Scripture passage: Luke 7:36-50
I get the a kick out of church signs. Or more accurately, I get a kick out of church signs which seem to miss the point of which they spent time attempting to construct. I am sure that there are good intentions, but I am not sure they always convey the message that is intended. For instance one church sign said, “Don’t let worries get you down, let the church help.” Or what do you think about this church which publicizes, ” Doing Great things with the women.” This one was evidently put up before Mother’s day, ” No man has ever been shot while doing dishes.” It must have been near stewardship Sunday when this one went up. Trying to be real low key their sign read, “You give God the credit, now give God the cash.” Scooter, how about that for our capital campaign theme? The cynic in me loves this one about forgiveness, “Forgive your enemies, it will mess with their heads.” It appears that this church was exploring a new spiritual discipline when they wrote on their sign, “Ask us about our vow of silence.” How about this piece of theology posted outside one church, “God does not believe in atheists, therefore atheists do not exist.”
What got me started on this train of thought was a sign that I saw traveling in on Tuesday morning of this week that read, “Being a Christian is a 24/7 job.” And I began to scratch my head a bit about that statement. That whole language of “job” bothers me. For it takes love and relationship out of the equation and boils our life in Christ down to duty. And my fear is that we would approach worship as a task to be completed. Here it is Sunday morning, and my job is to be in my station (i.e. assigned pew), at the assigned time (whatever it may be this week!), and to participate (mostly though being passive) in a time dedicated to God. In so doing, I can leave feeling better about myself, ie. receive a paycheck, even a bit filled up and that is the extent of my spiritual experience.
I simply refuse to believe that this is what God intended when we were “hard-wired” in the womb to worship our Creator, Redeemer, Friend, Lord and Master, and King. That worship is relegated to an appointed time, place, and necessitates our being fed in order to be considered “true worship” is completely at odds with God’s will. What makes me sad is that I know how much more God wants for us and maybe as important, how much more we have to offer God.
It reminds me of a relationship I had with a high school buddy. He and I went to the same church, played HS basketball and baseball together. We were with each other almost every day of the week for four years. He had the habit of watching for the next person while you were together. He would monitor the door to see who was coming, check his watch, and comment about who he was going to see next. He rarely if ever gave me his full attention. I wonder if we are a bit like that with God. We check our watches, think ahead to the next thing on our list, and rarely give our full attention to worshipping our Heavenly Father. Seeking only what we can get out of worship.
All the while, God yearns for our relationship to grow more intimate, more deep, and more committed: all of which happens through worship. No guilt here, no “should” or “must” language. Not at all for worship is far too grand for anyone to be forced into it. As a matter of fact, the entire Christian walk is far too grand for us to be using guilt language. God yearns for us, woos us, encourages us, allows us to worship him, but never forces us.
My entire premise this morning begins and end with the assumption that we were all born to “worship God.” I believe that we all yearn to worship God as the bible tells us in “truth and spirit. If not, you and I would not be here this morning. We would be sipping coffee on our porches, reading the New York Times, or attempting to lower our handicaps or some other noble endeavor. But we are not. We are in the house of God. Focusing our time and energies upon our Lord an Master.
Therefore, let’s look at Luke’s gospel and see if we can get a deeper and perhaps new understanding of worship. The passage helps us see this through a powerful contrast between “true worship” and what A.W. Tozer in his book “Whatever happened to Worship” calls a “religious experience”. This contrast is seen as we hear the story of Jesus being invited to the house of a Pharisee to dine and an uninvited guest, a sinful woman Scripture tells us, crashes the party.
These two, the Pharisee and the sinful woman, could not be more different. They could not have come from any different of places before arriving in Jesus’ presence. The Pharisee was a teacher, keeper and defender of the law. He was dedicated to a life of faithful service and exemplary outward lifestyle and was quite frankly enjoying the fruits of his labor for Yahweh which included a place of privilege in the faith community and of social standing in the community at large.
The sinful women however was far from this world. The mere fact of being a woman, her status was lessened in the eyes of both the religious and secular communities. Couple her gender with her sinfulness, and it produces a potent cocktail of exclusion. She was an outcast, someone considered by the religious establishment as “unclean”. Even touching Jesus, she was defiling him.
The Pharisee, was the host of this party. The principal center of attention who chose to share it with his invited guest Jesus. Make no mistake who was in charge. The reason Jesus was included was perhaps to provide good after-dinner dialogue or entertainment for the guests and the host. Or perhaps the Pharisee wanted to invite Jesus to his “home court” in order to gain advantage so as to discredit Jesus and his ministry. Or perhaps it was the “right” thing to do for the Pharisee. In any event, the Pharisee did not provide the customary hospitality that most guests would have received: cleaning of their feet, a proper greeting showing respect and welcome and protection from unwanted guests and comments from those in attendance which might be construed as hurtful. DON’T MISS THIS: He was the host in position and authority in name only not in practice.
And here we also see this outsider, this uninvited party crasher who takes it upon herself to provide the ultimate hospitality experience. No water, no problem, she had plenty of tears flowing from her repentant heart. No towel, no problem, she used her God given mane of hair for the most noble of service. Can’t you see her kissing his feet, the part of the body that carried all the grime from walking about in sandals upon dirt roads, for she felt unworthy to touch any other part of his person. And a dab of oil would not do, for this was the grandest of guests and deserved the full bottle of oil, leaving nothing of her most precious gift for herself, again poured upon his feet for she was not worthy to touch his head. Do you see this image? This poor woman giving up all she had. AGAIN, DON’T MISS THIS: The outcast became the host. She was involved in one of the most beautiful acts of worship ever recorded or witnessed.
For you see, worship begins when we the outcast kneel at Jesus’ feet. Wetting his feet with the tears of our grateful hearts which has been pardoned from sin. Acknowledging that our only hope is found in Jesus. Trembling under the weight of our lowly position and out of awe for God’s exceeding greatness capable of providing judgment, mercy, and the power to unlock all chains in life. Acknowledging God’s control over our life both present and future. Following Jesus in spite of outward appearances and the lack of social acceptance. We the outcast are allowed this opportunity to become host through the direct interaction of the Holy Spirit. Who allows us to care for, adore, follow and giving honor to the Lord of hosts.
If we simply get that one fact, it would revolutionize our walk with Christ. Worship is our caring for, adoring, following and giving honor to God. It is not what we get out of worship that makes worship, it is what we give to God that makes worship. Our filling, or what we get out of worship, like the sinful woman, is a bi-product of worship. It is backward thinking to assume that what we get out of worship is the reason for its existence. God is faithful, we will be blessed, forgiven, and made right. Her sins were forgiven. She was made acceptable in the sight of God. And our deepest needs will also be met. That we do not need to worry. But the reason we are here this morning is to care for, adore, follow and give honor to our Lord and Savior.
When this is put into perspective, things radically change in our personal and corporate worship life. We are no longer bound to 1 hour per week of corporate worship, but are freed to give ourselves to God in acts of worship every moment of every day producing a life of worship. We are no longer satisfied with warm fuzzy experiences produced by sentiment, but are captured by the transformative power of pouring ourselves out at Jesus’ feet in acts of faithful obedience. Jesus’ feet may be holding a grieving hand, doing our neighbors wash, visiting someone in the hospital, or teaching a Sunday School class. All, if done in truth and with the help of the Holy Spirit, are acts of worship which bring honor to God and transform us as people and a congregation.
May we spend the rest of the precious time that the Good Lord has given us at his feet. Let us continue caring for, adoring, following and honoring our God and redeemer in spirit and in truth. Amen.