This morning, about 10 minutes ago, the musicians and I finished our Sunday morning run through. We talked and played through all the songs that we will be singing this morning, paying close attention to the two that we have never done here corporately before. So then, let me ask you a question: is the Church ready for corporate worship? At the same time as our practice, Lee was most likely sitting in his office with his various colored highlighters looking over his sermon manuscript one last time, making sure he is ready to deliver the message this morning. So again: is the Church now ready for corporate worship? The whole process of planning for a Sunday morning service begins on Wednesday (actually it begins earlier than that but for our purposes here, Wednesday will do.) On Wednesdays, Lee and I discuss what he will be preaching and we begin to lay our a schedule for the service. We fine tune it and try to have it ready so that the musicians can practice on Wednesday night and so that Lili can print the bulletins on Thursday. So I ask one last time, with all that accomplished, we now find ourselves sitting in the Sunday school hour, minutes away from the corporate gathering, is the Church now ready for corporate worship? The answer: I do not know. Although all the factors we have mentioned are important in our corporate gathering, they do not guarantee that corporate worship will occur. There are other factors that will affect the corporate worship of God this morning at Cornerstone that we have not considered. What are these other factors? My simple answer is you. The songs have been planned, the musicians have practiced, the sermon is typed, all things are in place. So then, where are you? If corporate worship hinged on whether or not you were faithful to your responsibilities, would corporate worship occur? I say all this to get at the question: "What are the responsibilities placed on members for corporate worship?" This is the question that we want to labor in answering this morning in our Sunday school hour.
III. What are the responsibilities placed on members for corporate worship?
A. To begin in answering this question this morning we need to look at some passages that deal with the issue of worship this morning. Now, it would be very easy if Paul would have just included a bulletin from the Church at Jerusalem in his letters to the Corinthians or the Romans. But we do not find that. However, there are some passages from which we can draw some principle that will aid us in answering our question this morning. The first passage I want to look at is Nehemiah 8:1-8. In this passage we find Israel gathered together to worship God. What occurs is fairly simple, the people gather (all who could understand what they heard, see v. 2), Ezra reads the Law to them, the people respond with worship, while the Levites help explain the Law to the people. The passage is very straight forward and we see a clear emphasis placed on the reading, hearing, responding, and understanding of the Law. Moving to the New Testament, our second passage is John 4:21-24. Much could be said here about the Samaritans and their relationship to the Jews. What I do want to point out involves the Samaritan women's question which prompts Jesus to speak about worship. Based upon their understanding of the Law and what they accepted as Scripture, they worshipped God on Mount Gerizim. The Jews, however, believed the appropriate place to worship God was in Jerusalem at the temple mount. This issue caused much strife between the two groups. So, the lady decides to put the question to Jesus: On which mountain should we worship? Jesus answers in v. 21-24. His emphasis is not on place, but rather on 'spirit and truth.' He accuses the Samaritans of worshipping what they do not know (because they have rejected all of the OT except for the Law) and proclaims that true worship of God will not be about mountains but rather about spirit and truth. Another passage from the New Testament that I want to mention is Acts 2:42-47. Here in v. 42, we read that the early Church 'devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.' This devotion resulted in them having glad and generous hearts toward God and one another (see v. 43-47). One last passage to consider is Hebrews 12:18-29 which culminates in a command to offer acceptable worship to the Lord because of how great He is and what He has done in Christ. It points us to our need for reverence and awe in our worship of God.
B. From these passages I want to point out a couple of general principles about our worship of God. The first is this: worship revolves around the truth of God as revealed in His Word. It is the truth of God in His Law that drove the Israelites to worship God in Nehemiah. Christ accuses the Samaritans of worshipping what they do not know and then tells us that true worship will be based on truth. The early Church rallied around the teaching of the apostles. And the writer of Hebrews calls his readers to worship because of the truth of the mighty God and His mighty salvation for His people. From these passages it is clear that the truth of God drives His people to worship Him. It is the very truth of God that has been revealed to us in His Word that is our reason for worship. Thus, our corporate worship should revolve around truth. Otherwise, we simply worship what we do not know.
The second principle is this: the truth of God as revealed in His Word will drive us to deep affection for God. None of the passages we have read above characterizes worship as a dry, stagnant activity. How could they? Does not the truth of God drive us to lift our hands and voices, to sing with all our might His great glory, to pray with all earnestness on behalf of those in need, to listen to the sermon as if the very words of God are being spoken (for indeed they are), to drink the cup of communion remembering the cup of wrath that Christ drank and to long for our coming to King!! As the Word is proclaimed in our hearing, how can we respond in any other way but with deep affection for the One who has created us, sustains us, redeemed us, perseveres us, and will come again to take us to Himself? It is not a balance between deep affection and truth, it is a both/and. Our hearts should long for the Word of God in our corporate times that we might respond in spirit and truth. This is how we are called to worship.
C. Let me now try to offer some practical suggestions for being responsible to worship God corporately. First, you must come prepared. This involves at least getting enough rest the night before. But also, reading and studying the text that Lee will be preaching from is a great way to prepare for the service. Reading and studying the Bible throughout the week and meditating on His truth is another practical way to come prepared to worship corporately. Simply living as a sacrifice to God by renewing your minds and being obedient to His commands is another factor in being prepared for corporate worship (see Romans 12:1f). Being prepared involves all of this and more.
A second practical suggestion is to simply soak in the truth of God during our corporate gatherings. Labor to pay attention to each passage that we read. Listen carefully to each prayer that is prayed. Seek to understand each song we sing and why we are singing it. Engage with the sermon, let it impact your life, be amazed at the truth of God and that He has allowed you to gather with His people to hear it publicly proclaimed. Think through why we take communion. Let the truth of God that you have heard permeate your mind all afternoon.
One last practical suggestion is to respond to the truth of God with deep affection. I really believe that as we are faithful to soak in the truth of God, we will not have to force affection for Him. On the contrary, I believe that as we soak in the truth we will overflow with deep affection for God, this is worship. If our hearts have grown cold for worship of God this morning, it could only be because we are seeking to worship that which we do not know. For if we knew Him, if we let His truth penetrate our hearts, can we respond with anything less than passionate, deep affection for Him? May God grant us grace in understanding what He has revealed of Himself through His Word that we might respond with worship in spirit and truth, to His great glory!!
IV. Close in prayer