Monday, September 14, 2020

Why True Worship Has Nothing To Do With Silly Worship Gadget And Inventions


Text: Luke 17:11-19

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Contrary to what you and I may think, America is very religious.  Just follow the money, and you will find that religious groups own over $600 billion in property and take in over $83 billion each year through the offering plates.   

Now, obviously, much of this money goes towards paying salaries, giving to missions, and paying the electric bills.  However, there is also a large chunk of that money that is sunk into churches for the purpose of worship.  For example, some churches invest thousands and thousands of dollars into marble pillars, granite floors, gold plated tiles, bells, and candles.  On the opposite side of the spectrum, other churches invest thousands of dollars into audio speakers, cameras, screens, lights, and theater.  But why the hundreds of thousands of dollars?  Well, these things are considered gadgets or tools or inventions that are supposedly intended to help the Christian worship, God. 

And so, what can happen is that the life and focus of the church then becomes fixated on clinging to buildings, singing, ringing, lighting, clothing, videoing, projecting, and all sorts of different preparations that are considered essential to prepare and help Christians with the worship of God.

To make things even worse, churches will end up advertising and showing off the gadgets, tools, and inventions that they have.  It is presented as if these gadgets, tools, and inventions will help Christians worship God really really well.

“If you want to worship God, come to our cathedral with reflective glass that has 10,000 rectangular panes of glass.”

“If you want to worship God, come to our cathedral with over 1 million painted 1-inch tiles.”

“If you want to worship God, come to our worship center with the best musicians in town.”

“If you want to worship God, come to our place of worship with the most technologically advanced audiovisual system in the city.”

People are then wooed into churches for really dramatic religious worship experiences. And generally speaking, these gadgets, tools, and inventions work!  Yes, they have a way of enhancing the so-called vibrancy and fervor of a person’s attempt to worship God.  However, there is a catch.  There is always a catch!      

After the church service, people will leave the church and drive home, talking about the beauty of singing in a granite or marble sanctuary. They will leave and talk about worshipping in the middle of cool lights, perfectly timed video screens, and loudspeakers. They will leave talking about all the gadgets, tools, and inventions that were used to enhance their worshipping experience – they talk about worship and not the One they are worshipping. 

I am so completely humbled and ashamed of myself every time I hear about Christian churches overseas with no air conditioning, dirt floors, and leaking roofs.  And to the south of us in South America? Their churches have small space heaters inside old railroad boxcars welded together.  I am so completely humbled and ashamed not because of some North American guilt but because we Americans seem not to understand true worship.  In North America, we really do not have a clue about true worship.

This is where the reading from the Gospel of Luke is so incredibly valuable to you and me this day. In the Gospel of Luke, we hear about 10 Lepers; we get a glimpse of true worship.  Of the ten lepers, the one Samaritan was different from the rest of the Jewish lepers. He returned to Jesus with a loud voice glorifying God.

And right there! Simply stated in our reading from the Gospel of Luke, we see and hear true worship!  True worship is returning to Jesus and glorifying God for the gift that was received! 

Dear friends, our brothers and sisters overseas and in South America are blessed because they are not distracted by all sorts of gadgets, tools, and inventions that we have in America.  They seem to understand that worshipping God is nothing more than returning to Jesus - falling on our faces - to give Him all the credit as the good giver of gifts.

Consider that Samaritan again. The moment that he was cleansed, the leprous Samaritan ran back to Jesus. He shouted all the way. He knew he was supposed to go show himself to the priests in order to be officially declared clean and allowed back into society, but that did not matter. In other words, the Samaritan leper was forbidden to approach Jesus before being pronounced clean, but that did not matter.  He ran right to the great giver – Jesus – fell at his feet with his face in the dirt and thanked Jesus.  This is worship! 

