This week we are continuing our series on worship; over the past few weeks, we have talked about our posture for worship and how our mood and our worship intertwine, but one element of our worship experience is missing. The action in worship.
Some of us feel comfortable being expressive, allowing large actions to flow as we worship in song. Others feel more comfortable with a more reflective stance, allowing the Spirit to move in its gentle waves. Yet all of us find moments of action-oriented in our worship experience.
This week we will be reflecting on some of the popular Christmas characters to understand how worship and action intertwine, allowing us to set our minds, hearts, and actions on Jesus during this season of celebration.
I will read the story of the Shepherds and the Magi as I prepare my heart and mind
for Christmas I will reflect on ways that I can embody a posture of worship
I will let my sight draw me to see something extraordinary that God has placed in front of me
I will listen intently to conversations with friends and family as a form of worship
I will actively engage in a time of worship music, listening for how God is forming me in the sound
I will meditate on the journey that the Shepherds and Magi took, and reflect on my own faith journey
I will worship Jesus by taking a step forward in my faith
I will talk about how I am worshipping God with part of my community, and invite them to reimagine their worship this week
Over the last few weeks we have been talking about worship. Matt kicked things off this understanding of what a posture of worship looks like, and last week he discussed how our moods can be both a director for worship and a reflection of our inner hearts which can be attuned to or against worship. Worship in posture, worship in mood. Today as we prepare our hearts and minds for Christmas, which is only 144 hours away, we are going to talk about another aspect of worship, our actions around worship. We are going to be exploring through the story of the Shepherds and the Wise Men how we can worship this week in our actions, actively engaging in worship through sight, worship through listening, and then worship through wandering. Before we jump in let’s pray. Worship is many things; when we think about worship we often think about singing. It is not necessarily wrong, worship is in part musical, but we can see different definitions of worship littered throughout the Bible. Different theologians and scholars root their definitions of worship in the different words we find for worship; the Old Testament presents us with two words that are used regularly for worship. The first of these words gives us this idea of worship as an act of bowing down and another word defines worship as a means to serve a superior. The New Testament also uses a multitude of words, some of which mean or are defined as the act of coming forward to pay adoration or respect, and a word that brings about this idea of serving. These words for worship found in the Old and New Testament bring to mind the idea of worship being this intertwining of an attitude of the heart and an action of serving and adoring. It puts together this idea of worship being a posture, being a mood and being an action. AW Tozer notes that ‘worship is to feel in your heart and express in some appropriate manner a humbling but delightful sense of admiring awe and astonished wonder and overpowering love in the presence of that most ancient mystery, that majesty which philosophers call the First Cause, but which we call our Father which art in heaven.” Feeling in your heart and expressing in some manner, that is worship. Matt’s covered the posture and the mood that directly filter into our hearts, and today we are exploring the second factor of worship which is the way we embody and express this innate heart posture and mood. And because it is Christmas time, we are going to examen worship in action through the stories of some of the Christmas characters. The story of the action of worship is deeply rooted in the stories of the Shepherds and the Wisemen. While their stories are reflected in different gospels and while it is highly likely that their paths did not cross, their stories are in so many ways mirrors of action worship. Let’s read together their two stories. The first is the story of the shepherds, found in Luke 2. And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. Luke 2:8:18 And then the story of the Wise Men or the Magi, whatever you like to call them. After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’ Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. Matthew 2:1-12 Such familiar stories for this time of year, and yet despite their familiarity we do not always think of these characters as characters of worship. But their actions were steeped in worship, and the way that worship was understood through actions. We see their worship in action through three different actions. The first is that both the shepherds and the magi worshipped in the action of seeing, in fact for each of these groups their Christmas experience began when they saw, when they beheld, something. Have you ever seen or experienced something that transformed you? Maybe it was seeing the birth of a baby, maybe it was seeing the ocean for the first time, or maybe it was seeing your favourite sports team win a championship. We let the things we see, the things we perceive, shape who