15th Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. D. K.Schroeder
Mark 7:1-8; 14-15; 21-23 Sermon
September 17, 2006

Hymns (from The Service Book and Hymnal):
187 "Open Now Thy Gates Of Beauty"
419 "O Saviour Precious Saviour"
423 "O Sing All Ye Lands With A Jubilant Voice"
428 "O For A Thousand Tongues To Sing"


TEXT (vs. 6-8): “And [Jesus] said to [the Pharisees], ‘Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’ You leave the commandment of God, and hold fast the tradition of men.…’”

Today we are gathered here for worship, just like we do every Sunday. Our sign out in front informs those who happen to see it that our worship services begin at 11.00 am. Our worship services are advertised in other places as well. We have times posted on the internet, we include them in our mailings, and we promote them in our advertising. Special services during Lent and Advent are also promoted.

By our very nature, worship is one of the primary things we do here. People expect churches to conduct worship services. And well they should. It is something that God commands us as Christians to do.

Worship has many facets. And since our readings focus upon the topic of worship and what we do in God’s house, I can think of no better sermon topic for today.

As we discuss worship, I’d like to take you back about 30-40 years, back into the 60’s and 70’s. I was in my teens and in high school during the late 60’s and early 70’s, so I can give you some personal testimony.

Worship in the church was pretty traditional. We had a traditional liturgy which had been used in English speaking congregations for generations. The hymns we sang were the same hymns which had been used for hundreds of years. The Bible readings in church were either from the King James Bible, or some people used the Revised Standard Version of the Bible.

Society began to change however. The Civil Rights movement was big in the news, and racial segregation was beginning to fall. The war in Vietnam was going full steam. Young people were rebelling against the values of their parents and those of the older generation they called “the establishment.” There were anti-war rallies, sit-ins, love-ins, folk-rock festivals, and Woodstock. Colors were psychedelic, hair was long, razors were discarded by both sexes, clothes were ragged and sloppy, and everybody seemed to have their trusty beads and peace sign proudly displayed. I won’t even get into the various drugs that were used, or the moral fibre of the whole thing.

The church was concerned, as well they should be. Pastors and members of congregations were wringing their hands saying things like, “Oh what shall we do, what shall we do, how will we ever keep the kids?”

The first thing that was done was to attack worship. “Let’s make worship something that the kids will like.”  The result of this was something I’d like to call the bane of 70’s contemporary worship. Some of these things were hastily thrown together, and a few others were thought out a little more carefully.

A good example of this is something that appeared in the early 70’s which was originally called “The Chicago Folk Mass.” It was later changed to “The Chicago Folk Service” because too many complained that it sounded “Too Catholic.” This was at least thought out a bit more carefully than other services were.

From what I’ve been able to see in a lot of these services, is that they decided to throw out everything that even resembled tradition, and start from scratch. “Let’s give the kids what they want!”  they said. Now pardon me if this sounds too critical, but appears to me that a group of people simply gathered in a room around their favorite illegal smoking material and produced some of this stuff.

Another thing that happened was the production of what was called “The Cotton Patch Bible,” which was a very loose paraphrase of the Bible, where, among other things, some of the old parables were changed into modern stories.

So what happened? It still didn’t attract the youth—at least not like they thought it would. A few did come and play the guitars and drums and keyboard, but mostly the church was filled with mothers and fathers and grandmas and grandpas all trying to stumble through this “for the sake of the kids,” while the kids never showed up. The kids who had no use for the church still didn’t come; but others went elsewhere.

The churches that began to experience growth were those who were the more fundamental, Bible teaching churches. More and more non-denominational fundamentalist churches were opening their doors, while the mainline churches were declining. Many changed and altered doctrine, trying to make themselves acceptable to everybody. But all it did was make a big mess.

There’s a good lesson for us here today. When it comes to worship, we need to keep ourselves focused on what is important, and not make a big issue out of what isn’t important. We want to keep our focus on God’s ideas of worship, and not make human traditions the be-all to end-all.

In our Gospel lesson for today, we find Jesus squaring off against the Pharisees again. The Pharisees were criticizing Jesus because he was allowing his disciples to do things which weren’t according to the traditions prescribed by the church. Now remember these were traditions of the church which had nothing to do with any command of God.

So why did these traditions take root so deeply in the church? It’s time for some history again. About 400-500 years before the birth of Christ, there were those who considered the moral and ceremonial laws of God to be insufficient. So the Jewish church officials met and discussed this issue together. As a result, they finally came up with a total of 613 rules regarding the life of the Jewish people, right down to the smallest detail.

The problem with all of this, is that the promise of the gospel was lost.  Worship and tradition had become a work in and of itself, something that one did to please God and earn his favor. The Pharisees felt that by keeping all of these man-made traditions, that somehow God was looking more favorably upon them. For them, and ultimately the entire Jewish people, worship was a drudgery and a chore. It was something that had to be endured. There was no room for God’s love, or forgiveness, or acceptance. Sinners being reconciled to God through the promise of the Gospel was a foreign concept. Their worship had become a mere ritual, a type of going through the motions. There was nothing from the heart.

In our Old Testament Lesson for today, Moses records God’s instruction in Deuteronomy 4:2: “You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it; that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you….” For some reason, the Jewish church had forgotten these words, and added 613 statutes to what God had said.