If you believe that we – as Christians – need a bunch of marble pillars, granite floors, gold plated tiles, bells, candles, audio speakers, cameras, screens, lights, and lasers to worship God better, well… you do not understand what true worship.  You need to stop and take notice of the Samaritan leper.  In that Samaritan leper, we see true worship!  And that true worship is nothing more than returning to Jesus, with a face in the ground, to give Jesus credit as the giver of good gifts. 

But this does not just happen one time.  Dear friends, in humility and meekness, we continually long to receive more and more good gifts from the Lord – grace upon grace, as the Bible says. 

Think of it this way: why should marble pillars, granite floors, gold plated tiles, bells, candles, speakers, cameras, screens, lights, and lasers matter if your face is in the ground in reverence before Jesus?  How can they elevate you to some higher level of worship, when your face should be in the ground before Christ? 

Sit up.  Open your ears and hear this!  God is not impressed with the silly worship games we play.  The Lord is not impressed with the flawless performances of prestigious worship – it means nothing to Him.  True worship has nothing to do with foolish gadgets, tools, and inventions, but instead, true worship is when our pride is shattered, and we return before the Lord with thanksgiving and a desperate need to receive forgiveness, life, and salvation – again and again, and again.   

So, it should be evidently clear at this point that there are two kinds of worship.  One that has the appearance of having a great-spiritual-holiness but, in reality, is empty – a clanging gong.  And the other kind of worship?  It appears not to be real, but it is!  The other kind of worship is shown to us in that dirty and despised Samaritan leper!  The Samaritan leper is a picture of real worship, contrary to all appearances!  Again, worship is not based on the appearance, cleanliness, status, or performance of the Samaritan leper but simply that his face was in the dirt before Jesus, where the leper gives thanks to Jesus as the giver of gifts!   

As you think about it a bit more, there are all sorts of examples of true worship in the Bible: 

The repentant pig smelling prodigal son returning to his Father?  Yes, that is Worship!

Blind Bartimaeus crying out for mercy, being healed, and following Jesus giving praise?  Worship! 

The demonic man being healed and then begging to be with Jesus in the boat? Worship!

And on and on and on! 

But there is one more great picture of worship that you must not overlook.  It is right before you!  It is right here in this church service.  It is you!   

When returned to this church service here at St. Paul’s, week after week, you did not bring your “Worship A-Game,” but instead, the first thing you do is confess your sins.  And when you confessed your sins this morning, you spoke the words of King David – the words he said when he confessed his sins of adultery with Bathsheba and received forgiveness through Christ, and then gave thanks.  Worship!

When you sang the words of the Kyrie, “Lord have mercy upon us,” you were singing the words of Blind Bartimaeus as he cried out for mercy, was healed by Jesus, and gave thanks.  Worship! 

After communion, you will sing the Nunc Dimittis.  As you sing the Nunc Dimittis, you are singing the praise-filled words of Simeon, who held the Savior in his arms.  But unlike Simeon, you do not have the Savior in your arms but in your belly because of communion.  Worship! 

And so, Baptized Saints, you are free from the gadgets, tools, and invention.  You – like the Samaritan leper – are free to return to Jesus again and again for worship.  You are free to approach the throne of grace with your sin, in humility, and with thanksgiving – to receive grace upon grace, again and again, and again. 

Return to the Great Giver of Gifts – Christ Jesus.  Drop your face in the dust and hear the word of Christ, “Arise, your faith has saved you!” 

Return often, dear Baptized Saints!  Return often to receive the mercy of Christ and give thanks for the Lord indeed chooses always to give good gifts to you. 

Worship: receiving, thanking, praising, and receiving, thanking, and praising – again and again. 

