O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
Worship of Presumption
Worship of Presumption
Based on Luke 10:38-42 and 1 Sam. 15:10-23
Preached on December 19, 2012
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Fellow baptized saints, the final preparations are nearly complete. During this Advent season, our Lord has been preparing us for His Second Coming, preparing us for His kingdom, where our relationship with Him will continue for all eternity. For this reason we have been meditating on the first table of His Holy Law, the first three commandments that speak of how we are to relate to Him. First, we heard how He wants to be the desire of our hearts. Then we heard how He wants all our words to us expresses our great desire for Him and His Word. And now, this evening, we are going to hear about how He wants us to receive His Word for our good.
The Third Commandment: Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy.
What does this mean?
We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.
When I was in confirmation, I needed a little help with the explanation to this commandment. What does remembering a certain day have to do with preaching and worship? What is the Sabbath Day and how do I keep a day holy? There was a bit too much packed into these words for my teenage mind to put together. So before we can really get into our meditation this evening, we need to clarify a few things.
The Sabbath Day, or day of rest, was the appointed day in the old covenant for God's people to be taught His Word, to partake in the religious ceremonies and hear preaching. It was the seventh day of the week, what we call Saturday. They were to cease from their work, cease from their serving and be served by God - rest in His Word for an entire day. By His death on the cross, Christ put an end to the ceremonial law of the old covenant, and ushered in a new covenant in His blood. Free from the ceremonial rules of the old covenant, the apostles and early Church gathered on a different day of the week - Sunday - the day of the resurrection. God still wants us to stop and rest in His Word regularly, but the Christian Church is free to choose which day to hold these public teaching ceremonies. This is why the Divine Service is typically held on Sunday. On special occasions, such as this evening, additional public preaching is held to emphasize the growing importance of an approaching festival, all of which brings us back to our Advent meditation this evening. It begins with a question.
Would you consider yourself a presuming person? Have you ever made presumptions about things that have got you into trouble? Well I have. I remember one particular time when our family was getting ready to go, and my dear wife called out my name from a distant bedroom. "Yes dear," I responded politely. I knew what was coming. It had been the same thing the last three times we had been preparing to leave the house. She wanted me to dress Caleb with the clothes in the laundry basket at the top of the stairs. As I leapt up and walked towards the laundry basket, I heard her start to say, "the clothes in the laundry basket at the top of the stairs..." I knew it. I wasn't listening anymore. I had the clothes in hand, and I was almost stuffing a little arm into one of the sleeves. Proud of our speedy preparations, we went to show momma how ready we were. "Well, what do you think?" My wife looked at my son. "What are you doing!? I told you to take these clothes downstairs. They are totally dirty." As I watched my son hauled off to the bathtub, I realized how big of a mess my presumptions had made.
In our first reading this evening, King Saul treats God's Word the way I treated the word of my wife. He presumes to know what God wants, to know how God wants to be worshipped. What he doesn't do, is listen to what God says. Instead of destroying all the animals he plunders as God told him to, he sacrifices the best of them in worship to the LORD. It seems so pious, so faithful - and it certainly would have looked this way to the people of Israel. However, it is not what God told him to do. As Samuel says, "Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry."
Though it looks like true worship, Saul establishes a false worship of his own creation because he presumes to know what God wants. As a result, God rejects Saul as king of His people, and begins the steps to bring about a new king - one that will listen to what He says.
Who is listening, and who is presuming? How many churches today presume to know how God wants to be worshipped? How many churches are too busy making sacrifices of praise like King Saul, to stop and listen to the voice of the LORD? How many churches have created a false worship based on their own ideas because they think that is what God wants?
We are all full of presumptions. We presume to tell God how He can be worshipped. We presume He can be worshipped in any way we want, as though it is only a matter of preference or style. Is that what He says? Do we really care what He wants? We presume the fundamentals of worship can somehow change through time. We presume we can abandon the army of Christians that lived before us, and create our own identity as God's people, our own worship that is upbeat and catchy. Is that what we see in God's Word? We presume worship is something that we do for God, as if we are the generous ones giving God what He needs. We even presume we can miss public worship if something else is happening. Is that God's will?
Our presumptions about worship are the height of arrogance. All they show is that we know nothing of God's Word or true worship. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. May this be especially true for divine worship! God does not accept all forms of worship. He accepts only one - faith. Faith that receives what He is pleased to give - His Word and Sacrament. Faith that listens. Faith that eats.
Public worship is not something we do. God creates worship by bringing the height of His heavens near to His faithful in preaching and the Sacraments. We do not rise to meet Him. We do not give Him what He needs. He descends to us with His gifts which He wants us to receive with faith. He speaks us His Word and feeds us His Sacrament, so that we may have strength to work for His kingdom for the other six days of the week. We don't presume. We listen. We receive. We don't work. We rest. That is worship.
Of course, when we receive these incredible gifts, we break forth in thanksgiving and praise, like a child receiving a gift on Christmas morning. What a joy! But the chief thing that is happening, is not the praise and thanksgiving. It is the giving of gifts. The Divine Service is the place God gives out His gifts of Word and Sacrament. He doesn't give them to us out in nature, He doesn't give them to us at the cottage, He doesn't give them to us on the golf course. He gives them from His font, His pulpit and His altar. Christmas morning happens every week in God's family. What an incredible joy indeed!
We see the same thing in our second reading. Two sisters, the one was arranging many things, the other was focused on the One. We presume the Lord would encourage her to help her sister prepare the meal, but our Lord says there is a good portion - a better meal, and it is received by listening. By doing away with all presumption and hearing what He has to say. Holding His Word sacred and gladly hearing and meditating on it. On Sunday morning God does not want you out serving other people, He wants to serve you here in His house. He wants to give you the good portion, one that is received by faith.
The early Church father Augustine wrote, "Mary sat at the feet of our Head. The more lowly she sat, the more amply did she receive. For the water flows together to the low hollows of the valley, runs down from the risings of the hill." "In these two women the two lives are figured, the life present, and the life to come, the life of labour, and the life of quiet, the life of sorrow, and the life of blessedness, the life temporal, and the life eternal." You have enough work to do for God for the other six days of the week. On Sunday morning, at the Divine Service, let Him give you rest in the life to come, the life of quiet, the life of blessedness and the life eternal. Let Him tell you, as He does tonight, "You are forgiven. Yes, you have made many presumptions, you have not worshipped me properly - but I forgive you. Listen anew to all the things I promise to give you. Listen especially to my promises of the life to come, for that is where your faith looks. It is where you will live with me forever. Where I will serve you and love you and shelter you forevermore. Here are my holy gifts, receive them with faith." In Jesus' name, Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr