Series: The Heartbeat of Us
Date: Preached 11th April, 2021.
Preacher: Rev Phil Swain
Bible Reading: Matthew 28:1-9,16-20
I was listening during the week to a podcast that introduced me to the thoughts of Rabbi Ed Freeman. He wrote a book called, “A Failure of Nerve” in which the key concept is that too many decisions in businesses, community groups, churches and even nations are being driven by reactions to people’s emotional anxiety … that our decisions are shaped by our desire to fix the things that are causing people to worry.
He goes on to say that for some businesses or groups or even societies, people are feeling so overwhelmed that anxiety has become the defining value or ingredient and soaks into everything that they are doing. People find it hard to know who to trust or what to believe. The fear clouds their thinking so that they see decisions not about the common good but only how it affects them. They look for voices or opinions that speaks to their anxieties or affirms their fears. And this ultimately goes two ways … people giving up and disengaging or people lasing out in disagreement.
Does any of this sound familiar? This book was written in 2007 but I think it speaks into where we find ourselves in 2021 as we emerge from COVID and reconnect as a church and society. We just have to look at our newsfeeds to see this anxiety or distrust or disengagement or division being played out. And we think that there has to be a better way.
Rabbi Freedman point in his book is that we need to stop being reactionary and being driven by “solving” people’s worries but rather he encourages communities and groups to think about what are their core values that make them who they are. If we are not going to allow anxiety and fear to drive us … then what does?
And that is key idea in this sermon series. As a church here at Turramurra … we want to be a light that shines in the darkness. We want to be an healthy and helpful example of a way that a group of people support each other, grow and empower each other and live life together. We want to show this anxious and divided world that there is a better way.
Isn’t that what last weekend was about? Through the reflective Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services to the joyful Easter Sunday services we were reminded of the profound good news that we are loved, and saved, and brought back into relationship with God. Jesus in his life, teaching, serving and sacrifice showed us an example which leads to life.
And Jesus in our Bible reading today gave the church – his followers – a mission … to Go into all the world and make disciples of all people; to help the whole world discover this better way of living. Not one that is driven by anxiety and fear and self-preservation but one which is driven by love and grace and giving of ourselves.
We don’t want to be a society of anxious, suspicious, divided people … we want to be a society which is known by love and shaped by the way Jesus. And we as a church want to be an example of what that is like.
Lets show the world what a grace-soaked, love-transformed, spirited-filled, Jesus following life looks like, and invite them to live this way too!
So … picking up on the challenge by Rabbi Freedman – what are our core values that drive us as a community? What are the things that are in our DNA and make us who are we are. If we are not into reactionary decision making … then what are the things that shape our decision. In short … what is the heartbeat of us?
And before someone yells it out … of course our answer has to be Jesus. At the end of our reading from Matthew, Jesus promises to be with us always because we can’t do anything with out Jesus. Jesus is the reason we are who we are, and we cannot do anything without Jesus. Yes – Jesus is the heart of all we do and we need to put Jesus up in big letters in our answer. But I am interested in what else you think. What is the heartbeat of us … Jesus AND …
Before I share some of my answers … I would love to hear yours. Let’s spend a few moments talking to each other or sharing online of what you think are our core values, or the heartbeat of our community?
If you wish to have some prompting questions:
- What are our values that shape our thinking and decision making?
- What makes our hearts race? What breaks our hearts?
- What do we spend a lot of time on? Or money on?
- If we had to cut back on the things we did … what would be the last things we would give up?
- What are three words that describe us (or that we would like to describe us)?
Today … I am going to pick up on one of our core values … something which we invest more time and volunteers (and possibly money) into than anything else as a church … and something which we are the core of our discipleship. Worship.
And I am talking about a lot more than just Sunday worship – even though we do invest a lot in Sunday worship – I am talking the worship of God which encompasses our lives.
In our Bible reading … Matthew 28:9 … what did the women do when the saw the risen Jesus? The worshipped him. What this the disciples do when they saw the risen Jesus … verse 17 … they worshipped him (even though some were still struggling with doubts) … they worshipped. If worship is the response to experiencing the risen Jesus, then lets talk about worship.
So what are some working definitions for worship? Here is one, worship is the response you give to something or someone which you think matters more than anything else. If you want to bring it down to one word, the word is treasure. What do you treasure the most.
Let’s just refine this a little. Worship is the intentional turning of the mind towards God and acknowledging and remembering and celebrating the greatness and goodness of God. We can do this by ourselves or in community, we can do it silently or loudly, we can do this singing or dancing or sitting or praying or laughing or crying or giving or serving … all of it is worship and we worship through the intention expressions of our lives.
