& Worship God
and brothers in Christ, grace and peace to
you in the name of God the Father, Son (X)
and Holy Spirit. Amen.
We who believe in Jesus Christ, crucified and raised
from the dead for our salvation – we are not left to bask in
the glory of it all. No, newness of life instead is awaiting us.
For we know that when we live with Christ and believe in his
death and resurrection, we are expected to “walk in newness of
life” (Romans 6:4).
John 13:34 tells us today what that means. We are to
“love one another” just as Jesus did. This love is the
hallmark of our new life in Christ. It replaces indifference,
selfishness and hate (1 John 2:9). In love there’s no
complicated philosophy of life or theory of reality. Instead it’s
just a simple command to love. Once we believe in Jesus’ death
and resurrection, love is what gets us started on this new life
in Christ. It’s that simple and straightforward.
enough – but there’s a curve or two thrown in here as well.
The first curve is that we aren’t free to make up our own
definition of this love. It’s not some sort of designer love,
if you will, for us to fashion. Years ago we learned weird
definitions for love – coming from this designer approach.
Cars, we were told, “love Shell gasoline.” “Yellow is the
color of love” [Robert Solomon, Love
(1981) p. 16]. And in Erich Segal’s best seller, Love
Story (1970) we were told that love means never “having
to say you’re sorry.”
But this isn’t what the Bible says. There we learn
that we are to love the way Jesus did. He is our example – not
the gasoline marketers or the best selling novels. We are to
love following Jesus’ example – and that example was to
sacrifice for the well-being of others – deserving or not.
Jesus taught that there’s no greater love than to “lay down
one’s life” for another person (John 15:13). At the very
least this will mean suffering losses in order to help others.
Losses of time, money, comfort, ease, reputation and popularity
we must suffer – all for the good of the other person.
So Christian love is costly, painful and demanding.
No sentimental infatuation here. Nor is there any erotic joy
rooted in sexual gratification. Christian love can actually
therefore be unattractive. It’s painful and costly and not
obviously something we’d want to do. But there’s even more
that’s troubling beside this.
Jesus loved he did far more than give people a helping hand. He
also laid down his life for the sins of the world. And when he
did, God the Father loved him for it (John 10:17). In response
Jesus said, “I love the Father” too (John 14:31). So if we
are to love as Jesus did, then we too must love God the Father.
But this is tough. For we look around the world in
which we live and see all the suffering that God allows to
happen, and we wonder if we can love such a seemingly heartless
God. But in the face of these unsettling facts we are told to
love God anyway. Jesus loved him and so should we. Period.
Following his example, we should just love God, be done with it
and quit all the fussing.
Now this second love seems much more difficult than
the first. Making sacrifices for our neighbors has a certain
plausibility to it. But loving God when he lets babies starve to
death in the third world and die of cancer in the industrialized
world, seems over the top. It stretches us to the point of
breaking our human sensibilities.
God Loves Us
then shall we love as Jesus loved – both toward our neighbors
and most of all toward God? If there are these impediments of
mandatory sacrifice regarding our neighbor and unchecked evil
regarding God, can we love them at all?
For Christians we never measure up to the commands of
God by trying harder. Our way is not to reach deeper into our
reserves of strength. Our way is to look to the Savior Jesus
Christ (Hebrews 12:2). He is the one who can lift us up out of
our failures, misgivings, hesitations and doubts. He is the
savior, after all. And saving is just what we need! But we
cannot save ourselves (Romans 7:24). Our sinfulness is too
massive to permit it.
So find hope in Christ. In him the love of God shines
down on us – in spite of all the pain and suffering in the
world. This is because Jesus said that whoever “loves me will
be loved by my Father” (John 14:21). There’s no other way.
The only way to the Father is through the Son (John 14:6). All
other ways are false and, against such “profane novelties,”
we must firmly stand [adversus
omnes profanas novitates vigilare debet] [
For God doesn’t love us because we’re lovable (Luther’s
Work 30:301; 31:57)! No, to the contrary, God instead loves
the unlovable – those who are “ungodly” (Romans 5:6). This
is because we suffer from sheer ungodliness (Mark 7:21-22;
Romans 1: 28-32; Galatians 5:16-24; 2 Timothy 3:2-5). So if we’re
waiting for God to love us because we’re so lovable, we’ll
be waiting forever. No, we need more mercy than that. We need a
“love unknown, our Savior’s love to me, love to the loveless
shown, that they might lovely be” [Lutheran
Book of Worship (1978) hymn 94].
And that’s the unheard of love Christ Jesus
provides – which in turn makes us lovable – but only after
the fact. So he comes for the sick – those whose souls have
rotted because of sin and are in despair over it (Mark 2:17). He
comes for those in desperate need. To them he brings salvation
– or sight to the blind. But to the supposedly healthy –
those who think they’re fine when they aren’t (Revelation
3:17) – he pokes out their eyes and blinds them (John 9:39).
