“Engaging Our Hearts in Worship” A sermon on Isaiah 29:13-16
One Sunday morning a pastor noticed a little boy standing and staring up at the large plaque that hung in the narthex of the church. The little boy had been staring at the plaque for some time, so the pastor walked up and stood beside him. He quietly said, “Good morning.”
“Good morning, pastor” replied the boy not taking his eyes off the plaque. “Sir, what is this?” “Well son, these are all the people who have died in the service.” Quietly, they stood together looking up at the large plaque. Finally, the boy spoke again, “Which one sir, the 8:00 or the 10:30 service?”
For some reason, when we think of going to church, we think of it as some dreadful place that we have to go and put our time in. We hope that we will survive it, and not end-up with our name on some plaque.
Sometimes we come and we just kind of drift through the service. When we leave, we have no idea what hymns were sung, what the scripture readings were about, or how many times we dozed off.
We all have Sundays like this. Sundays where our bodies are here, but our mind is somewhere else. We may physically present, but mentally we are a million miles away.
We may even say all the right things, our mouths may speak all the rights words, our lips may sing all the hymns, but our hearts are disengaged from worship. Instead of drawing near to God, we are actually far away from him.
Such lip-service is nothing new. In today’s reading from Isaiah, we hear God say, “These people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me.”
In Isaiah’s day, the people of Israel would fill-up the temple in Jerusalem. They would come to God’s house for worship. They would offer-up their sacrifices and sing the psalms. They would hear the Word of God, say their prayers and receive the blessing of the priests. They would speak all the right words, but still, something would be missing.
Their hearts would be a million miles away. The people were just going through the motions. They didn’t really think about the words they were speaking. They didn’t really feel close to God. Going to church was just something you were supposed to do.
And I’m sure that if you had gone and talked to the people of Israel who had worshipped like this, they would have said, “What are you talking about? I’m already doing everything that God wants, what more can you want from me?”
But God would then say, “What I really want is YOU! I want you to give me your heart and soul. I want you to draw near to me with a true faith. I want you to experience the power of my presence.”
You see, the bottom line is that worship is about God. It’s not about us. We don’t come to church to be entertained or to visit with friends. Worship is about coming into God’s presence. Here, in this place, we focus on God, and not ourselves. Here, we engage our hearts in worship.
Now, there’s no doubt that this takes a lot of effort. It takes work. But perhaps that’s why we all have such a hard time of it. We often are just too lazy and indifferent.
Worship requires work. Worship requires effort and concentration. Here, we seek to give God our best effort. We give God our full attention, our full devotion, our entire self. And this takes some work and sacrifice.
There is an old story about a small village in Spain. The people of this village heard the king planned to visit there. No king had ever done that. So naturally, they became excited and wanted to offer a great celebration that would honor the king. But what could such a poor village offer?
Someone proposed that since so many of the villagers made their own wines, they could offer that to honor the king. And so, they each decided to take some of their best wines, and combine them as a one great gift for the king.
On the day of the king’s arrival, they all came to the village square early in the morning with a large cup of their finest wine. They all carefully poured their offering into a small opening at the top of a large barrel. They were excited because the king would soon enjoy the best wine he’d ever tasted.
When he arrived, the king was escorted to the town square where he was presented with a silver cup and invited to draw wine from the barrel. He filled his cup, and when he drank the wine, to his great surprise, he tasted only water.
What happened? It turns out that each villager had reasoned, "I’ll withhold my best wine and give only water. There will be so many cups of excellent wine poured into the barrel, that mine will never be missed.” And so, after all was said and done, the king was in the presence of people who simply went through the motions of showing their love and devotion.
That is what the people of Israel in Isaiah’s day were guilty of. And we are no different. We also are guilty of simply going through the motions when it comes to worshipping God. We don’t give God our best effort. That is why God says, “These people draw near with their mouth and they honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”
But God also says in Isaiah that he will do something to change this. God promises that he will do something new, he will do wonderful things for his people, he will work wonder upon wonder. God will make the deaf to hear his word; he will open eyes that are blind. The Lord will give fresh joy to his people. They shall exult in the Holy One of Israel.
We know that all of these promises are fulfilled in Jesus Christ, the Messiah. He is the Holy One of Israel. He is the Son of God, and he opens deaf ears and blind eyes.
Christ enables us to experience the power of God’s presence. We can now hear the Word of God clearly. We can take to heart the wondrous gospel message of God’s grace. We can now see, with the eyes of faith, the glory and majesty of the Triune God.
