What Worship Is; What It Is Not

Text: Matthew 8:1-13

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

We Lutherans are often accused of not being very good at worshiping God.  Compared to other churches, we don’t raise our hands, jump, dance, clap, or run up and down the aisles of the church.  Our church services tend to be calm, orderly, and quiet, not loud, spontaneous, and exciting. This perhaps could lead to the accusation that we are too stoic, rigid, or even lacking the Spirit.  It could lead to the accusation that we are religious but not spiritual.

So with this stated, who is right?

What is the right way to worship God? Should worship be loud or quiet? Should it be calm or exciting? Should it be orderly or spontaneous?

While these are good questions for us to ponder, I do not believe they are the right questions we should be asking.  Perhaps instead, we should be asking the question, ‘What is worship?’  Yes, ‘What is worship?’

In our reading from the Gospel of Matthew, we hear about a leper who worships Jesus. You see, this leper knew of Jesus’ previous healings. The leper had either seen or heard that Jesus was able to heal people such as himself – people who were sick with leprosy. And so when Jesus had come down from a mountain, this leper came before Jesus in worship.

Now, before we get ahead of ourselves, we must take note of the word used for worship.  The word has a wide range of use.  In our translation from today’s reading, we heard that the man knelt before Jesus.  However, the word can be translated in other ways.  That is to say, this word for worship and kneeling can also be used for people kissing the hand of a great King. It can be used for a person falling on their face before someone who is of greater rank themselves. It is even a word that is used for a dog eating out of a master’s hand.  And so, with this understanding of worship, we can see that the leper not only came before Jesus with humility, but he came before Jesus kneeling in worship to receive healing from Jesus as a gift – if Jesus was willing. 

Dear friends, as already mentioned, the leper knew that Jesus was able to heal, for he knew Jesus had healed other sick people before.  The catch though, was whether or not Jesus was willing to heal him as well.

And so the leper approached Jesus with worship.  He came and either knelt, or dropped his face in the dirt before Jesus.  But notice what He didn’t do.  Notice that the leper did not pompously walk up to Jesus, slap him on the shoulder, and say,

“Jesus, my homeboy; what’s up? I need you to heal me right now.” 

The leper also did not waltz up to Jesus with mystical emotions saying,

“You set my heart on fire Jesus.  Make me move Jesus. Your love has captured me. Heal me now!” 

The leper also did not march in bold faith before Jesus saying,

I am healed, happy, and whole.  Jesus, I am here to have what I say.  Heal me now Lord – I declare it!” 

Instead, the leper came with reverence saying,

          “Lord if you are willing.” 

From a position of humble worship, He came to Jesus who was greater and more powerful than he. 

You see it has often been taught to Christians that mankind must do something in worshipful before God to get God to do something for us. We have been incorrectly taught that we must somehow summon God and His presence through our worshipful acts.  And so, worship becomes primarily about what we are doing before God to somehow impress Him and earn His favor.  Worship becomes a flashy show where we show off just how committed and spiritual we are before our Creator.  Quite often, this view of worship teaches that the louder we are or the more energized we are before God, the greater the chance we have of capturing His attention and proving our commitment to Him, which will result in us receiving good things from God.  God supposedly loves a vibrant, on fire, committed, moving-in-the-spirit-worshipper! 

This way of thinking, though, has more to do with a pagan view of worship than a Christian view. Dear friends, Christian worship is the exact opposite of what we just mentioned. Christian worship is us coming before God, not with our spiritual grand productions, but with nothing in our hands. 

Consider the words of that hymn, Rock of Ages. In that 250-year-old hymn, we hear the essence of worship. 

Naked, come to Thee for dress
Helpless, look to Thee for grace
Vile, I to the fountain fly
Wash me, Savior, or I die

Baptized Saints, worship is about receiving and receiving from the One who is able to do all good things. That is why we come into this sanctuary week after week to confess our sins in thought, word, and deed while saying with that sick leper,

“Lord, we know that you are able to do all things, but are you willing to forgive a sin-sick sinner such as myself?” 

And like Jesus’ response to that leper long ago, Christ responds to our worship – our plea for mercy – saying,

“I am willing; be clean.”

Baptized Saints, open your ears.  Pay attention right now.   When that leper came before Jesus in worship, longing to be healed, Jesus responded saying that He was willing to heal him.  In other words, Jesus had great delight and pleasure to heal this sick leper. What this means is that the Lord has great delight and pleasure to forgive you of all of your sins when you are before Him with empty-handed-worship. 

In the book of Psalms, the 51st chapter, we hear about worship before God as well. To paraphrase King David, worship occurs when our pride is crushed, destroyed, and wrecked. Worship occurs when our hearts are broken, crushed, and collapsed.  Worship happens when we draw near the One who is able, with nothing in our hands except our sins, transgressions, and iniquity.  The reason why this is true worship is that the Lord does not consider this kind of worship as vile or worthless.  Empty-handed-worship with broken pride and a contrite heart does not escape God’s notice. The Lord does the unthinkable; He takes delight in meeting this worship with divine compassion. 

And so it’s quite clear Baptized Saints, worship has nothing to do with you bringing your best before God to conjure up His presence and get Him to do things for you.  Worship is not you creating a lavish religious production, or you dotting your I’s and crossing your T’s in a dead mechanical routine to appease God.[1]

But instead, worship has everything to do with approaching Jesus in humility and reverence because you know that He is able to do all things and that He is especially willing to forgive you of your sins. Worship is coming before the Lord in humility to have the Lord stretch out His hand of grace giving you not only His Word of forgiveness – your sins are forgiven - but the Lord giving you His very body and blood laid upon your tongue and into your belly for the forgiveness of all of your sins.

Worship is about your inadequacies and receiving; it is not about your strength and performing.  Worship is about you having empty hands for God’s gifts, not tightfisted hands to prove something to God.  Worship is about receiving God’s best, not giving God your best.  Baptized Saints, worship is not about trying to get God to be willing but instead, it is about the fact that God is willing, able, and delighted to forgive you of all of your sins resulting in you simply receiving.

In the name of Jesus. Amen. 

[1] See 1 Samuel 15:22.

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