But both the truly sick and the feigned healthy must admit they
can’t save themselves. Indeed, no one can “give to God the
price of his life, for the ransom of his life is costly and can
never suffice” (Psalm 49:7-8). That’s the deep, rare truth
So Christ saves us by suffering in our place. He is our substitute, Ich trit an deine stat, he says, “I am your substitute,” I stand in your place (LW 22:167). God punishes him (Isaiah 53:4-5, 10) instead of us, so that we won’t have to be punished in hell – if only we believe in him (Romans 3:26). He stands in our place. And by so doing God’s justice (Romans 8:4) is satisfied. So as Lutherans teach, this “satisfaction… consists not of the… sinful works which we do, but of the suffering and blood of the innocent Lamb of God who takes away… sin,” Jesus Christ our Lord [The Book of Concord, ed. T. Tappert (1580; 1959) p. 309].
Now our love
for God doesn’t spin around on itself, going nowhere, and that’s
it, nothing more. No, it instead changes us – transforming us
into the likeness of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18). Faith apart
from works, therefore, is dead (James 2:26). Part of what this
means is that if we love God and his ways, then we will want to
praise him. Indeed, because I love his ways “exceedingly,….
my lips will pour forth praise” (Psalm 119:167-171).
But not every way of praising or worshipping
the one true God will do. It must be “in spirit and truth”
(John 4:24) to be pleasing to the Lord. So worship that is in
the flesh – that is, wallowing in our self-centeredness, and
also basking in falsehood – that is, in our self-made theories
on what’s possible and what’s probable – all such worship
is false. It’s not worship in spirit and truth.
what would faithful worship look like? Here is a set of Biblical
principles that can make worship right. They are a baker’s
dozen in number. No such list is in the Bible. But when the
Bible is read rein und
fein, or in “purity and refinement” (LW 41:219), this is what I think you’d find. If these thirteen
key points are missing from your worship, then it’s godless.
Worshipping without them means you’re blaspheming God rather
than glorifying him in you worship. And Lutherans defend this
harsh judgment because false worship “is no laughing matter”
(BC, p. 369).
Exalting Jesus’ Death
point is that Jesus dead on the cross helps make worship right.
Right worship must focus on that central image. Jesus dead on
the cross should be all around you where you worship. No empty,
abstract cross will do. But a crucifix is needed – a cross
with Jesus’ dead body on it. Front and center it must be in
every part of worship. It can’t be pushed off to the side into
a minor role. Many new churches have even gotten rid of the
cross all together (see Charles Trueheart, “Welcome to the
flee from such churches as fast as you can! They’re not
worshipping in spirit and truth. For a faithful church carries
Jesus’ dead body with it every where it goes (2 Corinthians
4:10). It always, clearly and emphatically, proclaims Christ’s
death (1 Corinthians 11:26) – meaning, quite explicitly, that
Jesus paid the price for our sins on the cross (2 Peter 2:1; 1
Corinthians 6:20). Jesus crucified is our one – and only –
message (1 Corinthians 1:23, 2:2). Therefore Jesus dead on the
cross “deserves to be praised to the utmost and to have every
honor given to it” (LW
13:319). This includes dying to ourselves – that is, denying
and hating ourselves (Luke 9:23; 14:26) – because we believe
Christ has died for us (2 Corinthians 5:14). So measure
everything by the cross – crux probat omnia [A. E. McGrath, Luther’s Theology of the
Cross (1985) p. 164]. If you don’t, you’re not
worshipping in spirit and truth.
also be terrified in church. Guard your step, we’re told, when
you go to worship (Ecclesiastes 5:1). You can get hurt in there!
For in church the preaching of the law of God makes your sin “sinful
beyond measure” (Romans 7:13). This is part of right worship
– having our noses rubbed in our sinfulness. This shame
teaches us to fear God and his punishments. It also teaches us
to distrust our ability to clear ourselves. This drives us to
deny ourselves – to “die to finitude (to its pleasures, it
preoccupations, its projects, its diversions),… and realize
how empty is that with which busyness fills up life, how trivial
is that which is the lust of the eye and the craving of the
carnal heart” [Søren Kierkegaard, Christian
Discourses (1848) Kierkegaard’s
don’t use worship to cover-up your wretchedness. Any worship
that does that is demonic. Against this the Spirit of God
emboldens us to admit how truly bad we are. So take no part in
“the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them”
(Ephesians 5:11). Say with Luther, pecca
fortiter, or “sin boldly” – which doesn’t mean to
sin with abandon, but rather to admit your degeneration and
doom, and say I am fortissimus peccator, or a “mighty sinner” (LW 48:282 and my “Only the Remorse of Judas,” The Bride of Christ, Pascha 1995). For God wants us to be “humble…
and tremble” at his word (Isaiah 66:2), to say “I despise
myself” (Job 42:6) and “I am nothing” (2 Corinthians
God’s Holy Words
no right worship without the Holy Scriptures being read – from
both the Old and New Testaments. Both Law and Gospel are
required in worship – readings from “the whole counsel of
God” (Acts 20:27). For we are only blessed when we “hear the
Word of God and keep it” (Luke 11:28).
