Preacher: Nathan Hosler
Scripture: Matthew 4:12-23, Isaiah 9:1-4, Psalm 27:1, 4-9, 1 Corinthians 1:10-18
Date: January 22, 2023
What is Worship? In approximately 5 words. [community response]
My Friday morning answer was—Being rightly oriented towards God.
We are going to read our passages with this question in mind. What is worship? However, as you might imagine, this isn’t a disinterested question of a lexicographer needing to edit a dictionary. [Kory Stamper, Word by Word]. As humans, worship is central to who we are. It is not a peripheral question to this particular congregation, denomination or even the Church universal. Whether gathering to serve, on a Sunday, or sharing our lives, this is central to what makes us a church.
We are going to read our scripture passages with this question in mind. What is worship?
9:1 But there will be no gloom for those who were in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.
9:2 The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness on them light has shined.
9:3 You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder.
9:4 For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian.
As a general rule, prophets are sent by God with a message—typically about the future action of God and typically calling for a changing of ways, repentance. The writing is often colorful and poetic, stretching between events of the day into the future and calling for a turning towards God.
All scripture requires us to read wisely. In this brief passage there are some obvious parts that can’t be read in a 1:1 parity with our present context and several that are a little less obvious. On the former, we, as far as I can tell, don’t herald from the “land of Naphtali” nor are we the immediate hearers of these words about Naphtali. So, we can surmise some distance both time and space between us and both the subject and the text. Where those of us in the United States of the America have often gotten tripped up, is on references such as this to “the nation” particularly in relation to God’s blessing as “a nation” and in matters of war. In a divided time, “God bless America” is a rare point of agreement. In verse 3 we see the blessings of God articulated in robust and varied language.
You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder.
In this, “the nation” being multiplied is a blessing of God. The nation is Israel, the historical religious ethnic people group that follow Yahweh. From these and other passages we can affirmatively speak of God’s blessing towards those who follow God. People rightly praise God’s presence and grace. When we read this today, we cannot say that this is linked, at least directly, to a modern geopolitical entity—America or others. While people within the nations receive God’s blessing, the political entity as such is not a unit of special relationship. God’s grace is not bound by borders.
We should also use caution with the simile at the end of the verse—“as people exult when dividing plunder.” This phrase is providing a description of how happy people are—they are as happy as when they are victorious and getting a lot of stuff. What it doesn’t do is challenge the notions of war or raise the theological ethical question of the associated killing and taking of other people’s possessions. Which, parenthetically, in addition to raising theological ethical questions, is also likely (definitely?) against international law
What we do gather from this passage is that we look towards God with trust for protection and provision—worship. This orientation and reliance on God are also a position of reverence. It is not one of disrespecting demands and assumed divine privilege but of recognizing God’s supremacy and grace. God is a good God and a giver of life.
The second passage is from the Psalms.
Psalm 27:1, 4-9
27:1 The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
27:4 One thing I asked of the Lord, that I will seek after: to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple.
27:5 For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent: he will set me high on a rock.
27:6 Now my head is lifted up above my enemies all around me, and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the Lord.
27:7 Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud, be gracious to me and answer me!
27:8 “Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!” Your face, Lord, do I seek.
27:9 Do not hide your face from me. Do not turn your servant away in anger, you who have been my help. Do not cast me off, do not forsake me, O God of my salvation!
Again, we see themes of security, protection, and reverence.
I noticed, in particular the series of descriptors in verse 5. House of the Lord, shelter, conceal, cover of [..] tent and then a surprising turn “he will set me high on a rock.” God protects and then makes victorious. Again, the passage drifts between physical and spiritual manifestations of wellness and abundance. Gratitude to God includes wholeness but living with sickness or in difficult situation does not mean that God is absent or deficient. When we recognize God’s grace and gifts our lives are rightly oriented towards God in worship.
And in 1 Corinthians 1:10-18:
1:10 Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.
1:11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters.
1:12 What I mean is that each of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.”
1:13 Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?
1:14 I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius,
1:15 so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name.
1:16 (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.)
1:17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.
1:18 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
Paul is writing to a divided church—he urges that there be no divisions and that they be united in the same mind and the same purpose. While his specific exhortation is concerning church factions that have gathered around particular church leaders, it is easy to imagine other possible and relevant matters of division in that church and the church today. The unifying call is to common worship, to common orientation towards God. A common and higher purpose of the community.
For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.
For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
The common call is to and around the foolishness of the cross which upends our assumptions. The is assumptions of wisdom and power are inverted in the cross. The proclamation of the Gospel is life but foolishness to many. When we read this and recall our Gospel passage, we note a turning.
A turning and orientation towards God and away from that which is not the fullness of life. In our Gospel passage we saw Jesus calling disciples. Their following was both literal and a change in profession. Following Jesus is a change in orientation towards God—a matter of both what we do and who we are.
Following Jesus is a change in orientation towards God—a matter of both what we do and who we are.
I’m going to close by showing a piece of art. I made it this week and I will note at the outset that it is intentionally provocative and hopefully offensive (in a good way).
I titled this piece “Worship.” In it you see the silhouette of a Predator drone in the center of a cross. The cross is an ancient tool of torture and execution. The Roman empire used it to put down rebellion and instill fear. It was used on the worst criminals and those viewed as a danger to the state.
While the tool of death eliminated the person it also generated fear. Even for those who didn’t feel the bite of the wood and nails, felt the threat and were instilled with fear. The cross turned the people towards the empire and emperor—”Caesar is Lord.” The worship is fear and reverence for power of those oppressed. And for those on the inside of the empire of reverence, for security, protection, and provisions.
In Christ, the cross is overturned. Not only is death defeated but “Jesus is Lord” replaces “Caesar is Lord.” The cross, which was an instrument of shame and state execution, takes the curiously central place in Christian worship. This symbol of death turns our adoration towards the Giver of Life.
The cross in the painting bears the marks of the ancient practice of veneration. Christians throughout the ages have looked to the cross and marked the world with the sign of the cross. At times this has been done in a manner that is deeply problematic. For example, the stone passage under the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem is etched with crosses by crusaders. However, the orientation of ourselves towards God is the fundamental call on our lives. It invites us to challenge and question our commitments.
The drone at the center of the cross plays off the similarity of the tools of state execution and fear. The country where we reside and whose Capitol our building is next to, has used this tool for state execution and fear in our name—whose killing has led children to “no longer love blue skies” because that is when the drones fly.
Our turning towards the cross in worship—worship not of the cross but of God—invites us to turn from our trust in the tools of violence and control but also from all that distracts us or puts us in the center. Rightful security and safety cannot come from the destruction of others. Our sense of security cannot be maintained by the wielding of fear over others.
I put the drone in this piece in part because war is a matter that I think about and work on daily, but also because “national security” is so central (even when unconsciously) in this nation’s budget and psyche. However, there are other things that get in the way of our being rightly oriented towards God as well. We all worship something. May our worship be rightly oriented towards God—which necessarily means that we love our enemy and neighbor and care for those in need. Let us worship the Creator, giver, and sustainer of life.