Christ changes our hearts through his gift of forgiveness, and that makes all the difference in the world. For example, consider how we begin our worship service. Think about what really happened in our confession and absolution.
We say, “If we confess our sins, God, who is faithful and just, will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” And then, after we make our confession, we hear, “In the mercy of Almighty God, Jesus Christ was given to die for us, and for his sake, God forgives us all of our sins.”
Think about that! For the sake of Christ, God had totally forgiven all of your sins –all of them – not just some or a few – but God completely forgives us, and he totally cleanses us from all unrighteousness. We now stand before God as righteous and holy and without blemish.
As St. Paul says, “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such other thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”
This is what we receive from God through faith in Christ. “To those who believe in Jesus Christ, he gives the power to become the children of God and bestows on them the Holy Spirit. May the Lord, who has begun this good work in us, bring it to completion in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
In other words, God declares that we are forgiven and holy in his sight. God has begun his work of transformation in our hearts. He is now working something completely new in us. God is doing something wonderful for us!
But this is a work in progress, it is not yet complete. That’s why we need to continue to draw near to God every chance we get. We need to allow God to continue this good work in us through the power of his Holy Spirit. Every week, we need to pray, praise and give thanks to God together.
In fact, after the confession and absolution, this exactly what we begin to do. After the absolution, we pray together the Kyrie. Have you stopped to think about what those words mean? “In peace, let us pray to the Lord.”
“In the peace of knowing that our sins are forgiven, let us now pray to the Lord for the peace of the whole world, for the well-being of the Church of God, and for the unity of all. Let us pray for this holy house and for all who offer here their worship and praise. Help, save, comfort and defend us, gracious Lord.”
How you ever thought about those words, and what they really mean? They really sum-up everything we should be about. We pray for the peace of the whole world and for the unity of all. We ask for God to help, save, comfort and defend us. “In peace, let us pray to the Lord.”
There is so much in our liturgy and hymns to think about. For example, the hymns we sing today are rich in Bible teaching.
“Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee;
Holy, Holy, Holy, merciful and mighty!
God in three persons, blessed Trinity!”
“Just as I am, without one plea
But that thy blood was shed for me
And that thou biddest me come to thee,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.”
“Rock of Ages, cleft for me, Let me hide myself in thee;
Let the water and the blood, From thy riven side which flowed;
Be of sin the double cure: Cleanse me from its guilt and power.
“We praise you, O God, our Redeemer, Creator;
In grateful devotion our tribute we bring.
We lay it before you, we kneel and adore you;
We bless your holy name, glad praises we sing.”
“Crown him with many crowns, the Lamb upon his throne;
Hark how the heavenly anthem drowns all music but its own.
Awake my soul, and sing, of him who died for thee,
And hail him as thy matchless king, through all eternity.”
All of these hymns awaken our souls, and they lift us up to the heights of heaven. We join our voices together to praise our gracious heavenly Father and his Son, Jesus Christ. We rejoice that God has bestowed his Holy Spirit upon us and that we are his children.
The liturgy and the hymns help us to focus upon God and his presence among us. The same is true for the Apostles Creed and the Lord’s Prayer and all the other parts of the service. They all help us to draw near to God with a sincere heart. They teach us to honor God him with our lips and mouth. What we speak together reflects what we believe. Our words reveal what our faith is all about.
But again, the danger is always present that we speak these words without really thinking about what they mean. All of us are prone to drift off at some point during the service. We all lose our focus. This is especially true with the Lord’s Prayer and the Creed. They are so familiar to us that we just often say the words by rote. Our mouth is speaking the right words, but our mind is somewhere else.
I think that in this day and age of computers and technology, it’s becoming increasingly harder to maintain focus. Everything is thrown at us so fast. We have some much information to process. We bounce around between phone calls, text messages, e-mails, Facebook, YouTube, and everything else going on around us – it’s hard to keep our focus on just one thing. Our life seems fragmented into so many different pieces. And this includes our attention span.
That’s why the worship service is so different from anything else in the world today. This is the place where God comes to us in grace and mercy. God is faithful and just, and he once again speaks his Word and bestows his gift. And the Lord reminds us of the one thing we need the most of all – his gift of forgiveness, life and salvation.
God teaches us each week how we can engage our hearts in true worship. And God works in our spiritual life to open our ears and eyes, so that we can behold the wondrous love revealed in the One who gave himself for us. Amen!