the Word of God must stand at the center of our worship – with
everything else revolving around it. The whole Word of God, and
not our words, is what matters in worship. These Holy Words of
God must be read with clarity and boldness from the lectern and
preached with fire (Jeremiah 23:29) and conviction from the
pulpit. For Holy Scripture is a word that cuts deeply into us
(Hosea 6:5; Hebrews 4:12) that we might live with God forever.
cannot pass over these Holy Words of God lightly. They cannot be
stated quickly and then skipped over to get to some human
interest story of greater value. Instead we must dwell on these
Holy Words. We must bore down into them for they are God’s “deep
thoughts” (Psalm 92.5). We must explore their ramifications
and existential implications – that is to say, what they
require of us. Skipping over them quickly won’t give us that.
we must slowly ponder God’s Word in worship – thinking it
over, meditating on it again and again (Psalm 1:2), wondering
about it endlessly, and planning our life around it forevermore.
to God’s Holy Word we need to hear from his faithful
witnesses. For the church is “built
upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets” –
those who were witnesses to Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:20). Chief
among these witnesses for Lutherans – outside of the Biblical
ones – is Martin Luther (1483-1546), our “most eminent
teacher” (BC, p. 576). Next in line would be
would follow those who derive their thought from these classic
witnesses – such as Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), Søren
Kierkegaard (1813-1855), Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), Oscar
Romero (1917-1980) and Alexander Schmemann (1921-1983). Trying
to worship without these great witnesses, by instead favoring
the fads and fashions of the current culture, will only make the
vainglory of those worshipping worse.
worship celebrates the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper every
week (Acts 20:7, BC, pp. 249, 577). This is a key to keeping
Christ’s sacrificial death central in worship (1 Corinthians
11:26). Any and all efforts to decentralize this sacrament must
be vehemently and diligently opposed [contra
David Luecke, Evangelical
Style and Lutheran Substance (1988) p. 108].
a time for self-expression and entertainment (BC,
p. 378). No, worship isn’t some sort of carnival. Rather it
must be sober, somber and serious. Even its joy cannot be
without some sorrow (2 Corinthians 6:10). For worship should
only be offered “with reverence and awe,” because the One
whom we worship is “a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:28-29).
Therefore this Holy One is to be feared in our worship (Matthew
10:28; Revelation 1:17).
Demarcating the Holy
How we live
our lives in the world cannot be brought into worship
willy-nilly. No, the common cannot be mixed with the holy
(Ezekiel 22:26; 2 Corinthians 6:17). So secular music isn’t
automatically sacred music. It must first be corrected,
developed and refined before it can be used in church (LW
53:324). This distinction also justifies the use of vestments
and liturgical speech in worship. If they’re missing, then
worship has caved in to worldliness (John 15:19; 1 John 2:15;
James 4:4). And that will kill it.
not be ugly either, for the Lord God loves beauty (Psalm 96:6).
So neither the visually chaotic (Jeremiah 4:23-26; 1 Corinthians
14:33, 40) nor cheap (Exodus 38:24-31; Mark 14:6) can adorn our
worship. Clashing colors and patterns are ugly. And using cheap
materials poorly constructed doesn’t match the grandeur of the
faith we confess. All ugly churches belong to the devil. And
this is true for whatever sort of beauty you might prefer.
must also be imposing structures that intimidate us by their
size, vaulted ceilings, artistic details and darkness. Being in
them should “shame” us and bring us to repentance (Ezekiel
43:10; 1 Corinthians 14:24-25; LW 17:324). They aren’t to be homey like our residences (Exodus
33:7; LW 11:66), with
low ceilings and muffled sounds [Walter Brueggemann, Hopeful
Imagination (1986) p. 54]. Sound should instead echo and
thunder where we worship – making church a mundhaus
or “mouth-house” [Sermons
of Martin Luther, ed.
N. Lenker (1905, 1988) 1:44].
Singing With Majesty
and music in worship must be elevating – properly matching the
depth of the Holy Scriptures they are to elaborate and convey.
Only then can we “sing honor and glory and blessing to God”
(Revelation 5:12). So simple, repetitious camp songs are too
flimsy for worshiping the King of the universe (Psalm 99:4-5).
And rock and blues are too sexy or sensual for church [Joseph
Cardinal Ratzinger, A New
Song for the Lord (1995) pp. 121-123].
Our faith is
“free” – but our Christian life is “costly” (Ephesians
2:8; Luke 14:28). So at worship, for instance, you must bring in
a full one-tenth of your total income – which is the tithe –
otherwise you’re robbing God (Malachi 3:7-10; Matthew 23:23).
Each of us should therefore press on toward this goal
(Philippians 3:12-14) – knowing that tithing goes along with
true worship (Genesis 28:20-22). It’s not some tricky
money-making scheme or legalistic ploy.
Let Justice Roll Down
true worship leads to working for God’s righteousness –
letting justice “roll down like mighty waters” (Amos
5:23-24). For indeed, faith requires good works (James 2.26). If
this is missing from worship, then God isn’t being glorified.
For the God whom we worship loves justice (Isaiah 61:8) – and
so therefore must we.
as preached with a few changes)