we are. When I was in the last year of college something I saw shaped me, and that something was the movie Les Mis. We had just wrapped up my last water polo game and so my roommates and I had a lot of extra free time on our hands. So naturally we found a film that lasted like 3 hours to fill that time and that film was Tom Hooper’s Les Mis. We watched the film one night and were immediately transported and transfixed by what we watched, so much so that we watched it for about 50 nights in a row. We knew every lyric by the end of the 50 day streak, and beyond that we all began reading the insanely long book. 8 or so months later I was living in LA and I saw that one of the actors from this film was at Jimmy Kimmel so naturally I extended my love of Les Mis and joined the Kimmel taping so that I could see the actor promote a different movie. It’s a funny story, but in so many ways what I saw and took in transformed my months and days, it transformed who I was and arguably not for the best. I saw and beheld this film and then dedicated a lot of time and effort to living within that world. One could say it was a minor form of worship. We laugh but the things we see, the things we watch, our actions around beholding influences what we worship. When we first meet the shepherds, they are in the fields and they are watching their sheep, their livelihood. The location and the action of the shepherds are by all other means mundane; they are located in the place they inhabited, and they are doing what their jobs required them to do. The most mundane, ordinary circumstance, that is how we meet the shepherds. The verse continues and says that as the shepherds existed in their day to day an angel of the Lord appeared and shone. An absolutely blinding light, like when a car shines it high beams in your mirrors. Absolute mind boggling, vision altering light burst through their darkest moment. And in the instance that the night became day, as the great light flooded and as the angels sung, the shepherds were terrified. It was not an act of worship; it was a moment of seeing the extraordinary and being jolted from their mundane existence into a new and a sacred reality. The light and the act of seeing this light shook the fabric of reality for the shepherds, and their life would be forever altered from what they had seen. The Magi also saw something that altered their reality. The Magi’s story also begins with seeing something, in Matthew 2 a handful of men wander into a city they did not know, a location that was strange and out of the ordinary, driven by the light from a star. What they had seen in the night sky was so out of the ordinary that it propelled them to explore, the wonder and immense possibility filling their minds as they crossed over deserts and into cities. What they saw led them into the Christmas story and so while they missed out on the bright lights and the angels like the shepherds, their act of seeing transformed their reality and placed them into an incredible journey that led them to Jesus. In the midst of the Christmas story is this theme of seeing something and being altered by seeing that. It reminds me of the way that Tozer noted that worship requires us to have a ‘sense of admiring awe and astonished wonder.’ The shepherds and the magi’s story started when they each beheld something incredible, and in this act of beholding in the act of seeing their lives were forever changed. They admired in awe and astonished wonder the sight they beheld. While it was not directly worship in that we did not see them fall to their knees in worship they actively engaged in the action of seeing, and beholding, and that opened the door to experiencing a transformational interaction with Jesus. I find that often it is hard to be cognoscente of seeing. I have vision, arguably not great vision because I wear contacts, but I am constantly seeing. Seeing the things on my computer, seeing people in meetings, seeing all the things around me, but my seeing is merely mundane, it is not seeing as an act of worship. I was thinking about this a few days ago when I was swimming. I swim in an outdoor pool and was swimming during the evening as the sun set. After a few days of rain, the skies parted and the most beautiful sunset was emerging in between my laps. Now normally I would have just seen it and kept swimming but because I was thinking about this, because I was ruminating and seeing and worship, I took an extra second to really see. To see and pray, to see and connect, to see and actively engage in worship. I had to cut my swim set short because I was seeing and worshipping, but that act of seeing, the act of worship, altered my evening. In a season of business many of us are seeing but not actively engaging in worship through our sight. When we shift the way we see we may begin to experience the wonder and the life altering view that started the shepherd and magi’s journey. The shepherds and the magi saw, an action of worship that altered their moment of life. And then they moved on to active listening. My grandfather, who I called Papoulis because I’m Greek, was an incredible human. He lived this colourful, insane life, and I loved listening to his stories. But my Papoulis was a bit old and towards the end of his life his hearing was horrible. Or at least we think his hearing was horrible. My Papoulis had this unique ability to hear everything he wanted to