So what does God say about worship? The third commandment is a good place to start. “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” Leviticus 23:3 says further, “…the seventh day is a Sabbath of rest, a day of sacred assembly.”  We are to dedicate some time each week as a time for the Lord. In our case, we normally gather on Sunday morning for an hour for this. God gives us 168 hours every week; one hour on Sunday is hardly too much to ask; and if there is a special service or Bible Study at other times which may take an hour here or there….well, we waste more time than that each week.

Secondly, we are to gather together as Christians, and not just sit at home. People often say, “Well I can worship God walking in nature or watching a TV preacher just as well as if I sit in a church.”  But God says in Hebrews 10:25: “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”  God wants us to be together, and not to separate ourselves from the family of believers.

Right along with this, we read in Colossians 3:16:  “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.”  Yes, we are to sing our hymns together as well.

Acts 2:46-47 records the activity of the early Christian Church: “Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” Christians are to enjoy fellowship and good times together, and have some sort of social activity among themselves.

And in Psalm 122 verse 1 we read: “I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’”  Meeting together with other Christians and going to God’s house for worship is something that should make us glad, something that we should look forward to, something to rejoice about. Attending worship should never be a drudgery or a chore, nor should it be something we do so God will be pleased with us. I would like to think that you have a good time when you come here, that you are strengthened spiritually, and that your faith has been nurtured.

We have a lot of freedom when it comes to how our worship services are structured. However we need to be reminded of the directive in I Corinthians 14:40:  “But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.”

Let’s examine the elements of our normal Sunday worship service. In the bulletin at the top of the page is a “Call to Worship.” This is a short paragraph which we read silently before worship to kind of focus our thoughts. That is my own doing, and not a crucial part of the service.

We begin by singing a hymn. This is usually a hymn invoking God in our worship, which helps lift our spirits and further set the tone for the service.

Then we have the confessional service. This directly correlates to the directive in I John 1:8-9:  “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”  We know that as sinners who have broken God’s law time and time again, we can approach God with a sincere and repentant heart and confess all of our sins in thought, word, and deed. Then we hear the words of absolution where God tells us that he accepts us the way we are, that he loves us, and he forgives us all of our sins for Jesus’ sake.

We then follow with a hymn of praise, which gives thanks to God for what he has done for us through Jesus Christ. We also incorporate a Psalm. The book of Psalms is really the Old Testament hymnal.

We then have a short prayer called the Collect. This is a short collection of the thoughts carried through in the theme of the day which will be brought out in our appointed Scripture readings.

Then comes the instructional part of the service, where we hear God’s Word through the readings and hear it applied to our lives in the Sermon. One of the three creeds (the Apostles’, the Nicene, or the Athanasian Creed) is also incorporated into the service, which is our opportunity to publicly state a summary of our faith in the doctrines of the Bible.

Following this is our opportunity to respond. We sing a hymn. We receive an offering, which is the part of our earthly bounty we dedicate to the work of the kingdom of God.

And then we pray. We can pray in confidence, knowing that as redeemed sinners, God will indeed hear and answer our prayers just as he has promised.

If we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, then we hear the exhortation—those words of instruction which prepare us to receive the true body and blood of our Saviour. We receive the Lord’s Supper as a personal and physical sign and seal of the forgiveness Jesus won for us on the cross. We also receive the sacrament to strengthen our faith.

And finally we hear the benediction, which are God’s words of blessing on us. Then we once again sing God’s praises in our closing hymn, have a time of silent prayer, and our time of worship is over.

Worship focuses upon two main things—Word and Sacrament. We can come here with the guarantee that we will find God in the way he has said he can be found. We hear what he has to say in the Word, and he comes to us in a very real and physical way through Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

But it doesn’t end here, because the communication is two-way. We are invited and encouraged to come to God in prayer and praise.

We don’t come to worship to show God how good we are by coming to church; rather coming to God’s house for worship is for our benefit. Hebrews 4:9-11 says, “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest.”

In the beginning, I know I sounded kind of harsh when I spoke about those contemporary worship services of the 60’s and 70’s. I’m not against all forms of contemporary worship; in fact there are some very good ones out there. I’m also not against using modern English for worship. In fact, we routinely use modern English in our worship here. Our prayers are modern, we use the New International Version of the Bible, and of course I preach in modern English. But that doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate and use some of the more traditional things either.

For some reason however, Jesus often gets lost in all of the shuffle. In those earlier days, the guitars and drums were brought in just to try to keep the kids in church, and often it didn’t work.  It was frequently the case where the kids wound up going to churches where the Bible was strong instead of loud amplifiers.

For the most part, those kids of the 60’s and 70’s grew up. The long hair was cut and the beards were shaved. Tie-dyed jeans were replaced with Dockers, and the love beads were traded in for neckties. These are the parents and grandparents of today. Do you think they are in church today because of folk tune hymns and drums and guitars?

Jesus is the purpose for our worship. We come to hear and learn God’s Word and praise him for what he has done. Jesus tells us that whatever we have been, whatever we have done, he remains certain and unchanged. We know that our sins are forgiven through faith in him as our personal Saviour. Whatever style is used to convey that message, however we respond, and regardless of the musical instruments that are used, the message of the Gospel of Jesus remains unchanged. That’s the truth which has been the same for all generations throughout history, right down to this very day.