Why Church? For proper worship

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
Isaiah 6

April 3, 2022

Sermon recorded on Thursday, March 31, 2022, at Mayberry Church

At the beginning of worship:

Each of us are instilled with the need to worship. Whether or not we’re Christian, whether or not we’re religious, we have a desire to find meaning in something larger than ourselves. That “something” becomes the object of our worship.  

The “atheistic Communist,” whom we used to so fear, believed in a dialectical materialistic philosophy they saw giving rise and power to the proletariat to create a new state. They worshipped the state. We see this today in Putin’s nationalism extended to all Russian speakers. 

Even the most apathetic couch potato, who never darkens the door of the church, may worship a basketball team, a NASCAR driver, or a movie star. The narcissistic believe they are larger and more important than others and worship an inflated ego with no relationship to reality. We all look for meaning; it’s just that a lot of us attempt to find meaning in the wrong places and end up restless and disappointed. Augustine, writing 17 centuries ago, said our hearts are restless until they come to rest in God.[1]

Why church?

Today, we continue to ponder “Why Church?” Church should be the place we learn who’s worthy of worship. It’s also an outlet for such worship. Here, we should encounter the living God and find satisfaction to our desires. 

Other “Why Church” Sermons:

To reorient our lives

To care for the world

We’re a place for questions

Because Jesus set up the church to continue his work

Read Isaiah 6

After the reading of Scripture:

Our scripture for this morning, Isaiah’s call, is an example of what should happen in worship. In this passage, Isaiah encounters God in all his holiness and majesty. This occurs the same year that King Uzziah died. Such reference provides a timetable for the vision, but also contrasts the transient nature of earthly kings and powers to the eternal nature of the King to whom our allegiance belongs. Uzziah is dead, his throne empty. But Isaiah witnesses a greater throne and king.[2]

Setting Isaiah up to hear his call

We’d think Isaiah would be overwhelmed and overjoyed to see God, wouldn’t we?[3] Isaiah, however, realizes he has a problem. He sees the real King and prevailing wisdom has it that for a mortal to see God brings certain death. Our sinful state leaves us vulnerable before God’s holiness. Isaiah knows he’s in deep sneakers as he cries, “Woe is me; I am lost, I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips and I have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts.” In other words, because of his condition, Isaiah cannot join the song of praise to God.[4]

But all is not lost. One of the seraphs before the throne takes a coal from the altar, flies down and presses it to Isaiah’s lips, proclaiming that his sins are forgiven. At this point, Isaiah can now hear the call of God, asking who will go and take a message to the people, and Isaiah pipes up and says, “Here I am, Lord, send me.”

A call is not necessarily a good thing

It all sounds good, doesn’t it? That is, until we read the rest of this chapter. Starting in verse 9, we realize the job for which Isaiah volunteered wasn’t a coveted one. His words are to harden the hearts of his people as he speaks judgement. This forces Isaiah to ask, “How long?” How long will Israel’s heart be hardened? How long will the people be punished? Isaiah asks.[5] The answer isn’t hopeful: Till the cities become desolate and the land empty. Even if a piece of it survives, we’re told in verse 13, it will be burned again.

We find hope only at the very end of the chapter. God condemns his people, keeps them from repenting by hardening their hearts, but there is hope that a sprout may rise from the stump.[6]

Be careful about what you ask 

I’ve known people who have wanted a sign from God to help their belief. “If I could only have a sign?” You might have even said this. Be careful about what we ask. Those who receive the best signs in Scripture are those from whom God asks the most. God doesn’t give signs so we can believe. Such a sign would make faith lame. Instead, the good signs—like the burning bush, Isaiah’s call, Paul’s conversion—all come with difficult assignments. 

We can also think about Peter’s call from Jesus himself by the lake.[7] Jesus clarifies it later, informing him when he was young, he went where he wanted, but when he is old, he’ll be taken where he does not want to go, indicating the kind of death in his future.[8] One thing we should realize: Authentic worship isn’t about us; it’s about God. Ultimately, it isn’t about how we feel or what we want, but what God wants us to do.

Lessons from Isaiah being in God’s presence

What can we learn about coming into God’s presence and worship from Isaiah?  First, we see that true worship, worship which encounters the holy, is dangerous. When we truly worship in the presence of the Almighty, we play with dynamite! There’s a power greater than ourselves, and if we tap into it, we will have little control over where it will lead. It’s a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God, we read in Hebrews.[9] But with the disciples, we must acknowledge, “Where else can we go to find the words of eternal life.”[10] So we stick around, even though it can be scary.  

Like Isaiah, we find that worship is also redemptive. Where else can we go to find forgiveness, to be offered a new chance, to have our guilt erased and set free to start over? And then, like Isaiah, we find that not only are we forgiven, but we’re now open to hear God’s word, so that we can hear the Almighty call us to fulfill God’s purpose in our lives. 

Purpose of worship

Ultimately, worship is to be life changing. Coming into the presence of God does that! The sanctuary, or wherever we worship, isn’t an escape from the world, but a place to equip us to go back into the world to fulfill our roles as disciples of the living Lord.  

