Tuesday, May 9, 2017

What is Worship?


Holy, Holy, Holy, / Is the Lord God Almighty / Who was and is, and is to come.
With all creation I sing / Praise to the King of Kings / You are my everything
And I will adore You


Today, we come together to worship, so let’s ask- What is worship?


Christians typically think of worship like this, gathering together with a community, singing songs, and reflecting on the meaning of the lyrics. Worship is also expressed through our feelings- you may be happy, exuberant, overwhelmed, moved, sad, or all of them at once.


Some of you here worship God, and maybe some of you aren’t sure if you consider yourself a person who worships.


But actually, we all worship!


We all dedicate ourselves to something. We all spend our time and our money in some focused way. We all honor whatever it is that we consider to be valuable. 

How do we worship?

  • Money
  • Time 
  • Focus 
  • Rejoicing 
  • Mourning 
  • Energy 
  • Art
  • Songs
  • Writing
  • Speaking
  • Prayer
  • Movement (dance, exercise, prayer postures)
  • Love/devotion/adoration
  • Trust, Obedience/submission
  • Protecting/defending
  • Taking action
  • Refraining from action
Some of this worship is personal, and some of it is communal. Today we’re worshipping communally- everyone together. We worship because our family or our community said we should, or sometimes we worship something we’ve chosen for ourselves.


Either way, we worship because we’ve decided that something is worthy of worship. In fact, “worth” is the root of the word worship.



Worship = Worth-ship



We worship what has value. We worship what we think is deserving.


In the book of Revelation, we see many scenes of worship. This may surprise you because the book is more famous for stories of destruction and death- but that’s not the point of Revelation. In contrast to despair, we witness this scene alongside our narrator John. 

Revelation 4:6b-11, 5:1-6b, 9-12

In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back. The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle. Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under its wings. Day and night they never stop saying:
“‘Holy, holy, holy
is the Lord God Almighty,’
who was, and is, and is to come.”
Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say:
“You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they were created
and have their being.”
Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it. I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside. Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”
Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders.
And they sang a new song, saying:
“You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased for God
persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
and they will reign on the earth.”
Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they were saying:
“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
and honor and glory and praise!”
I know this is an overwhelming vision, and we don’t have time to break down every part of it right now.


But it is overwhelming on purpose. Imagine standing in front of this heavenly throne with this cast of characters: four creatures with wings and strange faces, twenty-four elders, and 100 million angels. This contrasts the destruction elsewhere in the story. John was writing this as a letter to a persecuted people- those who were dying for their faith in a time when Rome had conquered most of the known world.  They worshiped a goddess of victory and built statues and altars to her. Roman kings also demanded worship. They said, “I’m worthy of worship, because I’m the strongest and the smartest, and I have the biggest army.”


Many of the things Rome worshipped, we still worship today. Maybe we don’t build a statue to them, but we spend our time, money and energy focused on these things.

What We Worship

  • Athletes, sports teams, movie stars
  • Politicians or policies
  • Church and religious leaders
  • Success and accomplishments
  • Independence and self-reliance
  • Grades, degrees, titles, prestige
  • Coolness or uniqueness
  • Sex and sexual attractiveness
  • Dating, romance, romantic partners
  • Marriage and family
  • Western beauty standards (certain skin tones, face shapes, body shapes)
  • Thinness
  • Good health and able bodies
  • Strength and security
  • Patriotism and nationalism
  • Money and materialism
  • Authority figures
  • Winning/victory
  • Comfort, convenience
These things aren’t all inherently bad: but are they worthy of worship? I mentioned things like marriage and family because they can be good and life-giving, but worshipping them can also mess up our priorities and cause harm. I see that in dating too- many think they are incomplete without a significant other, that their life isn’t worthwhile unless a boyfriend or girlfriend affirms them.


For me, grades and achievements were a major focus when I was a student. I built my identity around my report card. Jesus was important to me too, but there was a wall around part of my heart where Jesus had no place. When I was 18, for the first time I decided to give my whole heart to Jesus, instead of just the places where it was easy and convenient. It’s still hard to keep giving up that part of myself. I don’t get grades anymore, thankfully, but I tend to worship being right, winning arguments, or being perceived as being right. It can be hard to let go of these things, and it’s still a long journey with Jesus for me.


