Coming into God’s Presence

Jeff Garrison

Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church

Isaiah 6:1-8

April 19, 2015

 

The need to worship is something instilled in us.  Whether or not we’re Christian, whether or not we’re religious, all of us have a desire to find meaning in something larger than ourselves.  That “something” becomes the object of our worship.  The “atheistic Communist,” whom we used to so fear, had a belief in a dialectical materialistic philosophy that they saw giving rise and power to the proletariat in order to create a new state—essentially this new state was one that was worshipped.  Even the most apathetic couch potato, who never darkens the door of the church, may worship a football team, NASCAR driver, or movie star.  Even the narcissistic believe they are larger and more important than they really are and worship this inflated ego that has no relationship to reality.  We all look for meaning; it’s just that a lot of us try to find that meaning in the wrong places and end up restless and disappointed.

“I can’t get no satisfaction,” Mick Jagger first sang a half-century ago and for many the words still remain true.  More often than not, in this consumer age in which we live, that which touts to be the answer is disappointing.  So we try something new.  We’ve heard the claim “new and improved” so many times and for so many trivial items that advertisers have to continually up the ante to seduce us.  Christopher Lasch, in the Culture of Narcissism, describes consumers (and let’s face it, we’re all consumers), as “perpetually unsatisfied, restless, anxious and bored.”  We’re educated by advertising and by the culture that consumption is “the answer to the age-old discontents of loneliness, sickness, weariness, lack of sexual satisfaction, the malaise of boring and meaningless jobs and the feeling of futility and fatigue.”  But consumption can never fill the voids of our lives and it only masks our restlessness. [1]  We can’t get no satisfaction.  Soon, we’re back wanting more.  Like a junkie, we want another fix.

This isn’t anything new; it’s an age-old problem.  Augustine, writing 17 centuries ago, noted that our hearts are restless until they come to rest in God.[2]  Today, in my second sermon on how worship can help us to reflect Jesus’ face to the world, I want us to think about what it means to encounter the living God and to find the satisfaction we desire.  My passage for the morning will be Isaiah 6:1-8.

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Our scripture for this morning, Isaiah’s call, is an example of what should happen in worship.  In this passage, Isaiah encounters God in all his holiness and majesty.  This occurs the same year that King Uzziah died, which gives us a timetable for the event, but also contrasts the transient nature of earthly kings and powers to the eternal nature of the King to whom our allegiance belongs.  Uzziah is dead; his throne is empty.  But Isaiah witnesses a greater throne and king.  Yet, Isaiah has a problem; he’s seen the real King and prevailing wisdom has it that for a mortal to see God would bring on certain death.  Our sinful state leaves us vulnerable before God’s holiness.  Isaiah knows he’s in deep sneakers as he cries, “Woe is me; I am lost, I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips and I have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts.”

But all is not lost.  One of the seraphs before the throne takes a coal from the altar, flies down and presses it to Isaiah’s lips, proclaiming that his sins are forgiven.  At this point, Isaiah can now hear the call of God, asking who will go and take a message to the people, and Isaiah pipes up and says, “Here I am, Lord, send me.”

If you would go on and read the rest of this chapter, you’d realize the job Isaiah volunteered for wasn’t a coveted one.  He was to speak judgement to his people.  Sometimes it’s that way with us; when we accept God’s calling, often it is to do things we would rather not do.  Jesus makes this point clear to people when he informs the disciple that when he was young, he went where he wanted, but when he was old, he’d be taken where he does not want to go.[3]  Authentic worship isn’t about us; it’s about God.  Ultimately, it isn’t about how we feel, but what God wants us to do.

What can we learn about coming into God’s presence and worship from Isaiah?  First of all, we see that true worship, worship that encounters the holy, is dangerous.  It’s playing with dynamite!  There’s a power greater than ourselves present here, and if we tap into it, we will have little control over where it will lead.  It’s a fearful thing to fall into the hands of an Almighty God, the Puritans professed.  But with the disciples, we have to acknowledge, “Where else can we go to find the words of eternal life.”[4]  So we stick around, even though it’s scary.  Like Isaiah, we stick around and find that worship is also redemptive.  Where else can we go to find forgiveness, to be offered a new chance, to have our guilt erased and set free to start over?  And then, like Isaiah, we find that not only are we forgiven, we’re forgiven so that we can hear God’s word, so that we can hear that call from the Almighty to fulfill God’s purpose in our lives.  Ultimately, worship is to be life-changing.  Coming into the presence of God does that!  The sanctuary, the place wherever we worship, isn’t an escape from the world, but a place to equip us to go back into the world to fulfill our roles as disciples of the living Lord.

