I have to, as briefly as I can, set a context. Can I do it without missing things? I will only know if you ‘get it’ by the end.
In the morning I’ve been preaching a series on Worship and so far for 4 or 5 Sunday mornings I’ve been preaching from Psalm 95
The first sermon pointed out the movement or sequence of:
“Come from a distance” v 1
“Come before or closer” v 2
“Come into the very presence of God” v 6
With the main point being that worship about entering the presence of God and God making himself present.
The next one highlighted the movement or sequence of:
Rejoice v 1 & 2
Revere v 3-7
Respond v 7-11
or using words I prefer (since Revere is a word that people trip over)
The fact that the whole body was involved was looked at (not just the brain)
The communal, encouraging and anticipatory movement of it was highlighted “Come, Let Us…” as if we are all waking together gathering people up on the way…
Today I dealt with the last 4 verses as the second of a different two-part movement in the Psalm, the movement from Words about God to Words from God.
I stressed that v 7 shows that if God becomes present in our worship, if God is unveiled, this indicates we are very likelly to ‘hear’ God, to encounter God in some way in our worship. But that is scarry, because encounters with God often change us… so we keep worship safe…
I explained how the language carries the idea of meeting with a King and Judge in bible times. Similar to Esther’s risk.
I compared it to events where Royalty is present in the balcony, and when the event is done everyone checks to see if the Royals were pleased by what was presented.
I then told of a wake-up moment I had in a courtroom where I saw too many similarities to the church of my youth, and suddenly realized how in that church-of-yore the pastor represented a Judge, and how all I learned was that we didn’t want to be sentenced for life. I don’t remember recognizing that the Judge and King’s representative actually says, ‘Believe, you are forgiven, and free to go!’
So I talked briefly about how shaping the church like a courtroom has consequences, but that the King/Judge Idea is in this Psalm. Except for one big difference. People are now, more than ever, going to meet their Liberator (the Rock of our Salvation v1), not their Judge… but we forget, like Israel did when liberated from Egypt.
At this point — and preachers who have this will know what I’m saying — I got the feeling I was on a wild horse, and I left my notes even more, and romped around a bit, all the while inside myself praying “This better be the Holy Spirit’s leading or I’m in trouble” and I soon reigned the wild horse in and returned to my notes.
I included some thinking about how shaping church like theaters affects our attitude to church to be similar to the one for going to theaters, namely, we believe we are the audience, and it is up to the people on the stage and backstage to ‘please’ us. (I have this idea from Darrell Johnson at Regent) I admitted that I myself get mixed up by that, and sometimes believe it’s all about my performance, and because I like entertaining and performing I move to that instead of being a stagehand facilitating a congregation of performers having an encounter with God.
But the Psalm clearly shows us that the theater approach is wrong. In fact, in Christian worship the “King of all gods” (v 3) is the audience, and our concern and question at the end should be “Was the Royal Audience Pleased?” Did God show himself and reveal himself and honor us with his presence?
I then made some practical comments about what this means. It means: it’s not about us. It’s not about you. It means, if you encounter someone after church who says they were not pleased by something, if you can remain calm and loving, you can put your hand on their shoulder and say “Isn’t it wonderful that worship is not about you being pleased?
That’s as short as I can make the summary.
We had many visitors at church, because we had a young couple doing Profession of their Faith and then having their baby baptized (3 out of the last 4 Sundays we’ve had some combination like that — clearing a backlog…)
Here’s a genealogical side note. The girl/wife’s parents both had the same last name before they married. (but they are not rednecks). The husband/father’s mom’s maiden name was the same as the last name of the girls parents. Understand? Three of the four grandparents to their child have the same last name! So, anyway, we had a lot of visitors and the vast majority of them all had the same last name…
So after church I went and hung out in the smoking circle for a bit. It’s right beside where the Harleys get parked. As I got there there was some banter about how few actual smokers there were there, and about people coming just to get free second hand smoke.
I then said: Well, I like to think I was “smokin'” about half an hour ago.” They laughed.
Then a visitor stepped forward, put her hand on my shoulder, and said, looking caringly into my eyes:
“It’s not about you”
I’m still laughing. It was priceless.
True sermon application jiujitsu.