Worship. What is worship? Some church folks, particularly in churches formed after 1980, equate worship with contemporary praise songs. Often times, in those contemporary churches, the time spent on other than praise music comes under a label of something other than worship.
For some church folks, particularly among the Lutheran, Episcopal, and Roman Catholic churches, worship tends to be a solemn event occurring in a space considered sacred. In that sacred space, a repetition of ancient sayings is employed, along with songs, homilies, with the pinnacle moment occurring in the sharing in Holy Communion.
Then, of course, there is us, the Baptists. In a typical Baptist setting, worship tends to be relatively simple and centers around the sermon. In most Baptist churches the music consists of traditional hymns, accompanied by a pianist and perhaps an organist. The primary purpose of music in a Baptist service is to prepare the listener to hear the sermon.
Worship has become a varied set of practices. Although they vary by tradition, we should not see one method of worship as more proper than another or the differing activities in the collective as a confused mess. Regardless of the way we the practically expression of worship we follow, the purpose of worship remains the same. We worship to meet the goal of placing ourselves before God.
Our goal is to place ourselves before God that He would hear us in a public way acknowledge Him by our singing, by our praying, and by our silence. We want to acknowledge that God is amid all that is happening in this world today, in the present moment.
Our goal of placing ourselves before God that we can be heard and that we can hear Him. We sing, we recite the Lord’s Prayer, we read and listen to passages from the Bible, and we listen to, and we are even willing to suffer through, sermons, messages, or homilies. We do these things because we believe that in doing so God will speak to us as the final authority for life and living. We believe in the written word of God, the Bible, that “Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another—showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us” (2 Timothy 3:16-17: MSG).
To be heard by God and to hear God, to know and be known by God, these are our goals in worship. I learned Quaker theologian once wrote, “Goals have consequences.” Think about that for a moment. The goals we choose have consequences to our lives as we pursue these goals. What then are the consequences of placing ourselves before God to hear and be heard by Him?
I think our reading today from the Gospel of Luke might be helpful in opening the door to our understanding of the consequences of hearing God and being heard by God. Let’s read that passage again. As we do, I invite you to visualize the scene being unfolded before us. In the Gospel of Luke, we would read, “11 Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he [Jesus] was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy [an infectious skin disease] met him [Jesus]. They [lepers] stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, ‘Jesus, Master, have pity on us!’ 14 When he [Jesus] saw them [the ten lepers], he [Jesus] said, ‘Go, show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they [lepers] went, they [lepers] were cleansed [healed]. 15 One of them [lepers], when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He [The changed man] threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan. 17 Jesus asked, ‘Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?’ 19 Then he [Jesus] said to him [the changed man], ‘Rise and go; your faith has made you well’” (Luke 17:11-19).
Jesus, as was his habit, was traveling the countryside. Jesus was heading to Jerusalem for his final time; a time in which he would be arrested, tried, and crucified. On his way to Jerusalem, he approached a nameless village. Outside the hospitality of the village were ten homeless men. They were made homeless by an infectious and incurable skin disease called leprosy. As Jesus approached, the ten men stood some distance from Jesus and together called out to him, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us.”
Somehow, these men, isolated from community, came to know something about Jesus and the presence of God within him. They called out in reverence for the authority of God within Jesus and said to him, “Jesus, Master.” The collective goal of these men was to place themselves before God. Having placed themselves before God, the ten offered their humble prayer, “Have pity on us!” “Have mercy on us!” This was the worship service of ten lepers. There was, of course, no music, no offering, and no sermon, but it was worship. The had the goal to place themselves before God and praying.
Jesus would later share the simplicity of this scene later through a parable. In that parable, instead of a leper placing himself before God, Jesus substituted another outcast from community, a tax collector. He contrasted the worship offered by that outcast from the community with the worship offered by a Pharisee, a respected and admired member of the community. Jesus told their story this way.
10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ 13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ 14 “I tell you that this man [the tax collector], rather than the other [the Pharisee], went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Luke 19:10-14).
The behavior of the lepers and that of the tax collector are remarkably similar. They both stood at a distance. They both placed themselves before God. They both humbly prayed the same prayer, “Have mercy.” The lepers and the tax collector had the goal of worshipping God.
Well, what was the result of the worship by the lepers? What was the consequence of pursuing their goal of placing themselves before God through Jesus Christ?
