“A Church Like Jesus: Worship” by Rev. Cody Sandahl – October 8, 2017

Rev. Cody Sandahl
Rev. Cody Sandahl
"A Church Like Jesus: Worship" by Rev. Cody Sandahl - October 8, 2017

Lay Reader = Luke 24:22-35

22Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” 25Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. 28As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” 33That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” 35Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.


Well it’s good to be back with you after two weeks. We are continuing our series looking at the key ministries of Jesus as we ask how we can pattern our church and our lives on those key ministries. We’ve heard about Jesus’ habit of invitation, his creative communication, and his powerful first impressions. Today we are looking at Jesus’ worship.

As with the other key ministries of Jesus, he wasn’t like everyone else in his worship. He astounded people at every turn! He taught with power and authority. He prayed to God on a personal, intimate level. He celebrated with gusto – people wondered why Jesus and his disciples were having so much fun! Luckily for us, we don’t really hear about Jesus sacrificing goats and doves, so we don’t have to setup a tarp up here under the Communion table to worship like Jesus. But if not goats and doves, how did Jesus worship? And how did he talk about worship?

John 4:7-26

7A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8(His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 9The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) 10Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” 13Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” 15The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” 16Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” 17The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!”19The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” 21Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 24God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.”26Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”

Fire and Water

As any pollster can tell you, how you ask the question changes what people tell you. I remember when I was in high school our youth group did a little experiment. We went to the local mall and asked people what Christmas meant to them.

For our first few interviews, we said, “We are with a church youth group, and we are asking people what Christmas means to them.” With that preface, people talked about the birth of baby Jesus, and how meaningful it is to go to church as a family, and being together on Christmas morning is so peaceful. Very nice.

But for the second batch of interviews, we didn’t tell them we were with a church. We just asked people what Christmas means to them. And suddenly the responses were different. We heard about the stress of putting toys together at 2am before the kids wake up, or the annoying mother-in-law, or the stress of flying and driving. So either we happened to talk to some much holier people for the first round, or telling people we were with a church made their answers gravitate in that direction.

And it’s the same whenever we talk about worship. I bet if I called anyone here on Wednesday and asked “How was worship on Sunday,” most of you would say some version of, “it was nice” or “it was good.” But if I followed up and asked you, “what in the worship service is still impacting you on Wednesday?” you’re probably going to give me a healthy dose of silence.

You have to really know what you’re trying to ask to get a really good answer. So what should we expect in worship? How do we know if whatever happens on a Sunday is good? And how much of that is something that WE answer, and how much of that depends on GOD’S answer?

Well our two texts today give two very different outcomes for worship, and I believe we should be shooting for both of these. In our first text today, a few disciples are unknowingly walking down the road with Jesus after his crucifixion and resurrection. And he teaches them from Scripture about God’s will. And what’s the result? They say to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”

So let’s go back to that Wednesday phone call again. What if I called you and asked, “Did your heart burn within you as you heard the scriptures read and taught?” That’s a different question than asking if the worship was good. As we look at Jesus’ worship, we see that one of the most important measures of “good worship” is that people become on fire to seek and do God’s will. And that wasn’t just a Pentecost, miraculous tongues of fire kind of thing. That was the expectation every time.

Do you have that expectation when you come to worship? Do you expect to be inspired to seek and do God’s will? Do you expect to leave here on fire for Jesus? We shouldn’t rest until that fire is a valid expectation of our worship as a church.

But fire isn’t the only expectation in worship. There’s also water. In our second text today Jesus tells the woman, “those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” That’s a little different than having your heart burn within you, right? This sounds a bit more tranquil. This sounds a bit more peaceful.

Becca and I were just in Hawaii for our tenth anniversary – one of the nice things about not being able to travel much when you have young kids is that you can store up enough miles and points to do something nice when you DO get to travel without them. And as we came up with our daily agenda, we had two very different kinds of activities. One day we did a nice hike into a sheer valley to a black sand beach. I have a picture of Becca at the trailhead and there are no fewer than six warning signs posted. Some people might find that stressful, but this is how we have fun.

But we had other activities like snorkeling with the manta rays. The key to getting up close to the manta rays is to just float as flat as possible on the surface so the plankton accumulate close to your face. And our group got to see a ray do barrel rolls about six inches from our masks as we just floated there peacefully taking in the wonder of God’s creation.

Those are two different kinds of activities, and our definition of a successful anniversary trip required both. On the one hand we wanted to get out and go – we wanted to be active and hike and go places. That’s the fire – going and doing.

But on the other hand, we wanted to take in the beauty and relax and simply BE – we wanted to float on the water or sit on the beach doing nothing. That’s the water – peacefully being.

If we had stacked our trip full of fire, we would have been exhausted. But if we had only planned for water, we would have eventually been bored. We needed both fire and water, actively doing AND peacefully being.

So, too with our worship. You should expect to be fired up to seek and do God’s will. But you should also expect to be refreshed by God’s unfailing love for you simply because you are YOU. If our worship is all fire we’ll exhaust ourselves with activity. But if our worship is all water we’ll eventually just peacefully drift away without ever DOING God’s will. We need fired-up hearts AND souls that are refreshed by Jesus’ living water.

How much fire do we have in our worship? How much water do we have in our worship? I think we have a lot to work with, but we aren’t there yet with either element.