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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Sunday, September 6, 2020

The Good Samaritan Is Not Biden Or Trump, But Your Jesus

Text: Luke 10:23-37

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

A Trump-supporter was going up from Texas to Portland, Oregon, when he fell into the hands of rioters.  They stripped him of his “Make America Great Again” hat, beat him, and left him half dead on the sidewalk.  Moments later, a Never-Trumper Republican, going down the same sidewalk, saw the half-dead man but crossed the street to pass by on the other side.  Luckily, several minutes later, a Socialist Democrat, came to the same place and saw the half-dead Trump-supporter, but then angled across the street to the other side.  Towards evening, a Biden-supporter saw the half-dead man, and unlike the other two previous individuals, he did not go to the other side of the road.  Instead, his heart went out to the Trump-supporter.  And so, the Biden-supporter quickly kneeled down and gave first aid by disinfecting and bandaging the wounds.  He then lifted the Trump-supporter up, led him to a Democratic National Convention Office in Portland, and made him comfortable.  He told his fellow DNC staffers, “Take good care of this Trump-supporter.  Here is $400 to help him with his needs.  If it costs more money, take it out of Joe Biden’s campaign fund, and I will pay it back.” 

Now, what do you think?  Which of the three became a neighbor to the Trump-supporter who was attacked by the rioters?  The answer: the one who treated him kindly – the Joe Biden supporter.  

Now, you, dear friends, go and do the same! 

But isn’t that the problem? We don’t want to do the same.  Nobody does!  It is just easier to write the story off saying,
“Well, the Trump-supporter probably deserved to be beat up!  Besides, he didn’t die.  Enough of the story.” 
Or, to say,

“Everyone knows that a Biden-supporter would never be that compassionate! Case closed.”  

The point being, each and every one of us is just like that lawyer who challenged Jesus in the reading from the Gospel of Luke.  We like to pick and choose who our neighbors are in order to decide who is deserving of our love. And so, like a bunch of high school mean girls or arrogant jocks, we go about segmenting people into groups. Those who agree with us and are like us, they become our neighbors. Those who do not agree with us and are not like us, they are ‘not’ our neighbors but our enemies.  And then in order to feel good about ourselves, we only support, help, serve, and love those who agree with us and are most like us.  Those who are not like us and don’t agree with us?  Well, they don’t get our support, help, service, and love.  But instead, we write them off; we dehumanize them.  We make them into monsters, which justifies us in writing them off as not being one of our neighbors, and not deserving of our mercy and love. 

But this is not how all of this works - you and I cannot choose who our neighbors are while trying to convince ourselves that we are morally-good-loving-citizens.   
And that is the second problem that you and I have.  We not only pick and choose who our neighbors are but like that Lawyer, we prop ourselves up as being morally good and righteous.  We think better of ourselves than we ought to.

Consider our parable in our reading from the Gospel of Luke for a moment.  The Priest and the Levite were traveling on the road, and when they came upon a neighbor ‘in need’ they did what?  They passed by on ‘the other side.’  Do not let these small details pass by you.  Notice the actions of the Priest and Levite: they went to the other side of the road – they avoided their neighbor.  They failed to properly ‘love’ a neighbor who was in need. 

Now, we hear a lot about ‘love’ these days.  People take pictures of themselves making a heart symbols of so-called love with their hands, they make social media hashtags on the internet, “LOVEWINS,” and they cry over so-called stories of love.  But, dear friends, the majority of what sells as love these days, is not really love at all.  For example, consider what we hear about love these days and compare it to how the Apostle Paul defines ‘love’ in his letter to the church in Corinth.  Let me paraphrase how the Apostle Paul defines love:

Love never gives up. Love cares more for others than for self. Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have. Love doesn’t strut; it doesn’t have a swelled head showing off to others.  Love doesn’t force itself on others.  It isn’t always “me first.” Love doesn’t fly off the handle, or keep score of other people’s sins.  Love does not party when others scrape by.  Love takes pleasure in truth, and looks for the best.  Love never holds back, but acts for one’s neighbor. 

So, two things should be abundantly clear.  First, all of the chatter about love in our culture is empty chatter – it isn’t love.  It isn’t even close.  And second, it should be abundantly clear that no one properly loves their neighbor. 