hear, but the seemed to not be able to hear when my yiayia asked him to do something he didn’t want to do, or when he was asked a question he didn’t want to answer. Now he was genuinely deaf towards the end, but we used to joke about his ability to have what we called selective hearing. We laugh because we all probably know someone with that gift of selective hearing; my nephew who is two certainly has selective hearing, when I was teaching in universities, I also had selective hearing sometimes when a student asked questions I didn’t want to answer. And if we were honest some of us, or most of us, would say that we exercise our selective hearing in our faith lives. When the Spirit prompts us to do something that counters what we want to do, when the spirit prompts us to give a little more or act a little bit differently, we promptly activate our selective hearing abilities. But what if hearing and the action of hearing became an act of worship and not our act of defiance. Both the Shepherds and the Magi engaged in actions of hearing, actions of worship. And listen that act of worship altered their lives, it cost them something, but it also placed them at the feet of Jesus. The action of listening drastically differed for these two groups of people. The shepherds in Luke 2 are living their mundane lives watching the minutes slip by when they are bombarded by light and sound, angels sing and the glory shone brightly. The angels speak words of peace, do not be afraid, shifting the mood of the shepherds. The angels then deliver a message, ‘today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.’ The angels depart in praise and then the shepherds after beholding and hearing this decide to go see Jesus. The shepherds heard not a prompting or a command, but rather they heard the news of a messiah born in the flesh and this listening to what was happening around them prompted them to pursue a living god. The shepherds heard a story of hope, of deliverance, of salvation. They heard a prophecy fulfilled and in the boisterous call of the agnel they heard worship. And they listened, intently, to what was happening around them. The Magi heard something different; where the shepherds heard about incarnational glory the Magi heard about a jealous and wicked king. The shepherds heard worship, the magi heard a warning. The shepherds heard about delivery and the Magi heard deceit. The Magi listened to two stories, Herod told them in Matthew 2:8 “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” And later in verse 12 they heard in their dreams to not return to Herod. As the Magi’s listened they too in information that was important and even though the information moved them to have to travel differently, even though the message they heard prompted them to defy a king, they listened. Both groups heard something, they experienced and engaged with messages that prompted them to the next step. It may have been easy to dismiss the message, it may have been easy for the Shepherds dismiss what they had been told and chosen to live their lives outside of the city wall because that is what they knew, what they were comfortable with. It may have been easy for the Magi to listen to the words of Herod and not to listen to their dream, because listening to the dream cost them time and it could have cost them so much as they disobeyed the king. Yet we see how their ears were attuned to hearing as a form of obedience, a form of devotion, hearing for worship. I love that once again the Magi and the Shepherds engaged in actions of listening and that despite the drastic difference in the message both groups were drawn to a living Christ. This Christmas season we may have been engaging more in selective hearing than in active listening; we may be turning our ears from hearing God’s voice because of our own fears, our own desires, our own posture or mood. It happens, I know it does because it happens so much in my life, but in order to fully invest into lives of worship we must remove from our action of selective hearing into an action of active listening. Only when we can fully listen to God can we begin to experience the type of worship that aligns our lives with God’s calling, active listening becomes an active form of worship. So we see, and we hear, and then we move. It only seems natural that we would talk about a physical, step forwarding move, when we talk about action and worship. Throughout the Bible we see this storyline of journeying, of walking, of running with God. This physical movement reflects our hearts and our postures of worship, the act of moving an act of worship in itself. Throughout the Bible we see people journeying to God; in the first books of the Bible we see the Israelites walk through oceans and desserts, across dried up river beds and enemy territory, each step an act of worship. We see Ruth and Esther physically move to foreign lands into the location God was calling them to. And then throughout the Old New Testament writes talk about our faiths in this metaphor of active worship. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 2 Timothy 4:7 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us. Hebrews 12:1 Running the race, this understanding of action and running steeped into our worship. And in this story the Shepherds and the Magi, after seeing and listening, moved. When we meet the Magi we meet them in movement, from the east to Jerusalem the group travelled. The end of their story finds the Magi moving, choosing a way to return home while also avoiding Herod. The shepherds did not necessarily start their story in movement, but they moved; after seeing the angels and hearing the worship the shepherds altered their location and moved towards Jesus. Luke 2:16 tells us that the Shepherds ran, they hurried off and they found the sacred place where Jesus was. A community who travelled for a living and a community whose life was outside of the city walls all travelled into the centre to find Jesus. Their movement drawing them close, allowing them to experience a living Jesus. Movement is not easy; it is often filled with fear and uncertainty and the unknown can be so overwhelming that it stops us from trying. When I first moved to LA I started working with a group of people who were ultra-runners. I had never heard of that, I was a pool only athlete and didn’t do land sports. But as I got to know this group of guys I started hearing about their running races, they ran 50k and 50 mile and 100 mile races. It is a mind boggling distance, literally running 100 miles without stopping. Naturally their enthusiasm drew me in and so I joined them and I started crewing and helping them on their races. I was helping a friend for a 100 mile race and about halfway through he was struggling, but he didn’t give up. He just kept saying, to the next station, to the next 5 miles, the next step. When I started running I thought about this a lot; the idea of running that type of distance is insane and if I thought about the race in its whole I would freeze because of the fear, the lack of certainty, the overwhelmingness of it all. But each race is run, each race is accomplished, with one more step. We don’t know what the Magi or the Shepherds thought on their journey, we don’t know what fear or hurdles they had to overcome, I am sure they experienced many. Yet their action, their placing one foot in front of the other, allowed them to journey great distances and this journey ultimately ended them at the feet of Christ. Their action of movement was a display of their adoration and discovery of Jesus, movement as an act of worship. Here’s the truth, our worship is often hindered because we restrict our actions. Our fear, the lack of certainty, the whatever we can fill the blank this freezes our feet to the ground, and we become pillars of salt. But this journey with the shepherds and the magi prompts us to think about our movement as a form of worship. So what does a step forward look like for you today? What does actively moving, action oriented steps, look like to you today. Worship is many things, but it is more than just singing. Actively pursuing God, seeing the wonder and awe, listening to the promptings, and engaging in the movement all allow us to engage in a worshipful experience, our actions encouraging and fuelling our worship. The story of the Shepherds and the Magi is in many ways a story of worship that is actionized and I think that when we add action to our worship we begin to dive deeper into what it means to be Christ centred in our living. If you are a part of our small groups, or if you have spent time here at Blue Oaks, you know that Matt writes these things called Next Steps for each sermon. They are points to think about, things we can work on to help our spiritual formation, ways to connect with God weekly. We hide those next steps but today we are going to close our time together with some next steps. These steps are will hopefully help you experience worship in some way this week, the steps will hopefully encourage you to actionize your worship in some way as we prepare for Christmas. So this week, our next step is to shift the way we see so that we look for Jesus. May our vision and our sight not just be routine but may we look for the wonder of God just like the Shepherds and Magi looked. And when we behold and see God, may it move us to worship. So when you see that beautiful sunset, or when you see your kid or grandkid laugh, when you see your partner do something extraordinary or when you see someone fail may it move us to pray, may it move is to gratitude, may it move us to worship. This week our next next step is to listen. Maybe we turn our radios to worship music, or maybe we turn our radios off and listen for God in the silence. May we listen to the words our friends or family share when they are talking about their pain, may we listen to the frustration of our bosses and the joys of our community. May we listen when God shares something, when God moves us to something. May we practice full hearing and not selective hearing. And then may our worship and our lives be filled with steps. So the last next step is to see where God is calling us to wander. Maybe we need to trust God more with a future hope, or with a finance thing, or with something that has been burdening us. Maybe we need to respond to God’s message, or maybe our step needs to just be a 180 reverse back to pursuing God. May our week this week be filled with actual steps. Worship is a lot of things but limiting it limits our ability to commune with God. So this week may our worship not be a passive consumption of things, may be it actionized. And as we explore God through our actions may we find the hope and joy and peace that we celebrate in 144 hours when we celebrate Christmas. Blue Oaks Church Pleasanton, CA