Luke wrote that Jesus saw the lepers. The first consequence of pursuing a goal of worshipping of God is that the worshipper reveals themselves to God and is fully seen by God for who they are. In the scene with the lepers, Jesus saw the lepers and their humility before him. In the parable of the tax collector and Pharisee, the tax collector was seen by God and his humility before him. The Pharisee was seen by God and his arrogance before him. Having a goal to worship God carries with it the consequence that we will be seen by him either for our humility or our arrogance. We must then exercise care in our worship that whatever form it takes, be it contemporary style, liturgical style, or even as we Baptist do, to worship in humility.
Luke said the first response in the lepers’ moment of worship was that Jesus saw the lepers. Jesus did not so much see a collection of men with sickness of their body, but Jesus saw a collection of men healthy in their humble worship of God. In seeing these worshippers and listening to their voices of praise and pray, Jesus heard them. The first consequence of worshipping God is that we open ourselves to God.
Luke said the second consequence of worshipping God followed quickly thereafter. The worshippers heard God. In this case, the voice of God was expressed through the words of Jesus who said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests” (Luke 17:14). A consequence of the goal of worship is that God speaks to worshippers. But the consequence of hearing God speak is that the worshipper is expected to follow what God said. We should note well that Jesus spoke and told this group of humble worshippers to “Go, show yourselves to the priests” (Luke 17:14). Jesus did not say you are healed. Instead, Jesus told the men to go to the priest. At that time, the way one must prove themselves cleansed of leprosy was to have a priest confirm that healing. It was not until the men followed what Jesus said did the healing of their bodies occur. Luke wrote, “And as they [lepers] went, they [lepers] were cleansed [healed]” (Luke 17:14b). Said another way, as the worshippers acted in faith and did as God instructed, then the healing took place.
The lepers entered worship as a way of God hearing them. God, through Jesus, heard them. God, through Jesus, spoke to the lepers. The worshippers were expected to follow God’s word and they did. In following God’s word, the lepers were cleansed or healed. The consequence of the goal of worship was that the lepers were no longer lepers, they were outwardly changed men.
But. You know there is always a ‘but.’ But not all the lepers embraced the full goal of worship and not all accepted the consequence of worship which is to be changed within. Let’s see what happened.
Luke said, “15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan” (Luke 17:15-16). One of the ten now former lepers was changed but more than just the restoration of his skin. When this tenth man saw that his skin had been healed, he allowed God to also change to the core of his being. This tenth man instead of running from Jesus, returned to Jesus. Why? Because the tenth man wanted to worship God for what God had done within him through worship.
True worship of God, whatever its form, changes the worshipper and creates a desire for greater worship of God. Not only does worship create a desire for more worship but it creates a desire for a deeper worship, a worship that brings them ever closer to God. When this tenth man first worshipped, he did so from a distance. When he returned to worship, the tenth man “threw himself at Jesus’ feet,” to worship him. Worship of God changes the worshipper and makes the worshipper desire the closest possible relationship with God and one that expressed without any sense of embarrassment.
Worship is a powerful spiritual experience that changes the worshipper. The tenth man returned to Jesus to be heard by God and to hear God. This man was not disappointed. Jesus said to him, “19 ‘Rise and go; your faith has made you well’ (Luke 17:19). This tenth man heard God and was told to continue to move forward in faith.
Worship. What is worship? We worship to meet the goal of placing ourselves before God. Our goal is to place ourselves before God that He would hear us as we in a public way acknowledge Him by our singing, by our praying, and by our silence. We want to acknowledge that God is amid all that is happening in this world today, in the present moment. Our goal is to place ourselves before God that we could hear Him through His Word. These are the goals of worship, but Goals have consequences.
In our goal of worship, we face the real consequence of being changed. In being changed, we desire to worship God not just more but more intimately. Through deeper worship of God will we hear God more clearly than ever and know that our life is to be lived in faith. The more we hear God, the quieter our soul becomes. We are not unsettled and anxious.
It was by faith that the leper was healed. It was by faith the healed man was tasked by Jesus to live by. We are no different from the leper. We need to make as a chief goal of our life to worship God, humbly. We need to accept the consequences of worship. Namely, that we will be seen by God, heard by him, that we will hear him, we will be changed because of hearing God, and that in our continued worship of God he will ask us to live evermore by faith.
I am glad we are here together in worship. I pray that together we will fully enjoy the consequences of worshipping God. Amen and Amen.