Let us pray: Dear Savior, what a relief it is to be able to come to church each week and recharge our spiritual batteries! What a joy it is to be able to join with all the saints in heaven and on earth in honoring You—and even more importantly to have You honor us with heavenly forgiveness and eternal love! May we never take this great blessing of weekly worship for granted. Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE LORD OF THE SABBATH!
TEXT: Mark 2: 23-28
Fellow Redeemed Sinners:
Vacations are wonderful. We need them. We crave them. Often when you take on a new job, the vacation time is even more important to you than the salary. And yet, vacations can be expensive. They can entail a lot of travel hassles. And sometimes they are so jam-packed with things to do that you come home more tired than when you left.
Our wise God knows our needs. He knows exactly what it takes to keep both our bodies and our souls in proper sync. And that is why He ordained regular, weekly worship, known in the Old Testament as the Sabbath, to recharge us spiritually.
Now I realize that most of you have hard a very hard week and physically you’re tired. I also realize that the temptation to worship St. Mattress was great this morning. And yet, you’re here at church. You’ve come because you know by God’s grace that feeding the body’s needs are not enough—you also have to feed and rest your soul on His chest. You need to feel His warm embrace. With that in mind, don’t ever forget that:
WEEKLY WORSHIP=REST FOR THE SOUL
This past week I got a phone call from one of my relatives in America’s hinterland. She is on a worship committee in her church and they are looking for advice and input on how to enhance their Sunday worship service. Although she doesn’t know it, they are on the cutting edge of what has been termed: “Worship war.” I didn’t coin that term. But it does describe what many Christians are going through right now. They are not content with the old-fashioned liturgy. They see other churches doing different things. And they wonder: “Why not us?” They also have the idea that if they are more avant-garde in their liturgy it will miraculously bring all sorts of new people in the door. What to do?
The key phrase in our lesson comes at the end. “Then Jesus said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.’” This statement by Christ comes after some Pharisaical Jews watched as He and His disciples walked along a footpath on the Sabbath day. As was the custom, some of them pulled off heads of grain (which had been planted there for this purpose), rubbed off the husk and ate it. Immediately the legalists said: “Aha! They are working on the Sabbath, the day of rest, by threshing grain. This is wrong. They are breaking God’s 3rd commandment.”
In response, Christ reminds them of their hero, King David. It seems he and his companions were stricken with hunger while on the run from the evil King Saul and they entered the tabernacle and ate the consecrated show bread. Did they sin in this? After all, only the priests were supposed to eat it. Well, obviously not. Necessity dictated their actions. Their hearts were in the right place. Yes, Jesus is in control of His day of rest and if and when human actions are undertaken out of faith and love for His goodness, He is glorified and we are filled with His heavenly food.
They key thing that David knew and Christ as the Author of the 3rd commandment knew, was that the day of rest is all about God honoring and uplifting us poor sinners. It is about God feeding our souls. In the “worship wars” that are going on, many well-intentioned people forget that fact. “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”
Christ says that: “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word which comes from the mouth of God.” He made us with a soul. To neglect the soul or starve the soul is pure foolishness. And it leads to all sorts of problems in life—inability to handle problems, over-reactions that we later regret, and just plain ingratitude. We all play the blame-game for our unhappiness in life. But unhappiness is manageable when your soul is at peace with God. So, we need the day of rest—and God has given it to us.
The Pharisees of our lesson had fallen into the same trap many church-goers fall into today. To them worship was an obligation, filled with do’s and don’ts, instead of a joy. It was all about them doing for God instead of God doing for them. As Lord of the Sabbath, Christ comes each Sunday in Word and sacrament. He comes to honor and uplift us. He comes to feed our souls on heavenly food. He comes to take our sins away, to instruct us, to bless us. If the President of the United States sent air force one and a limo to pick you up for a state dinner in your honor—you’d go! Well, that’s what God does for us each week at church. He comes to feed, serve, and help you, to honor you, with the life-changing forgiveness—peace with God—that Christ purchased on the cross with His blood. Yes, weekly worship=rest for your souls!
Historically the Christian Church understood this. They understood that the 3rd commandment is properly followed when God’s people respond to it in love—because He first loved us! And so, they adopted a framework to carry out such worship. The traditional liturgy has both sacrificial parts—where we go to God such as hymns, a confession of sins, praise, and prayer—and sacramental parts—where He comes to us—such as the absolution, the lessons, the sermon, and the blessing. This back and forth, ebb and flow, of worship comprises our liturgy, or our service to God and His to us. Certainly if you understand this framework, variations in exactly how you engage in it can be carried out. Language can be updated. More modern hymns sung. Perhaps more informality can be used as well. And yet, in the modern “worship wars” we usually see a simplistic, entertainment-centered approach which is more about the whims of the participants than it is about honoring the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Weekly worship isn’t the equivalent of “reality T.V.” It is our formal way to join our souls with those of all the saints before in honoring our God because He has and is honoring us. And when we do so, He provides rest for our souls.
One last thought. Formality for formality’s sake is worthless. That’s the point of David eating the show bread. That’s the point of Christ taking the Pharisees to task for their legalism—human ideas about exactly how to honor God on His and our special day. And yet, as the architects say: “Form follows function.” And since the function of weekly worship is to have God give rest to our souls by feeding us on heavenly food, the form that feeding takes should always reflect His love, His compassion and His majesty. After all, it is not us, but Christ Who is Lord of the Sabbath! Amen