Sermon delivered at St. Andrew’s Anglican Church, Lewis Center Ohio, the fourth Sunday of Easter, May 3, 2009. If you would like to listen to the audio version of this sermon, usually somewhat different from the text below, click here.
In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
What is the Human Condition?
Good morning, St. Andrew’s! Today we continue our preaching theme for this month, which is worship in the context of Easter. In preparing this sermon, I am heavily indebted to the writings of Bishop Tom Wright, Bishop of Durham in the Church of England. You might recall that last week Fr. Ron reminded us that the term, worship, is derived from the old English word, weorthscipe, which means having worth. So when we worship something or someone, we are essentially assigning ultimate worth to that person or thing. If we are to worship God and give him all he is worth, it is important that we know who he really is so that we do not end up worshiping some god of our own making.
So what do you find most worthy or valuable in your life? This is more than just a rhetorical question because what we find to ultimately be worthy or valuable in our life will inevitably be that which we end up worshiping (assigning worth), and the Bible consistently reminds us that what we worship will lead to either life or death because we were created, in part, to worship. That is why both the OT and NT writers were so concerned about idolatry (see e.g., the psalms, Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Romans 1-3).
For me, when I was in college, one of the things you would have seen me pursue with vigor was women because I was a fat wallflower in high school and was busy making up for lost time. For me, promiscuous sex was something worthy and valuable, much to my shame now, because I thought it demonstrated what an attractive man I was. After I graduated from college, teaching became a very worthy pursuit for me and I spent hours upon hours in preparing lessons, teaching, and grading papers. School was a veritable second home to me because I found worth in pursuing a vocation God had called me to pursue. And of course, I was always trying to earn God’s favor by trying to be a good person and doing good things (like being the best teacher I could be) so that I could earn favor in his sight.
I was in danger of assigning ultimate worth to the things I pursued, but thankfully God in his grace saved me from worshiping sex or my job because neither of them can give life. Yet it is the sad plight of the human condition that all too often we humans begin to worship those things that can only lead to death because only the Living God has life in him and is the only One able to give life to us. And so I return to my original question—what do you find most valuable and worthy in your life? Are you worshiping God for all he is worth or are you worshiping someone or something else?
Where is God’s Grace?
One way to check yourself is to answer these two questions: 1) Is weekly worship optional? and 2) When you come to worship, do you find it boring? If you answered “yes” to either question, then there is a good chance that you are not giving God all he is worth. For you see, like me when I was younger, I worshiped a god I really did not know all that well (and some that I did), and because I didn’t know him for Who he really is, I could not love him for who he really is, and consequently, I thought worship was optional.
But thanks be to God that through his patient love and relentless pursuit of me, I am learning how to give God all he is worth because I am beginning to know him better (not know about him, but know him), and that is what I want to spent the rest of the time talking about because it holds the key to how well we are able to worship God.
True Christian worship is always Trinitarian. When we worship, we worship Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But why is it important to do so? Because if we do not worship our triune God, we will never begin to know the extent to which we have a God who loves us and the depths of that love.
When we worship God the Father, we worship our Creator, the Source and Author of all life. God created us to have relationship with him as Genesis 1:31 poignantly reminds us when it says that after God created humans he looked at his creation and saw it was very good, not just good as it had been after his other creative work. Then when we see God pursuing his sinful and fallen creatures in the garden, wondering where they are because they are hiding from him (Genesis 3:8-9), we begin to realize the pain our sin and separation has caused him as this lonely God of ours searches after them and wonders where his beloved have gone.
In Isaiah and Jeremiah we hear God’s continuing anguish over his sinful and rebellious people in the voice of both prophets as they warn Judah that their idolatrous ways can lead only to death, and plead with them to repent of their sins before it is too late. And then in Isaiah 53-55 we read about God’s grand plan, a plan he had from all eternity, to redeem both humans and creation from the bondage of sin and death, and free us to become the humans he created us to be.
Isaiah 53 speaks of the Suffering Servant who will bear the punishment for our sins so that God’s justice may be fully satisfied. In Isaiah 54 we read about the new covenant God will make with his people because the work of his Servant has been fulfilled. Then in Isaiah 55, we read of God’s plan to redeem his fallen creation in a mighty act of restoration, not unlike that which we read about in Revelation 21. God is not only going to redeem us, he is going to reverse the curse in Genesis 3:17-18 and set all of his creation aright. In each of these stories we see a God who loves us and all of his creation passionately, and has compassion for his sinful creatures beyond our ability to completely comprehend it all. I can love a God like that. Can you? If you can, you are beginning to worship him for all he is worth.
Then in the NT, we see God’s plan for the redemption of humanity and all creation unfold in history, and that is why we worship God the Son. For the NT tells the story of how God loved us so much that he took on our flesh, lived among us, allowed himself to be tortured and hung on a cross to die a horrible death for us. In doing so, he bore the punishment for our sins and made it possible for us to live with him forever. As we read the story of Christ’s passion and death, we are suddenly struck with the awesome realization that the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53 was God himself! Incredible!
But the Good News doesn’t stop there, does it, because the cross is not the end of the story. Had it been, there would be no Christian faith today. No, on the third day God raised Jesus from the dead and gave him a new resurrection body. In doing so, God confirmed to us that his promises to redeem his broken and fallen creation are true and that in the resurrection God has begun his work to restore us and all of his creation to what he intended it originally to be. I cannot quite image what this new creation will look like, but I do know that there will be no more tears or sorrow or sickness or death or infirmity or deformity or suffering. How do I know that? Because the death and resurrection of Christ proves that God is true to his word. Our God is indeed a passionate and compassionate God. I can love a God like that. Can you? If you can, you are beginning to understand what it means to worship God for all he is worth.
Finally, we worship God the Holy Spirit. The wonderful thing about the Gospel is that it is no self-help remedy. God does for us what we cannot do ourselves and then he promises never to leave us, but to give us his Holy Spirit until he comes again to complete the restorative work he began at resurrection. The Holy Spirit is God himself working in us, helping us in our infirmity, helping us grow in grace and faith, and guiding us to do the work he calls us to do in this world. And it is important that we do God’s work in this world because in the resurrection of Christ, we are reminded that God plans to restore his broken creation, that this world is important to him, and so it must be for us as well. I can love a God who has promised never to leave us alone or make us follow some futile self-help remedy to solve the problem of the human condition. I can love a God who works within us through his Holy Spirit to help him accomplish his mighty act of restoring our broken and sinful world. Can you? If you can, you are beginning to understand what it means to worship God for all he is worth.
Where is the Application?
You may ask, as some have, what difference does worshiping a triune God make? What does it really matter in our daily lives? Just this. Worshiping our triune God reminds us that we have a God big enough to handle all the problems of his world. This gives us hope, even in the face of suffering and evil. We no longer have to ask what God is doing about all that is wrong with this world as it currently exists because we already know that in the death and resurrection of Christ he has taken on evil himself and defeated it, even when it is not apparent to our senses and reason—that is where faith comes in, not a blind faith, but rather a faith based on the evidence from the biblical story of creation and salvation. Yes we must live with ambiguity and questions, the mystery of suffering and evil, but the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ are God’s mighty promises to us that we and all of creation are in the process of being restored to his original intention.
And because we have the Holy Spirit living in us, we can be confident that our efforts here on earth are not in vain because it is God himself working through us to accomplish his good will and purposes. Even when our prayers do not get answered the way we would like them to be, or we are faced with disappointment and setbacks in our work and relationships, Trinitarian worship reminds us that out of death comes new life and we can take comfort and real hope in that promise. The promise is not instant gratification and most of us hate that, but that does not negate the promise or its power to heal our hurts and fears. I would like to share a story from my recent experience that I hope will illustrate this for you [personal testimony about mom’s last days and death].
In practical terms, what we have talked about suggests that to worship God for all he is worth means two essential things. First, we must thoroughly appropriate God’s plan for the redemption and restoration of his people and his creation. That means we need to read our Bibles regularly and carefully. For example, in today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus said his sheep would know him. How can that be true if he is a stranger to you? You cannot begin to know Jesus if you do not know his story in the broader context of God’s eternal plan for redemption and salvation. Whether you are just starting or have read the Bible for a long time does not matter because there is limitless knowledge and fresh insights of God contained in his Word and that is worthy of our best and persistent effort. Doing so will help us know this triune God who loves us and who will restore us someday, and will help us give God all he is worth.
Second and last, true worship will always lead to a response of love, mission, and ministry because our hearts are bursting with love for this awesome God of ours. That means we must roll up our sleeves and get to work in God’s world, a world he has promised to restore. Because we know this triune God of ours, we are eager to share the Good News with others. And because we have his Holy Spirit living in us, we are confident that God himself is working through us to accomplish his good will and purposes for us, and who will help us grow in our own knowledge and love of him. That’s a God worthy of our worship.
Worship allows us to give God all he is worth and it reminds us that we have this awesome and compassionate God who is right now working in his world to put it, and us, aright. That’s especially important when we look around this broken and hurting world of ours, because we realize that its day of redemption, like ours, is coming and we can rejoice as we look forward to that day. That’s good news, folks, now and for all eternity. Are you ready to give God all he is worth? Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.