Today we begin a 4-week sermon series entitled, “Now and Forever: Viewing the Church Through the Lens of Charles Wesley.” The theme for each Sunday will be based on the days’ lectionary reading from either Acts of Revelation, and supported by the lyrics of a hymn by Charles Wesley. The hymn which will get special focus is “And Can It Be that I Should Gain?” one of Wesley’s most beloved but lesser-sung hymns. Today’s theme is God’s amazing love. The main point is that salvation and freedom is available to the ‘vilest offender’; the worst of human depravity cannot disqualify one from receiving God’s amazing love.
Pop quiz. Question #1: What’s the 4th Commandment? Answer: Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. The English word ‘sabbath’ comes from the Hebrew ‘shabbat.’ Shabbat, or Sabbath, means “rest.” The Sabbath is the last day of the week, and it’s a day to rest from the work we do during the first six days.
Pop quiz question #2: The Commandment to ‘remember the Sabbath and keep it holy’ is based on what Biblical event? Answer: the description of what happens on the seventh day of Creation. In Genesis 2:2-3, we read, “On the seventh day God had finished his work of creation, so he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because it was the day when he rested from all his work of creation” (Genesis 2:2-3).
The full text of the 4th Commandment is found in Exodus 20:8-11.
“Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work. This includes you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, your livestock, and any foreigners living among you. For in six days the Lord made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy.”
So, God declared the last day of the week to be holy by setting apart from the other six days. And then he codified that event by making it a part of the Law he gave Moses, and in doing so, mandated some kind of appropriate way of keeping or following the law. The Commandment specifically instructs us to remember the Sabbath day. But it’s not an act of mental recollection God’s calling for. Rather, in this case, remembering is accomplished by keeping the day holy. If you will, by doing something. We remember by doing.
Now, this is the exact same type of ‘remembering’ that we do every month at the Communion table. What was it Jesus said? “Do this in remembrance of me.” Do what? Eat the bread and drink from the cup. Reenact the Last Supper. And that’s exactly what we do; we reenact it. It’s an outwardly active way of remembering. Remembering by doing.
So it is with observing the 4th Commandment. We remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. The question is, what do we have to do in order to maintain its inherent holiness? According to the verses in Exodus 20, its inherent holiness is maintained by resting from our normal weekday labors. We’re supposed to rest on the seventh day because God rested on the seventh day. The act of resting from our usual labors, then, is what makes the day holy.
With that said, if God’s people are going to do something on the Sabbath which both honors its labor prohibition and expresses reverence for the One who gave us the holy day, what might we do? We worship and pray. Even before the time of Jesus, it was the practice of Jews to gather together in the local synagogue on the morning of Sabbath in order to pray. What they called ‘prayer’ Christians have come to call ‘worship.’ Their communal Sabbath prayer consisted of praying particular prayers, singing, reading aloud the Scriptures, and someone—most often, the person who read the Scriptures—giving some kind of teaching or proclamation based on the Scriptures. Does that sound familiar to anyone here?
The first followers of Jesus were Jews. As such, there’s every reason to believe that they continued to go to synagogue every Sabbath morning. That’s what Jesus did. But something happened relatively quickly as those early Christ-followers began to grow in number. As the church began to take on form, it also welcomed a growing number of Gentiles who, obviously, were not a part of a synagogue. Wanting a worship experience which reflected their faith in Christ, they began meeting together on the first day of the week, the day after the Sabbath.
For example, Acts 20:7 says, “On the first day of the week, we gathered with the local believers to share in the Lord’s Supper.” And in his closing remarks in 1 Corinthians, Paul specifically mentions the first day of the week gathering as an appropriate setting for receiving an offering of money to help meet the needs of the Christians in Jerusalem. So, coming together a people in order to pray and worship has always been seen as an important component in what we can do honor the sacredness of the Sabbath.
Do you recall me telling you last week that back in Wesley’s day, hymns denoted Christian-themed poetry, but that since then, the word “hymn” has become synonymous with music and, specifically, a particular musical style?
Well, the same thing can be said about the word “worship.” For many people today, words like “worship” and “praise” have become synonymous with music, with songs. In fact, in many Christian circles, to worship is to sing; to sing songs of praise. For them, the Sunday gathering of the community of faith begins with “a time of worship,” usually followed by “a teaching” from the pastor, after which there might be “a time of ministry.”
What they call a time of worship we would call a time of singing. And that’s simply because in our United Methodist lexicon, the word “worship” has a broad meaning; it covers everything that happens between 9:30 and 10:30. As a whole, what we do together in this hour is a form of worship. Each part of the whole are different acts of worship. But all together, they form the basis of our attempt to glorify God, and express our praise and thanksgiving and trust and lament and confession and commitment. We worship through our singing, listening, speaking; through times silence, prayer, and music; the sacrament and through giving an offering. It’s all worship. And it’s all done for the purpose of glorifying our wonderful, magnificent, beautiful, powerful, loving God.
And mostly notably, it only entails one hour of our week!!!! Right?
Ok, say that with tongue-in-cheek. (Although, based on some of the complaints we pastors hear from parishioners, that is the view of some folks in the pews. Many years ago, I had a guy tell me that if I can’t get it done in less than an hour, then I’m wasting your time.)
Well, the truth of the matter is that worship is not intended to be something “get done” in 60 minutes, or 2 hours, or Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings. At its core, worship is something we’re called to do all the time. Every hour of every day. At least, that’s the goal for those who maturing in their faith and practice.
