Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
23 August 2009
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Who or what are you here today to worship? Who or what receives your praise and worship every moment of every day? I am pretty sure I know what your automatic answer will probably be to each of those questions, especially since you’re sitting in church, but are you SURE?
Sadly, I am not sure I could ask those questions in many Lutheran churches. Sadly, I am not sure I could ask those questions in many churches of any denomination. Oh sure, I might get the same automatic answer from many people in many Lutheran churches and from many people in many churches of any denomination, but I am not sure that many of those people could answer honestly the question, “Are you SURE?” And even if many people in many Lutheran churches and even if many people in many churches of any denomination would indeed answer, “Yes, I am SURE,” I am not certain that answer would be truly honest and accurate.
That’s one thing about which I am most proud of this congregation of God’s people. I truly believe that we together are indeed together on one page when it comes to the object of our worship, both in worship and in daily life. I truly believe we all know and believe and practice that the object of our worship, both in worship and in daily life, is our incredible Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and even when we occasionally fail and give someone else or something else momentary praise and worship, we quickly recognize that fact and repent and try better in the future.
Just two weeks ago, I heard a story of a life-long Lutheran, in fact, at least a second-generation Lutheran, who had everything good to say about traditional Lutheran liturgy and absolutely nothing good to say about Lutheran congregations that are trying to reach out to unsaved people using non-traditionally Lutheran forms and styles of worship. In fact, to accurately quote this gentleman as best as I can remember it being told to me, his words were, “I like being able to walk into any Lutheran congregation anywhere and hear the same Scriptures and sing the same liturgy and the same hymns as I would in my own congregation.” I hope he never comes here.
Now to his credit, this gentleman was speaking about times when he was on vacation. I am not certain that every Lutheran worships in a Lutheran congregation – or any congregation – when they are away from home. I need to honestly admit to you today that, after more than 15 years of pastoring this great congregation, where excellent Christ-centered music and worship and preaching are the hallmarks, I personally find it very difficult to worship anywhere else. I find it very difficult to just sit in the pews and personally worship without sometimes cringing and thinking things like, “Yikes! I wouldn’t have preached that sermon” or “Wow! I would have never picked that hymn or song to sing.” It is said that doctors are often the worst patients and I can attest that preachers are often the worst pew sitters.
That gets us back to our original questions: “Who or what are you here today to worship? Who or what receives your praise and worship every moment of every day?:
Those are the questions basically asked by the Prophet Isaiah in our First Reading today and by Jesus in our Gospel [Mark 7:1-13]. Indirectly, it’s also the essence of the unpopular issue raised by St. Paul in our increasingly politically incorrect Second Reading today [Ephesians 5:22-33], that reading with clear comments about women submitting to their husbands and husbands loving their wives as Christ loved the Church. The Prophet Isaiah, and he was even quoted by Jesus Himself, spoke about “people who honor [God] with their lips, but their hearts are far from [Him],” someone or something else is truly the object of their worship and praise – both in worship and in daily life.
The object of our worship, both in worship proper – like we’re doing today – and in daily life – what happens the other six days of our week, is to be our incredible Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, He Who entered human space and time, Who clothed Himself with our frail flesh and Who suffered, died and rose again for us. If ANYONE is worthy of our worship and praise – both in worship proper and in daily life – it is Jesus Christ because no one else has ever sacrificed more for you and for me.
You see, many churches and many individual Christians attach themselves too much to traditions, to rituals, to that which they’re familiar with and comfortable with. Anything other than that is considered by many churches and by many individual Christians as just being plain wrong.
Let me tell you a secret, although it’s probably not truly a secret. Pastor Gómez and I each spend a lot of time every week developing our weekly worship services. Much time and much care is spent in making sure that it’s Jesus Christ Who is worshiped and glorified in our one-hour weekly worship times together. Whether it’s contemporary or traditional, new or familiar, worship here lifts up Jesus Christ in grateful response to that which He’s done for each of us. Once those services are developed by your pastors, they are carried to full fruition by talented musicians and other helpers – from the Altar Guild, to the Greeters, to the Ushers, to the Elders, to the Acolytes – who each share that commitment to Jesus Christ, who each share that commitment that when people walk out of these doors – whoever they are; whatever they’ve done in life; wherever they find themselves in life at that moment – they do so having experienced the living Lord Jesus Christ.
Fifteen years ago, we were much more the traditional Lutheran congregation in terms of our worship style and practice. Fifteen years ago, you could almost predict, based upon which Sunday of the month it was, what our Order of Worship would be. Fifteen years ago, based upon the assigned readings for that particular Sunday, you could almost predict what hymns would be sung.
Today, worship here at Historic First Lutheran is admittedly far different from fifteen years ago! I am the first to admit that! Early on, that caused a lot of dismay here. Early on, that caused a lot of discomfort here. It had to be carefully explained over and over again that that dismay and comfort was caused because of change, caused by a severing of attachment to and worship of tradition and ritual.
While public worship has admittedly changed here at Historic First Lutheran over the past 15 years, let me assure you that the object of our worship has NOT changed! It will NEVER change! It CANNOT change and still permit us to be a Christian congregation. We still preach Christ Crucified! We still preach a fallen humanity! We still preach the need of all people for a Savior and that Savior is Jesus Christ! Do you hear me? If you’re not hearing me, then listen to Isaiah or to Jesus.
I hope and pray, as your pastor, that that object of our worship in public worship here week after week, whether we sing “A Mighty Fortress is our God” as our sermon hymn or whether we sing “ We Fall Down,” as we did today, remains our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and that that object of public worship also transfers into the praise and worship of that same Jesus Christ every moment of every day of each of your lives. Those are the moments of worship – where Jesus alone is being worshiped – where we, the children of God, worship in spirit and in truth.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Pastor Christopher Schaar
Historic First Lutheran Church of Pasadena