Lets turn to Psalm 95 – it is one of the two Psalms that we are going to explore today.
This Psalm is a big deal when it comes to worship. For those of you who are interested in the Hebrew calendar, this was the Psalm that you read on the Sabbath before Passover. In the Christian church for years, it has been referred to as the “Venite” because of a key word in the Psalm. Does anyone know what Veni means in Latin? Veni, Vidi, Vici? It means “Come”.
1 Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord;
let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.
2 Let us come before him with thanksgiving
and extol him with music and song.
Are you noticing that there is an invitation here? Come. Come and join us as we worship. Come as we come to before God. We are invited to worship. There is something about worship that feeds our souls and we are invite to Come. Come…
3 For the Lord is the great God, the great King above all gods.
4 In his hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him. 5 The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land.
Are you picking up on the greatness of God? That’s part of worship. Acknowledging that God is great.
6 Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; 7 for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care.
Now there is a person aspect to worship. This God is caring for me. God is our shepherd. We belong to God.
Do you even have times in your life when you have come to worship are feeling a little flat, a little disconnected? A bit blurregh. When I am feeling that sometimes it is because I have forgotten about the greatness of God … or forgotten about how God loves and cares about me. The Psalmist is trying to help us as we worship … Come. Come and remember God is great … Come and remember that God cares for you. Let us kneel before our God and remember and worship.
Sometimes people think that we have to worship because God needs us to worship. That somehow God needs the affirmation or the attention. No … God doesn’t need our worship. God created the universe and breathed our life into being. God is above us, beyond us and within us. God is all things and in all things. God deserve our worship but doesn’t need our worship. We are the ones that need to worship. We are called to worship because it is good for us.
When we worship … we are putting God above all things … acknowledging that God is the great King above all gods. Worship helps us treasure God … to make God the centre and core of our lives. In a world that has so many distractions, so many distortions … when we worship … it recalibrates us, it refocuses us, it brings Jesus back into the centre of our lives. Worship helps us to get our spirituality back where it is most helpful to us. Worship is good for us. It brings perspective into our lives.
And this is so important in both our individual daily lives … and what we do on a Sunday as a community. There is something helpful to gather together with other people to worship. Hebrews tells us to not get out of the habit of meeting together because is it really helpful to us.
One more Psalm to finish with. Psalm 103. And to put this Psalm into context … in the Hebrew understanding … the understanding that Jesus grew up and lived within … the first thing that you do when you pray, or when you worship, is that you “bless God”. You don’t worship or pray without first giving God credit, without thanking God, without praising God.
And so this Psalm 103, this Psalm of praise starts with
“Praise the Lord, my soul”. Or in the NKJV, “Bless the Lord, O my soul …all that is within me, bless or worship his holy name”.
(sounds like a song)
Can you see how helpful this works … worship begins when all that is within us offers to God our praise, our blessing. And this is how Psalm 103 starts. Blessing the Lord, O my soul.
But now the Psalm get’s personal. We are blessing God, praising God, not just for some abstract thing like creating the universe but as verse 3 says … we worship God because God has forgiven all our sins and heals us. That God has redeems us and showers us with love and compassion. God satisfies our desires with good things and renews us.
Verse 8 … The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love. God has taken our mistakes and has removed them from us as far as the east is from the west. That is something worth praising God about.
You see, I was speaking at the beginning that as a community we need to live out our values, we need to show the example of a different way, we need to be the light that shines so that others will see. And this is so important when it comes to our corporate worship.
For about 12 months when my daughter Megan was 3 or 4, one of her great joys was dancing in church when we sang our praise songs. No one told her to, it was just a natural response to the music and praise. Every song she would dance and twirl and throw her hands in the air. Sometimes other kids would join her. But after a while, she stopped. Why? Because I think she noticed that when we worship we just stand still … and so she followed our example. Now I am not saying that we need to all dance around so our kids will … but our kids are watching us … our young adults are watching us. Whether we know it or not, we are setting the example of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, what it means to be a community of disciples for our kids to follow. And when they see us genuinely worshipping – whatever that means for us – when they see us sing like never before, when they see us worshipping God with all our souls … when they see that it is personal for us … then they will want that for them as well.
Come … Come let us sing for joy to the Lord … Come … let us praise God with music and song … God is our God … God cares for us, we are the sheep of his flock … come … bless the Lord all my soul … worship his holy name.