Do you love your neighbor – putting them first, looking for the best in them, speaking the truth in love to them, without having a swelled head showing off to others?  When is the last time that you have had a gut-wrenching compassion for your neighbor?  Oh, and let me remind you, as you answer these questions, you can’t pick and choose who your neighbor is.  You can’t think of those whom you agree with and have allowed into your own small group, saying, “Why, yes, I am loving my neighbor,” while at the same time distancing yourself from your enemies with hatred in your heart. 

God’s Word does not allow you to pick and choose what commandments you follow, and God’s Command to love your neighbors does not allow you to choose your neighbor.  God’s calls you and me to love ‘all people’ around us who are in need, for anyone that we encounter in our vocations that is in need, is our neighbor.
Shame on you and me, when we think that we properly love, while reserving our love for only those select few in our own little groups! This is not perfect love.  Shame on our culture for gushing about love, while playing political games - rejoicing in the pain and misfortunes of those on the opposite side of the political spectrum!  This is not perfect love. 

The parable that Jesus teaches us today from the Gospel of Luke, and the parable that was presented at the beginning of this sermon stand as bold pictures of what we should ‘all’ be doing for our neighbors, regardless if they are like us or not, and regardless if they are in our small little groups or not.

But again, who can do this perfectly?  Who can love perfectly?  Do you do this perfectly?  I certainly can’t and don’t. 

In Jesus’ parable the Good Samaritan, though, does loves perfectly. The Good Samaritan does not cross to the other side of the road at the sight of the half-dying man.  The Good Samaritan does not expect the half-dead man to come to him.  Instead, the Samaritan ‘draws near’ the half-dead man because of gut-wrenching-compassion.  He draws near and binds up his wounds, pours oil and wine on him, and brings him to safety. 

Dear friends, behold the Good Samaritan!  Cling firmly to this Good Samaritan in the parable! 

But who is this Good Samaritan?

Well, the Good Samaritan is certainly not Joe Biden, Donald Trump, or you, for there is only One who is truly good.  The Good Samaritan is your Jesus! 

Learn to understand this dear friends, no one on the road of life will consistently and compassionately draw near to you with gut-wrenching-compassion to help you, except your Jesus.  Any politician, family member, or friend that claims to be the Good Samaritan to you is lying because they will fail you.  Again, mark this!  Nothing else in heaven or on earth can be that Good Samaritan to you, except Jesus.  And the reason why?  Nobody has a compassionate gut-wrenching-love for sinful humanity like Jesus.

If Jesus was like that Lawyer, he would’ve been picky with who he died for.  Perhaps it would’ve been 50/50 if you were included in His sacrificial death on the cross.  And if Jesus was like that Priest or Levite on the road, well… He would have not gone to the cross but would have left you and me in our sins.  And if we were left in our sins, we would be left with damnation – certain death.  But because of His great love for you and me – and this entire world – Jesus could not pass by on the other side of the road avoiding Calvary’s cross.  Indeed, the Son of God could not avoid the cross and died for ’all’ of humanity because He has a gut-wrenching-compassion for humanity – for you.  He bled, died, and rose for your justification. 

And so, today, as recipients of the Good Samaritan’s oil and water upon our wounds, which is Christ’s Word and Sacraments applied to our guilt, we pray that the Holy Spirit would strengthen our faith to God and strengthen our love to our neighbors.   
But please keep in mind that what Jesus teaches us today is not some watered down view of tolerance where we agree to disagree becoming emotionally mushy and theologically gushy.  Absolutely not!  Do not forget that love indeed covers a multitude of sins but it also speaks the Truth, as it quietly gives sacrificially according to righteousness, not sin. 

So, love your neighbors, Baptized Saints – everyone around you – because you have been properly loved by the Good Samaritan - Christ.  And as you love, know that Christ is the one who continually serves you, purifies you, and pours grace upon you, so that day by day you might give a small glimpse of true love to your neighbor (as imperfect as you are), until that great day when the Great Good Samaritan approaches us and carries all of us upon His shoulders unto glory. 

You have a Good Samaritan – He hasn’t drawn back but draws near to you.  

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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