Pastor and author Rick Warren says that “worship is not a part of your life, it is your life. It’s not just for church services. The Bible tells us to ‘worship him continually.’” (emphasis added)
In making this claim about what the Bible says, Warren may have Scriptures such as these in mind.
- Psalm 113:3 says, “From sunrise to sunset—let the Lord’s name be praised.”
- Psalm 34:1 says, “I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise will always be in my mouth.”
- Hebrews 13:15 says, “Let’s continually offer up a sacrifice of praise through him, which is the fruit from our lips that confess his name.”
One Christian blogger puts it this way:
“God divinely wove into our entire being a desire to worship. Just as we were created to be in relationship to God with our whole self, so too was worship designed to engage us on every level. When we are truly and rightly expressing worship to God, we are using all that we are to praise Him. True worship isn’t a single simple act of song or praise, just as it isn’t only an event that we attend on a Sunday morning. True worship is a lifestyle. To put it another way: our life is our worship. Worship doesn’t exist solely within the confines of a song, service, or an experience. Worship exists in our very DNA.” (https://www.harvestworld.com/our-life-is-our-worship/).
Worship exists in our very DNA. I like that.
To be sure, we’re not talking about a “Christian DNA” that comes with a profession of faith in Christ. No, the need to worship is built into every human being by virtue of being created in God’s image. Human beings are designed to need to worship someone or something. And this design is a part of the Kingdom of God in all its fullness.
The Scripture which Richard read earlier is from Revelation chapter 7, but it’s best understood in relation to the close of chapter 6. I interpret the wording of 6:12-17 to be a reference to the passion of Christ, although it’s more alluded to than specifically mentioned. So, as it read it, chapter 6 ends with the introduction of the gospel.
There are two possible responses to the gospel. One can either accept it or reject it. Chapter 7 is a portrayal of all those who accept the gospel.
In verse 9, John described his vision of a crowd of people so large that was impossible to count them. Also, they were from every nation in the world. They wore white robes, indicating their salvation. And what were they doing? They were standing before the glorified Christ and crying out, “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb” (v. 10). At the same time that was happening, John also saw angels crying out to the glorified Christ, saying, “Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!” (v. 12).
So, what exactly is John describing? In this vision, what does he witness taking place? Is not worship? God gave John a peek into heaven, and what he witnessed was everyone worshipping Jesus Christ, the risen and glorified Lamb of God. And here’s what I think. If that’s what heaven will mostly consist of—an eternal life of worshiping Christ—I have to think that it’ll be such a glorious experience that it’ll never, ever get old. It’ll never get boring. We’ll never tire of it.
Today, we’re singing two hymns written by Charles Wesley, and both of them bring to mind what John heard the saints and angles proclaiming in heaven. We opened worship glorifying the risen Christ with these lyrics:
Maker, in whom we live,
in whom we are and move,
the glory, power, and praise receive
for thy creating love.
Let all the angel throng
give thanks to God on high,
while earth (that’s us) repeats
the joyful songs and echoes to the sky.
let all the ransomed race
render in thanks their lives to thee
for thy redeeming grace.
The grace to sinners showed
ye heavenly choirs proclaim,
and cry, “Salvation to our God,
salvation to the Lamb!”
This hymn really does paint a picture of what John witnessed in his vision. Listen to the last verse.
Eternal, Triune God,
let all the hosts above,
let all on earth below (that’s us)
record and dwell on thy love.
When heaven and earth are fled before thy glorious face (a reference to the end of days, when Christ returns),
sing all the saints [which] thy love hath made
[to be] thine everlasting praise.
We’re going to sing God’s praises forever and ever!
In a few minutes, we’ll sing “Ye Servants of God.” The text of this hymn is practically lifted out of Revelation 7.
God ruleth on high, almighty to save,
and still he his nigh, his presence we have;
the great congregation his triumph shall sing,
ascribing salvation to Jesus, our King.
“Salvation to God, who sits on the throne!”
Let all cry aloud and honor the Son;
the praises of Jesus the angles proclaim,
fall down on their faces and worship the Lamb.
Then let us adore and give him his right,
all glory and power, all wisdom and might;
all honor and blessing with angels above,
and thanks never ceasing and infinite love.
Worshiping together for an hour or so each Sabbath day is important. But our worship of God doesn’t end with the pastor’s benediction. That benediction is really a call take our worship from this place out into the mission field where we ambassadors for Christ. Outside of these walls and beyond Sunday morning, we have the ongoing opportunity to give glory to God through every action and circumstance. When you do something kind for another person, and you know in your heart that doing that comes from a place of love, then dear friend, that’s an act of worship. And God knows it! And it makes God smile! When someone is mean or insensitive to you, and you consciously choose to respond with a smile (and not a snarky one), or a kind word, that’s an act of worship. When you smile at the squirrels chasing each other all over your yard and up and down the trees and, in your heart, you thank God for the little bit of joy that brings you, that’s an act of worship. When you give a short word of thanks for your meal, that’s an act of worship.
Paul understands that it’s often the simple things we do that glorify God. He says, “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, you should do it all for God’s glory” (1 Corinthians 10:31). And in another place, he puts it this way: So, here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: “Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering” (Romans 12:1, The Message).
And then, after doing that throughout the week, you’ll return to this place and worship more formally alongside your sisters and brothers in Christ. And from here, you’ll go out and do it again. May we live every hour of every day to the glory of God. Let’s pray.