusting in the God we've come to know in Jesus Christ, whom the author calls our great high priest.
And that means that we can have a clean conscience. Nothing needs to be hidden. What a relief! As a forgiven child of God, I do not need to hide my imperfections. Instead I can hold them out to the light of God's love and my shortcomings can be exposed to the forgiveness of Christ. The opposite of isolation is the impact of worship.
So in worship, lift your hands--in our stained-glass window, our hands are lifted just like the hands of those in worship. We lift our hands to our unwavering hope. Verse 23 reads, "Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering." Our hope is not in pretense but in sincerity of soul. Our hope is not in perfection but in a clean conscience. Our hope is not in isolation but in being invited and forgiven, that is, loved just as we are. We lift our hands in worship to our unwavering Savior. Jesus is not the one who has come only to the acceptable but to all in order to make the unacceptable welcome. Jesus has not come to the righteous but to the unrighteous made holy by God's unrestrained love for all of us. Jesus has not come only to those who deserve him but to any, any, who are willing to receive him.
Beloved people of God, we need each other in worship.
You know, recently I read a wonderful anecdote which I'd like to share with you. Kimberly VanWagner writes, "Why is it that if someone tells you that there are one billion stars in the universe you'll believe them, but if they tell you a wall has wet paint, you'll have to touch it to be sure." Worship is like that wall of wet paint. So let's test it like Mark did.
Worship can make us an incredible witness. Look at the language of our text, verses 24 and 25: "And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another."
When you and I worship, we have no idea how we might be making a difference in the lives of others. You know, I have my own list of incredible witnesses in worship. Some are my walking miracles. These are people who've survived unbelievable circumstances and come as a witness to the power of God's love and faith. And then there are those who worship in spite of their life's circumstance; instead of being bitter, they've chosen to be better. Better than I can imagine I could ever be. And then there are those incredible witnesses who simply live their faith, and weekly worship is as much a part of their lives as breathing and just as beneficial.
But what about you? Have you seen another in worship and knew that you were in the presence of one of God's incredible witnesses? Have you ever considered that God might be using you as just such an incredible witness in the life of another?
When we worship, love and goodness are multiplied in the world. You know, we in the United States are the most giving people in the earth, and eighty-five percent of all the billions of dollars we give to charity every year are through churches and synagogues. Can you imagine the multiplication factor that is for love and goodness? Conversely, can you imagine the impoverishment of the world if that were taken away? Not only that, but worship actually multiplies love and goodness within and among us.
Recently I read that a couple who worships regularly with one another stands a one in twenty-seven chance of divorce. Statistically, regular worship increases health and longevity as well as reported satisfaction in life. This shouldn't surprise us. When we regularly come into the presence of the source of life, the God who alone is God, these would seem to be natural outcomes. So keep on coming. Come and test the painted wall of worship for yourself. Give weekly worship a chance to work its blessing on your life.
I'd like to challenge you today to a three-month commitment of weekly worship. But come openly; come expecting to meet Jesus Christ. Come honestly seeking the touch of God's love. Come with a waiting heart. And then watch out! God has a way of gently but surely transforming us from the inside out; and if you're serious about being a disciple of Jesus Christ, then this will be a commitment to a habit, a discipline, that will grow strength of soul.