Committed to Christ: Worship; Revelation 4:1-11
Plymouth First United Methodist; September 26, 2021
Pastor Toni Carmer
There are moments in life that take our breath away, aren’t there? Or, if they don’t take our breath away, these moments in life give us new breath. You and I may sometimes feel like the dry, disconnected bones described in Chapter 37 of the book of Ezekiel. We may feel like there’s no life in us. But then, God gives us this moment, this experience (37:5), when God’s breath enters us and we come to life.
If I were to ask you to name some of those moments, you could describe them to me. I know you could.
If you were to ask me about those moments in my life, I would tell you about the time I stepped into Old Town Square in Prague, Czechoslovakia at dusk. I looked up and around me and saw church spires rising out from behind the buildings in the square, and it was so beautiful, I couldn’t believe it. I remember wishing at that moment that Scott was with me so he could see it, too, because I knew my words couldn’t adequately describe how beautiful it was. It was a moment that took my breath away.
If you were to ask me about one of those moments in my life, I would tell you about a worship service I was a part of in Nashville, TN, when I was worshiping with a few thousand other people during what I think was the first Global Gathering of United Methodists. Archbishop Desmond Tutu had just preached, and we were on our feet singing and I felt God’s presence—I heard God’s voice in a way I’d never heard it before, and it was in that moment that I experienced my call to ministry and began my journey that has led me to this place in my life. It was a moment that took my breath away.
If you were to ask me about those moments in my life, I would tell you about a Good Friday service I was a part of one year. Two men who I knew well were each going through very different but very life-changing personal and professional struggles. They sang a duet of a hymn together with such beauty, such faith, such trust, that it took my breath away. I remember the tears falling down my cheeks and feeling God’s love and presence and grace.
If you were to ask me about those moments in my life, I would describe two very recent ones, both in this room during worship. The first was as we sang the Lord’s Prayer together during our communion liturgy this past Labor Day. It was an amazing moment. The second was last week as we sang I Was there to Hear your Borning Cry after we baptized Henry. In the singing of the prayer and the hymn I experienced God’s presence in a mighty way. Those were each moments that took my breath away.
God has made us for those moments when we’re suddenly aware that we are standing on holy ground. God has made us for those moments when we suddenly realize God is at our elbow. God has made us for those moments when words of truth reach our heart when we didn’t think our heart was reachable, and new life returns.
How can we not respond but in worship?
This is the 3rd week of our Committed to Christ series, and today we’re talking about worship. Worship at a very basic level is about coming together as God’s people, about offering ourselves to God, about listening for whatever Word God might have for us, and then taking that Word back out into the world where we live.
As I talk to you this morning about worship, I realize I’m preaching to the choir, as they say, because worship is important to you and you’re here. Out of the 47 confidential surveys we’ve received, 30 people stated they worship 3-4 times per month and 37 stated they worship 4 times a month or almost never miss church, even when out of town. I know there are others who are at home who didn’t complete the survey but whose attendance on line has been very similar. You’re here, pretty much every week. You’ve gotten around on Sunday morning when you could have slept in, or poured a cup of coffee and picked up a newspaper so you could get depressed about all that’s happening in the world, or any number of whatever other things folks do on Sunday mornings. But out of all those options, you’re here, in person or via Facebook, worshipping.
So, the question may not be, “Will we come to worship?” Perhaps a better question would be, “Will we be passionate when we come?” Will we expect God to show up, will we keep our hearts and minds open to whatever God might have for us, will we listen for God’s voice that speaks to us through God’s Word, and then respond in thanks and praise?
This morning we’re going to look a bit at John’s Revelation in the New Testament. When we read Revelation, it is easy to get caught up in all of the exotic imagery. In this fourth chapter, we find an incredible description of the throne room of heaven. The scene literally takes our breath away.
The New Revised Standard Version of the Bible says that John was caught up in the Spirit. The Message says, “I was caught up at once in deep worship…” He was transported to the throne room of heaven where he saw God seated on the throne. Around God were 24 Elders, white robed and gold crowned, on their own thrones. There were seven torches and a clear crystal sea. Four winged animals with faces like a lion, an ox, an eagle, and a human being were there.
I think that it’s natural to be curious about all of these creatures, the elders, and the Crystal Lake. But I don’t want to spend time with those images this morning. I want to focus on what they’re doing: they’re worshipping.
Can you imagine how it would be to be in the presence of the divine. What would you do besides worship? What could you do besides worship? What else would even make sense?
In John’s vision, the main activity is worship. The entire Revelation is primarily liturgical. It is written for use in worship. It is filled with shouts, hallelujahs, benedictions, prayers, doxologies, and songs. Apart from worship, this last book in the Bible loses much of its meaning.
Worship for John was largely a political act. He speaks about the rulers of Babylon (meaning the emperor of Rome), as the ones who were demanding allegiance and subservience. Roman emperors were declared divine, and so insisted they be worshipped as gods.
John makes it clear that Christians declare their allegiance and loyalty only to the One who sits on the throne of heaven, not to any earthly ruler, government, or economic system. John knew that way too often, nationalism becomes intertwined with religious faith. Caesar demands worship, and the church readily obeys. Whenever that happens – in the first century or in the twenty-first century – the gospel message is undermined. We have to understand that Revelation is aimed largely at the Roman government. For John, to put human governments – or anything else – above God, is treasonous. He used language and images that Christians would understand, but which would be nonsense to Rome. The Emperor was being put in his place, and he didn’t even know it!
The church sometimes tends to downplay the importance of worship. We devalue worship when we fail to realize that when we worship, we come into the very presence of God. In worship we confront God in all of his splendor and majesty, in a place where angels and heavenly beings bow before the throne. When we lose the awareness of the awesomeness of that experience, we are diminished.
I don’t know if you read the comic strip “Rose is Rose” or not. Most often the strip shows Rose marveling at flowers, sunsets, birds, rainbows, and her husband and son. Awhile back, the strip showed Rose and her son Pasqual walking in fresh snow. Rose had a big smile on her face while Pasqual’s look was much more serious.
In the second panel, he stands by himself with his eyes wide open and his mouth shaped into a big “O.” In the next frame, Rose glances back at him because he has gotten several steps behind. In the final frame, she asks Pasqual what happened. He replies, “The quiet is so deep, I got stuck in it.”
Such it is for faithful worship. We come into the glory of God and just get stuck in the power and majesty and glory.
I know that our lives are full. We participate in a variety of important activities each and every day. But the MOST important activity on earth and in heaven is worship. Salvation is not the point and goal of human history. Salvation is only the means to an end, and that end is the proper worship of God. Our salvation allows us into the throne room. Proper worship of God happens when every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.
Way too often, we come to worship with the approach of a consumer. We tend to judge worship by what we get out of it. But wait a minute: is that why we come to worship…to get something out of it? Really? I think that’s the wrong question. The right question, I think, is “Where can I go to best give praise and worship to God?” When we approach worship as a consumer, we put our emphasis on the completely wrong idea.
Worship isn’t a spectator sport. The aim of worship for us is the same as it was for John: to get so caught up in wonder, love, and praise, that we catch a glimpse of the divine. The focus on worship is on God. The focus is not on the preacher, not on the space in which we come together, not on the choir or the organist or the acolytes or the boys and girls who might be present to come forward for the children’s message. Thankfully, huh? We have missed out on so many of those parts of worship over the past year and a half, and yet—we have continued to worship, because God is worthy of our worship and praise, without regard to our circumstances. Although there are various parts of worship that we’ve missed, this time isn’t about us. It’s about God.
Worship is presenting ourselves as a living sacrifice to God.
My invitation to you this morning is to consider your practice of worship. As I read through the options on the Commitment Card, consider where you are right now in your worship, and if you’re ready to move on to the next step.
Pray for our church, for those worshipping alongside you, for your pastor. Look for opportunities to greet and welcome one another.
Keep in mind your role as a participant and not merely an observer or a consumer.
And remain open to the possibility that God might surprise you…that God offers us these moments that take our breath away…and that give us breath. Blessing us, empowering us for the journey.