Saturday, August 24, 2013

C, Pentecost 14 Proper 16 - Hebrews 12:28 "Awful and Awesome"

Hebrews 12:28 (ESV) …let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe…
Have you ever thought about the word “awe”?  It’s a funny little word.  Place a suffix on the end of it and awe can have the opposite of meanings.  Such as the words “awful and awesome”!  Hearing awesome or awful leads today’s mind in two very different directions.
About one thousand years ago the word awful wasn’t negative as we use it today.  Back then being awful was being “worthy of awe” or “awe-inspiring”.  Similarly the word fear seems to have gone the same way.  Fearing God to many today means being scared of God.  But really to fear God, is giving him your full attention, addressing him, or facing him.  This could be in a positive or a negative way.  So too being in awe of someone, leads one to face someone giving them the honour they command, be it as one who is loved or loathed!  Therefore it’s easy to see today how “awful” takes on the meaning of causing dread or being frightful, very ugly, or horrible.
“Awesome” on the other hand came into the vernacular about five hundred years ago.  Being awesome back then meant something had “the quality of awe”.  But today from the influence of American culture delivered to us here in Australia via the media awesome means cool, great, or amazing.  Awesome has become a positive exclamation in our modern culture.
In light of these two words and their meaning today you might ponder, “What makes worship acceptable to you?” Is it the same which makes worship acceptable to God?  Is being in church awful or awesome?   Be brutally honest with yourself and with your Heavenly Father!  Is the prospect of coming to church something which is appealing or handsome, or is it a handful!  Just another laborious task, another job you’ve got to do in the juggle of all the chores demanding your time?
The very same thing was going on for those in the synagogue on the Sabbath.  The Sabbath day, Saturday, was set aside by God for man to rest from his work, but also to rest in God’s presence.  However, this had been turned into just another task!  A work lost in the demands of men rather than in the overwhelming joy and privilege to stop in God’s rest to hear his word and be served in its hearing.  After all God is worthy of being heard; acceptable worship in God’s eyes is when we stop and allow God to be God!
The Gospel reading today tells us, [Jesus] was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath.  And behold, there was a woman who had had a disabling spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not fully straighten herself.  When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your disability.”  And he laid his hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and she glorified God.  But the ruler of the synagogue [was] indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath… Luke 13:10–14a (ESV)
Notice the reaction of the woman and the ruler of the synagogue!  One focused on God, the other on the work that was done by this man, Jesus of Nazareth.  To think like the people of Jesus’ day, we must not immediately see Jesus as God, but rather as one who was teaching the word of God; calling the congregation at the synagogue to look to the Father in heaven.  In doing so, we can appreciate more the worship of the congregation who glorifies God the Father, and not God the Son, hidden in the person of the healer, Jesus Christ.
One can only wonder how this healing would be received today.  Would we as a congregation worship God as did the woman who was healed?  Would you be displeased the service was not adhered to?  Or would you place you awe struck attention on praising the healer or even the person healed?  Who or what would you glorify?  To what would your heart be drawn?  What here would be offering acceptable worship to God?
The answer to these questions, tells us if our worship is awesome or awful.  It reveals whether we revere God as awesome or awful!  Honestly delving into the depths of our own heart with these questions will show us that each of us has a heart like the synagogue ruler.  We humans like to take the things of God and twist them to please ourselves. Both pastor and parishioner shrewdly turn events so they serve us rather than what God originally sought them to do.
And so we come to the word “worship”.  What is worship?  To worship God pleasingly is what?  Let’s not look for its meaning, but rather the function and purpose of worship.  If we look for meaning then we end up having to do something that might or might not please God.  But when we look for function and purpose in worship, we allow worship to work, or rather the word of God to act in us while we rest in God’s presence.  This then is God pleasing worship which does something with us.  So in turn worship is then both functional and meaningful!
Unfortunately, worship has become a very slippery word these days due to individualism and focus on personal experience or on what pleases the self.  The Greek word for worship is from where we get the word “liturgy”.  Liturgy is not originally a “church word” but simply means “public service” or “the work of the people”.  And it also means “to minister”.   So when we participate in God pleasing worship the work of the people of God will naturally be pleasing to God.  
We begin to see that acceptable worship, with due reverence and awe towards God is much more than what we do for one hour inside church walls each Sunday.  That in fact acceptable worship beings and continues each week in the hearing of God’s word and allowing the Holy Spirit to live it out in us every hour of every day.
Once the Sunday service was called the “Divine Service”!  It then became known as the “Worship Service”.  And many today look for a one hour “Worship Experience”.   But I admit that I have never felt a worship experience for every hour of any day, let alone all the time!  In fact if I am brutally honest with myself I experience doubts, worries, and a desire to please myself most of the time.  How then can I offer acceptable worship with reverence and awe to God when what comes from me should be awesome but rather is awfully bad in God’s sight most of the time?
Isaiah offers us an answer…
“If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the LORD honourable; if you honour it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly;  then you shall take delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” Isaiah 58:13–14 (ESV)
These are good words!  But how do I turn from my own entrenched self seeking ways?  When my mind desires to serve and please me!  My deeds lead me to want to lord it over others!  So much so, I constantly seek to replace God with the idols of my own heart!
Thankfully Isaiah was looking forward to the day of deliverance when Jesus, the son of Mary, where Jesus Christ, the Son of God, took your place on the cross and gives you his eternal life.  No more blood, sweat, and tears trying to earn it.  Jesus has done it for you on the cross!  In a truly awful but awesome way on Good Friday!  Let’s now hear of the eternal congregation into which we are called.
…you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering,  and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect,  and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. Hebrews 12:22–24 (ESV)
Letting Jesus Christ be God the Son in your life is truly awesome.  His desire, together with that of the Father and the Holy Spirit, is for you to allow Jesus to do the work for you.  When we allow God to serve us he makes us his children and prepares us for a kingdom that cannot be shaken.  Surrendering to God’s plan and action is God acceptable worship.  You show God reverence and awe trusting the Spirit’s work in your baptism into Jesus’ death which raises you to faith and eternal life.  Just as Jesus was raised from the dead and now lives too.
There’s no experience greater than knowing God’s pleasure is to give you the kingdom.  There’s no pleasure greater than letting God have complete power over your life to forgive sin, ease your troubled consciences, to lead you away from temptation and to deliver you from your own evil heart, and the tricks of the evil one into faith hope and love. 
Having heard these awesome things from the written Word of your awesome God, being grateful, seeking forgiveness, striving to come closer to God, so the light of his Word might expose and forgive the deeper imbedded sins of your old nature is acceptable worship.  Using God in the very way he desires to be used accords him all honour and reverence.  And for this we can praise him!  Knowing all this and not allowing an awesome God access into your heart, is an awful waste.
Therefore, let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe… Amen.