Some of you may remember the names Jerry A. Whitworth and John Walker. Most of you will be clueless regarding their story. While most Americans might have been surprised by the extreme prison sentence given to Jerry A. Whitworth, few were likely to be sympathetic. Whitworth, one of the contacts involved in John Walker’s spy ring, received a 365 year prison sentence and was not eligible for parole for 60 years. He was 47 at the time of his sentencing. Under this sentence there was virtually no hope of release, ever. For all practical purposes, his life was over.
Our nation was glad to see justice wrought on someone who worked such devastation on his homeland by selling military secrets. Can you even imagine what agony Whitworth went through? To be in his position, one’s thought would likely be: ESCAPE. There is no hope of release; parole would be allowed at least a decade after his death. So every effort would be directed towards ESCAPE.
Most people today seem clueless, oblivious to the fact that, spiritually, this is the scary situation which all of us find ourselves before a just God who hates sin and sinfulness. We are trapped, imprisoned by our sinful nature. We are born under a CURSE –utter condemnation from the God who said, “Every living soul belongs to me . . . the soul who sins will die” (Ezekiel 18:4). We lie shackled by the flaws of our own humanness, destined for eternal destruction. If everyone was willing to come to grips with this sad fact, there would surely be mass panic, a grasping for any and everything that could rescue us from certain, unending ruin. ESCAPE would be the talk of the town.
Thankfully, the Christian message alone, the glorious gospel uncovered at the Reformation, provides a solution to this horrible dilemma that is real as life itself. It is the message that God saw mankind’s sin-induced predicament and out of true love did something unthinkable to set us all free. He laid our sentence on the shoulders of his own Son, Jesus Christ. The price we the guilty ones, surely deserved was paid totally by our Savior, the innocent one; and for his sake, we are now considered innocent in God’s eyes. In Jesus, you and I are forever paroled before God.
Sin is a terrible thing or curse to live with. Treasure your ESCAPE from that awful CURSE. Never tire of hearing this good news in your own home and in God’s house each week. Let that ETERNAL ESCAPE from sin’s CURSE be the saving message so many others, still trapped, imprisoned by sin and unbelief hear from you and me. Please don’t put his work off till whenever. “IT IS FOR FREEDOM THAT CHRIST HAS SET US FREE (Galatians 5:1)!
Worship is more than just getting together once a week and sitting through an hour(ish) of singing music and reciting some words together. At least it should be more than that; much more. Worship at its most basic sense is receiving from God and also responding to him. Every part of the liturgy will fall into either one of those categories. We receive God's promises, warnings, and forgiveness –in a very physical way with the Lord's Supper. We respond with prayers and hymns of thanks.
In order to fulfill God's direction for orderly worship we follow a liturgy, something that God's people have been doing for thousands of years in various forms. Must it change? No. Can it change? Absolutely. There are two large dangers that we have to be careful of: 1) innovation and change simply for the sake of change and innovation. There is a certain comfort that we can have in using the same liturgies that we grew up with and that we know very well. There isn't any fumbling around or wondering what's coming next. Instead we can focus on the message that God gives us. 2) retaining the same worship simply because it is comfortable for us. It's very easy to get caught up in the forms and mechanics of worship and forget the purpose and the subject: God. If we can recite a prayer without even thinking about what we're saying then we have to change: change ourselves and maybe even change the prayer so that with fresh words and thoughts we can focus on the One who gives us everything and the One we are praying to.
Worship for "me" (as in each of us) should be a deeply personal thing. Yes we are gathering together as God's people to receive from God and to jointly praise and thank him, but we are also individuals. That means we will have different tastes. Some will like very traditional sounding hymns and instruments. Others find the sameness a distraction and would much rather have a variety of music and hymns (while still retaining solid Biblical ground). Which is better? Neither. Let's respect each other's desire to praise God and find joy in knowing that God makes us all different but with the same purpose and calling.
So when should I worship? That's not too much of a question. God makes it clear: whenever and wherever. But what should I wear? Ah, that's a much more difficult one to answer. Is it better to wear our Sunday best? We certainly can, and much of our culture leans in that direction. Great, but don't judge someone's faith based on the clothes they choose to worship in. David wasn't dressed in his kingly attire when the Ark of God was brought back to Jerusalem. He also danced like a fool, but that's another discussion. When Michal-his wife-confronted him, David told her that it wasn't about what he was wearing while worshiping but about God who had given him everything. In fact you would be hard pressed to find a passage that talks about men wearing ties and women wearing dresses to worship. However God is very clear: don't let your clothing be a distraction. Dress appropriately and lovingly for those you worship with. So, should we wear our Sunday best or more "comfortable" clothing? Either.
You see, we can get so caught up in the what, how, and when we worship (and comparing ourselves to others) that we miss the whole point. Don't let the form get in the way of the substance of God's message for you. Don't make it about our actions or our works, but instead, let's be ready to receive what God gives and joyfully respond to him with our unique but united voices. Amen.
J.A.M. stands for Jesus in the Afternoon for Me. J.A.M. is a Wednesday after-school program for children in grades 1-5. All are welcome to attend especially those who do not have a church home or Sunday school.
Children gather in St. Paul's fellowship hall after arriving from their school (they can get shuttled by bus from their school to St. Paul’s--Ask your child’s bus driver for details). The sessions begin with a snack, free time (games), a Bible lesson (beginning around 3:50), singing and craft. Children are to be picked up at 5:00 p.m. You can register your child when you bring them or by clicking the link below to our online registration form.
J.A.M. is FREE and a fun way for your child to learn valuable lessons for life and bring them closer to God.
For more information click on the link below to the J.A.M. handbook or call St. Paul's church and school office 783-2552 extension 0.