What is “proper” worship?

Over the years, I’ve read lots of articles and blogs on the subject.  I’ve read books and listened to sermons and the only thing for sure I can tell you is that everyone has an opinion about it.  And nobody has a definitive answer.  Except maybe God.  What strikes me as funny is that people definitely have strong feelings on the matter.  Very strong.  I’ve heard people in the loudest of voices say that contemporary worship is empty and devoid of meaning.  I’ve heard people tell me traditional worship has all the life of a pet rock.  I was at a seminar once about emergent worship (and if you don’t know what that is, don’t worry.  I don’t know if THEY know what it is either) and the person there was saying that if you worship in a church, you’re not really worshipping.  She said worship is singing spontaneously in a coffee shop with three of your friends.  She said worship was having someone just shout out a verse from Scripture and someone else tell everyone what it means.  She said worship was not caring about an offering but just being in the moment.  And after each of these statements, she said, “Now THAT’S worship.”  What was ironic about her statements was that her “church” was being fully funded by one of those churches that “didn’t know what worship was.” Certainly there are a lot of different opinions, which begs the question then, what is “proper” worship?

We can find the answer to THAT question in Scripture.

Our answer lies in the reading we just heard from Psalm 100. In it we read that worship is shouting to the Lord with joy!  Worship is coming to the Lord with gladness and with a joyful song.  Worship is knowing the Lord is God and we belong to him.  Worship is coming before God with praise and thanksgiving in our hearts, knowing we can count on him always.  Those are the components of worship. Whether it’s contemporary, traditional, emergent, praise, or whatever you want to call it, worship is comprised of those elements – gathering, knowing God, responding with praise and thanksgiving.  Because worship isn’t a style, it’s an attitude. Worship isn’t a style, it’s an attitude.  Matt Redman sings this song called “The Heart of Worship” and in a few simple words he gets to the deeper meaning of what worship is about – it’s all about you Jesus.  It’s all about you.  Proper worship is focused on God, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Another pastor told me this funny story.  She was listening to a youth praise band and they were covering this song in worship and the lead singer changed one word, but that one word changed the entire meaning of the song.  Instead of singing “it’s all about you…it’s all about you, Jesus,” she said instead, “it’s all about me…it’s all about me, Jesus.”  One simple word and the entire meaning of the song has changed.  But for many people her words are true.  For many worship is about “them” and what “they” get out of it, when the focus should really be on Christ.  I had a friend who was leading a contemporary worship and one of the trustees of the church went to complain to the senior pastor and told the senior pastor that my friend was preaching too much out of the Bible.  Really.  That’s what she said.  She was preaching too much out of the Bible and she didn’t want to know all about why or how we were supposed to do things.  She said she wanted to hear sermons about how Jesus was like a fluffy bunny.  I’m dead serious.  She wanted to hear sermons about how Jesus was like a fluffy bunny.  I know it seems like I’m making it up, but how could you ever forget this statement.  To her, the all-powerful, all-knowing Lord of the Universe was most comfortable to her as a fluffy bunny.  But really, worship isn’t about hearing what’s comfortable for us, but speaking in truth and the spirit.  Not what we would like to make Jesus out to be.

On the road to Emmaus with Christ
On the road to Emmaus with Christ

Believe it or not, the way we worship today has it’s roots in a surprising story of the Bible.

There actually IS an order to worship if you will.  There actually is an order to worship and in preparing for this sermon, I was surprised at finding out what that story is.  I hope you find it as interesting as I did.  If you have a Bible or a Bible app, go ahead and turn to Luke 24:13-35.  Luke 24:13-35.  You’ve probably heard this story before of the two men who encounter Jesus on the road to Emmaus.  Usually, we hear this story as an account of coming to faith, specifically juxtaposed to that of Paul.  Sometimes, you’ll hear people refer to their journey of faith as an Emmaus or Damascus experience, meaning either they came to faith over a period of time, or suddenly because of some event in their life.  People will refer to their faith journey as either an Emmaus or Damascus experience.  But this passage is actually more than another amazing Easter story about an encounter with Jesus.  It’s a guide to worship and forms the story if you will of our worship service this morning.

Scholars call this the “four-fold pattern of worship.”

The four-fold pattern of worship – gather, receive, respond, and go.[1]  Gather, receive, respond, and go. We see how this unfolds in our story this morning.  And because our passage today tells a story I’m going to share from it a little differently. Instead of asking you to stand and read the entire passage, I’ll break it up into chunks so we can explore for ourselves this four-fold pattern of worship.  The first part of course is the gathering of God’s people and we begin our reading by joining the two men on their walk to Emmaus.  Beginning with verse 13:

13 Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him.

So we see these two men walking along the road together and sharing with one another.  They’re talking to each other and engaging one another.  We can imagine that as they started out, they shared a greeting with one another and were talking about the important events happening in their lives, a lot like we do when we walk into church and say “hi” to one another or when we pass the peace and greet each other in the name of Christ.  This is just the beginning.  But as they begin this time together, Jesus joins them and this is when we move into prayer.  Verse 17:

17 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”

They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”

19 “What things?” he asked.

“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”

Here we visit with the two men as they bring their fears and concerns to God.  Usually, we don’t have God actually come down and ask us what’s going on, but they share what’s in their hearts.  They begin by praising Jesus, saying he was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God.”  But then we hear in verse 21 how the men “had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.”  And now they can’t even find his body and they don’t know what’s happened.  They raise their concerns before God and Jesus responds through the Word.  Verse 25:

25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

Just a few short verses, but we can imagine that the sermon was actually quite long because they were able to finish their seven mile journey during the time Jesus finished talking.  But through it all they listened intently.  Jesus begins with Moses and explains all of the prophecies of Scripture that predicted every event in Jesus’ life.  He uses Scripture to illustrate and connect to current events how this all fits into God’s greater plan for the world as we hope to do in worship today.  And when he’s done, the two men cannot let him leave without offering him something.  Verse 28:

28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. 29 But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.

30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32 They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

Of course you probably recognize this image as the men did at the table.  Jesus breaks bread with them.  They heard all that Jesus had to say and out of gratitude for hearing the Word, they invited him in.  In fact, Scripture tells us that they “urged him strongly.”  This was their response to God, and Jesus stayed as he does with us whenever we join him at the table.  And as he breaks the bread, their eyes are opened and the experience the living God.  When we share together in Holy Communion that’s the experience we hope for each and every time.  That through the elements we come face-to-face with Christ.  Verse 33:

33 They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together 34 and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” 35 Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.

The final part of our worship is the call to “go.”  Go into the world as they two men from Emmaus did and share with everyone the Good News.  Worship should compel us to take what we experience and what we learn and apply it to our daily lives so that we might be a living witness for God in the world.  Gather together, receive God’s Word, respond to his call, and go into the world with what you’ve learned.  Gather, receive, respond, and go.  The four-fold pattern of worship.  When we come into this space, when we sing songs, when we pray, when we break bread together, these things not only honor God but are part of a tradition that goes back to the first Christians experience with our savior after he had risen.  The Easter story is not only the basis of our faith but of our worship as well.  In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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