The next hard step in my journey again started with expanding my heart. I hadn’t noticed how my faith was exclusively personal. I thought, as long as I have a personal relationship with Jesus, it doesn’t matter if my family, my church, my people group, or my country have a broken relationship with God. But in Revelation, we see that it matters to God when our communities worship things which aren’t worthy. Most of the stuff on this worship list are things our culture ingrains in us- how many times do you see media for thinness and certain beauty standards? How often do we see leaders escape consequences for their wicked actions because we worship their power?


Like Rome, we have leaders who say - “I’m the strongest and the smartest. I have the power. I’m worthy of your devotion and obedience.” We live in a world where we are encouraged to worship leaders and power, or seek the victories of our group at the expense of others.


So when John says that God alone is worthy of worship, he’s promoting a revolutionary act. In the midst of wicked rulers, he tells us to disobey their commands and give allegiance to God instead.


John is writing this from prison, and others who follow this act of allegiance could end up there too, or die as martyrs.


This worship is not fun or casual. These early Christians took worship seriously. They were serious because it was worthwhile. So why is God worthy of worship?
Day and night they never stop saying:
“‘Holy, holy, holy
is the Lord God Almighty,’
who was, and is, and is to come.
Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say:
“You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they were created
and have their being.”
Holy means to be complete, whole. There's nothing incomplete about God. God was, is, and is to come because God is eternal and lives forever. God is the creator- what power could be greater?


We can see why God is worthy- someone so big and so powerful must be greater than any conquering King, right?


But there’s another aspect to this worthiness. In chapter 5 verse 2,  we meet a mighty angel. We have a cultural view of angels looking sweet and human, but this being probably looks as terrifying as the four living creatures by the throne. And it is mighty: maybe it’s the biggest of all the angels, it has forearms this big around- it could lift John up like a dumbbell (lift weights motion). But for some reason, even this mighty angel can’t open this scroll.


Scrolls aren’t usually hard to open- it's just paper sealed with wax.


Strength isn’t enough- power isn’t enough. What is needed to open this scroll? An elder says: Don’t worry, we have someone who can do it. Look- it’s the Lion! (point)


John looks. But he doesn’t see a lion- he sees a lamb.



What is this? A lamb isn’t a lion. It isn’t strong or powerful. It’s a baby, vulnerable.
Why would a lamb be worthy? How could a lamb have triumphed?
We hear why this lamb is worthy in a new song.
And they sang a new song, saying:
“You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased for God
persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
and they will reign on the earth.”
Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they were saying:
Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
and honor and glory and praise!”
We saw before that the lamb looked like it had been killed. Many ancient cultures sacrificed lambs and other animals for forgiveness or for seeking favor. It’s a strange image for God to become the sacrifice rather than the one receiving the sacrifice.


Surprise: worthiness comes through sacrifice, not strength. Worthy is the one who loves, not the one with power. Worthy is he who made a Kingdom, not he who conquered kingdoms. Worthy is he who makes people priests and rulers, not he who makes people slaves and martyrs.


The name of the lamb who was slain is Jesus. Jesus sacrificed himself and died out of love. His enemies though they’d won, but his sacrifice was the victory. Because of Jesus’ love, we get to gather here today- this campus represents people from many tribes and languages and peoples and nations- we get to be part of God’s Kingdom. We get to serve and we get to reign.


What would our world look like if we valued sacrifice over strength? Maybe we wouldn’t treat the poor and the refugee and the disabled and the sick as a burden, but as beloved brothers and sisters who have something good to contribute. How would we treat people if we believed that love was greater than power? Maybe we wouldn’t care about saying that our country was #1 and stop trying to put ourselves first. And what would our campus look like if we were a kingdom of people from every nation serving God? College students could model love and sacrifice for the whole world to see.

Do you want that? Do you want to be part of that?
Jesus is worth learning about- let Jesus show you why he is worthy.

Worthy is the Lamb who was slain / Holy Holy is He
Sing a new song / To Him who sits on / Heaven’s mercy seat
Holy, Holy, Holy, / Is the Lord God Almighty / Who was and is, and is to come.

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