Vision for Worship

I’ve been reading a book about churches that have successfully reached the youngest generations, it’s called Growing Young, and it has some interesting observations about worship. They found that both music and preaching are important to the rising generations, but only to a point. In fact, both music and preaching are in the “good enough” category. In other words, you can lose people if the preaching is terrible or the music is a life-sucking dirge, but you don’t gain a whole lot more people even if the preaching is exceptional or the music is world class. As long as it’s in the “good enough” category, there are other things that matter more.

The most important thing is relationships, and those should be ACROSS the generations. The researchers found that instead of focusing on cool worship or programs, churches should aim for warm peer AND intergenerational friendships. And so instead of imagining worship as a trip to the theatre or symphony, we should imagine it like a gathering in the family room.

My family is going down for my mom’s birthday in a few weeks, she’s turning 39 – you’re welcome, Mom. And I already know what the family room is going to look like. There will be some people with plenty of white hair there, probably sipping an adult beverage and sharing raucous tales of old. There will be people like me there who are in the process of gaining white hair courtesy of being a parent. And there will be little tornadoes disguised as kids trying to tear the place apart. All these generations will be in this one big room together.

And so the kids will be ransacking the toy closet. And the parents will be trading off duties. And the grandparents will be finding the comfy chairs. Each generation has things that it likes, and some things it probably wouldn’t prefer. My parents have a wonderful stone ledge around their fireplace and a lovely natural wood coffee table. Perfect for the adults, but a possible source of injury for the kids. Some of their toys are loud, poppy things that can drive the adults crazy, but they’re perfect for the kids. The important thing is that everyone is together, and everyone has a chance at a good time.

So if you imagine worship like a family gathering, what should it look like? For the grandparents or great-grandparents among us, did you do anything in your house to make it more grandkid-friendly? Maybe we have to make some modifications to our worship in the same way.

For those with kids right now, do you do anything at family gatherings simply because it’s the way your family does things? Maybe we have to keep some things in our worship to honor the more seasoned generations.

One of the other most important things for reaching the rising generations is authentic passion. You can tell within about thirty seconds whether a worship service is alive or dead just be reading the energy in the room. Let’s use that family gathering image again. Would you rather spend time in a crypt or a family party? I’m not aware of any morticians in our midst, so I’m betting almost all of us would rather be in a family party. If our worship feels stilted or disconnected or stale, the rising generations don’t want any part of it. What’s the point?

But if people are worshiping because their faith is real and alive and affecting their lives, then the rising generations are all in. I’ve talked with people who have joined us over the two years I’ve been here, and quite a few of them cited passion as their reason for returning after their first visit. Some heard a story of God’s work in someone’s life, and it touched them. Others were here on a day when someone really poured out their heart in a prayer, and it touched them. Others were here on a youth Sunday and saw the alive faith in our students, and it touched them. This is one of those points where the generations sometimes differ.

When the first Star Wars movie was doing test screening, the crew knew they had a hit because people were “ooh”ing and “ahh”ing and clapping and cheering. Except for the test screening in Japan. The audience sat in stone silence the whole time, so the crew was worried. But their Japanese distributors were ecstatic. They had to explain that the dead silence was the highest form of honor and praise that the Japanese audience could give!

In the same way, some people’s primary worship language is respect or honor. The best way to honor a beautiful special music piece is the stony silence of that Japanese test audience. Others want to “ooh” and “ahh” and clap and cheer. There isn’t one right way to do it – it’s just different generational cultures. So if you’re the kind of person who wants to clap, go right ahead, but don’t judge the one sitting in silence. They were touched, too, but they’re expressing it with honor and respectful silence. And if you want to show respectful silence, go right ahead, but don’t judge the one who wants to express their appreciation audibly. It’s just a different culture, and our family gathering is big enough for both.

Can we be a family gathering that is suitable for every generation? Can we be a family gathering where people of every age have a reason to be excited? Maybe some people love the hymns, maybe others love the choir, maybe others love the prayers, maybe others love the sermons, maybe others would love it if we did something new. We aren’t there yet, but it’s possible. Would you like to see that kind of fire and water worship? Would you like to see every generation have a reason to be excited?

Making the Devil Mad

I was helping a man this past week, and he has a lot of troubles. But he said something that has stuck with me. He said that, rather than being mad at God for his troubles, he’s going to try to make the devil mad by his faithfulness to Jesus in the midst of his troubles. That may not be perfect theology, but I kind of like that image.

So as I think about being a church like Jesus in our worship, I want the devil to be mad because of our worship. I want the devil to be mad because he’s unable to divide the generations, unable to pit the young against the old, unable to pit the liberal against the conservative, unable to pit the saint against the sinner, unable to pit the member against the guest, unable to pit the white against the brown, unable to pit the rich against the poor. If that were to happen here then the Adversary would be very mad indeed, and our Lord and Savior would tell us “well done, good and faithful servants.” But we’re not there yet.

That’s going to take more fire in our bones to seek and do God’s will. That’s going to take us thinking long and hard about making this a great family room for all generations, not just a theatre for a few. But that’s also going to take some more water in our souls to peacefully be who God made us to be. That’s going to take us being comfortable with who we are even if the person next to us isn’t the same. That’s going to take us being at peace when we reach out to new people, because your place in the family isn’t being taken away. We will need more fire and more water in our worship. May Jesus help us worship in spirit and truth, in fire and in water, in doing and in being. Amen.