Understand that worship is something that needs to be done throughout the week. We’re to worship God throughout our lives. But it also important that we come together as a community to worship. As Jesus says, “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, I will be there.”[11]

The Cycle of Reformed Worship

Think about what we do here and how it relates to Isaiah’s experience. We come into God’s presence, we realize God’s holiness and our lack of it, and we are forgiven and then sent back into the world to further God’s work. That’s the cycle that goes on Sunday after Sunday in a Reformed service of worship. The Call to Worship and the Opening Hymn of Praise reminds us that this a sacred place and time. The prayers of confession, both those spoke corporately and privately, remind us that we need forgiveness. Corporately, we’re reminded that as a people, we are guilty. The private prayers of confession spoken to God silently in our hearts, remind us that as individuals, we are also guilty. The Assurance of Pardon reminds us of the forgiveness offered through Jesus Christ, that frees us up to hear God’s word and to go back out into the world. 

I know some churches don’t use a time of confession, but they miss the meat of the gospel.[12] We stand in need of forgiveness and through Jesus Christ, God stands willing to offer forgiveness.

Making the most of worship

How might we make the most out of our time for worship on Sunday morning?  First, begin your preparation for worship early. Go to bed at a reasonable hour on Saturday night so that you are well rested. The Jews begin their Sabbath at sundown, which would not be a bad habit for us Christians. Prepare for Sunday morning on Saturday. You could set out clothes to wear or prepare food for the Lord’s Day. Put your Bible (and your journal if you use one) next to your clothes to bring to worship. This will assure that Sunday mornings are not hectic. Then, when you wake up, you can easily get ready for worship and perhaps even have some time to go to God in prayer. And pray for our worship. I can’t imagine the blessings we would experience if everyone took the time before coming to church to pray for the experience! 

Next, when you come to worship, come with a holy expectancy. Come, expecting that you will encounter God. Now, not every Sunday is a mountaintop experience.[13] In fact, few are going to be mountaintop experiences and if we strive for that, we’re probably focusing on what we want and not what God wants. But that said, if we don’t expect anything out of worship, we’re probably not going to receiving anything. What would happen if just a few of you came expecting God to show up? It could be dangerous; it could be glorious!

Next, arrive early. Here, do as I say not as I’ve been known to do. When I am not preaching, I’m not known for arriving too early (you can ask my wife or daughter). They call it Garrison time. But if you are here five, ten or fifteen minutes early, you have time to focus on God, to calm your hearts, and to put away distractions. Spend this time making a mental note of that which to thank God or of the deeds you stand in need of confessing. 

Pray for the worship experience

Look around and see people who are in need and offer intercessory prayer. Pray for the preacher (I need all the help I can get). Pray for those who might be new in our fellowship. Pray for those not here. Read through the bulletin, internalizing the prayers so that they can become your prayers. Look over the scriptures so that you might receive more out of the sermon or get more out of the prayers.  

While in a worship service

While in worship, learn to absorb distractions. We’re all human here. I am going to make some mistakes. Others are also going to make mistakes. God doesn’t use perfect people. Instead of fussing and fuming over such mistakes, pray silently that we might get over it, that God might bless such blunders and use them for his glory. As Paul tells the Corinthians, God uses the cross which is foolishness to the world to bring about salvation.[14] Focus your energy on what is positive, not on what can be negative and destructive. Embrace worship as a sacrifice, as your sacrifice, to God.  Remember, what happens here “isn’t about you!” It’s about God! Keep focused on that which is important.  

And finally, when you leave worship, go out to live your life as an heir to the kingdom, listening and obeying God’s word, and continuing to worship throughout the week. In so doing, your whole life will be more worshipful, and you’ll continually praise God.

Conclusion

We’re all to be worshippers. In worship, our restlessness finds peace in the heart of God. In worship, we move from the position of the guilty one, “Woe is me!” to the response of a confident disciple, “Here I am, Lord. Send me.” Amen.  

©2022


[1] Augustine, Confessions, 1:1.

[2] Christopher R. Seitz, Isaiah 1-39, Interpretation, a Biblical Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1993), 54.

[3]Otto Kaiser, Isaiah 1-12, Old Testament Library, second edition, John Bowden translator. (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1983), 128.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Seitz, 57.

[6] Compare Isaiah 6:13 (“the holy seed is its stump”) with Isaiah 11:1 (A shoot shall come out of the stump of Jesse). 

[7] Luke 5:1-11 (a different version of this call occurs in John 1:40-41).

[8] John 21:18.

[9] Hebrews 10:31.

[10] John 6:68

[11] Matthew 18:20.

[12] There are many things that the church does which can be done just as well by other groups. What makes the church unique is the message of forgiveness through Christ which he shares through the church. 

[13] Even the disciples found that they couldn’t stay on the mountaintop.  Life is to be lived in the valleys and on the plains, where people are at.  See Matthew 17:1-13, Mark 9:2-8 and Luke 9:28-36.

[14] 1 Corinthians 1:18, my paraphrase. 

Okefenokee Sunset, March 2019, near Monkey Lake

4 thoughts on “Why Church? For proper worship”

  1. I like your section on “making the most of worship”. I do a lot of the things you recommend (setting out my clothes, leaving earlier than necessary, etc.) I normally wake without an alarm, but on Sundays I always set one, just in case (for about 20 minutes after I usually wake). Today I didn’t wake on my own and found out that it makes a huge difference in my whole routine and attitude what that happens! I think I need to set that “just in case” alarm about 10 minutes earlier!

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