Understand that worship is something that needs to be done throughout the week, but it also important that we come together as a community to worship.  As Jesus says, “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, I will be there.”[5]

Think about what we do here and how it relates to Isaiah’s experience.  We come into God’s presence, we realize God’s holiness and our lack of it, and we are forgiven and then sent back into the world to further God’s work.  That’s the cycle that goes on Sunday after Sunday in a Reformed service of worship.  The Call to Worship and the Opening Hymn of Praise reminds us that this a sacred place and time.  The prayers of confession, both those spoke corporately and privately, remind us that we are in need of forgiveness.  Corporately, we’re reminded us that as a people, we are guilty.  The private prayers of confession spoken to God silently in our hearts, remind us that as individuals, we are guilty.  The Assurance of Pardon reminds us of the forgiveness offered through Jesus Christ, that frees us up to hear God’s word and to go back out into the world.  I know some churches don’t use a time of confession, but they’re missing the meat of the gospel.  We stand in need of forgiveness and through Jesus Christ, God stands willing to offer forgiveness.

How might we make the most out of our time for worship on Sunday morning?  First of all, begin your preparation for worship early.  Go to bed at a reasonable hour on Saturday night so that you are well rested.  As I discussed last week, the Jews begin their Sabbath at sundown and that’s not a bad habit for us Christians.  Prepare for Sunday morning on Saturday, whether it is setting out clothes to wear or preparing food.  This will assure that Sunday mornings are not hectic.  Then, when you wake up, you can easily get ready for worship and perhaps even have some time to go to God in prayer or to spend some time in God’s word.

Next, when you come to worship, come with a holy expectancy.  Come, expecting that you will encounter God.  Now, not every Sunday is a mountaintop experience.[6]  In fact, few are going to be mountaintop experiences and if we strive for that, we’re probably focusing on what we want and not what God wants.  But that said, if we don’t expect anything out of worship, we’re probably not going to receiving anything.  What would happen if just ten of fifteen of you came expecting God to show up?  It could be dangerous; it could be glorious!

Next, arrive early.  Here, do as I say not as I’ve been known to do.  When I am not preaching, I’m not known for arriving too early (you can ask my wife or daughter).  But if you are here five, ten or fifteen minutes early, you have time to focus on God, to calm your hearts, to put away distractions.  Spend this time making a mental note of that which to thank God or of the deeds you stand in need of confessing.  Look around and see people who are in need and offer intercessory prayer.  Lift up the preacher (I need all the help I can get) along with the Elder of the Week and the choir and those involved in the children sermon or drama, along with our ushers and greeters.  Pray for those who might be new in our fellowship.  Read through the bulletin, internalizing the prayers so that they can become your prayers.  Look over the scriptures so that you might receive more out of the sermon.

While in worship, learn to absorb distractions.  We’re all human here.  I am going to make some mistakes (as I did last week when, on auto-pilot, I left out a line in the Apostles’ Creed).   Others are also going to make mistakes.  Instead of fussing and fuming over it, pray silently for them, that God might bless them.  Focus your energy on what is positive, not on what can be negative and destructive.  Embrace worship as a sacrifice, as your sacrifice, to God.  Remember, what happens here “isn’t about you!”  It’s about God!  Keep focused on that which is important.

And finally, when you leave worship, go out to live your life as an heir to the kingdom, listening and obeying God’s word throughout the week.  In so doing, you’re whole life will be more worshipful and you’ll be continually praising God.

We’re all to be worshippers.  In worship, our restlessness finds peace in the heart of God.  In worship, we move from the position of the guilty one, “Woe is me!” to the response of a confident disciple, “Here I am, Lord.  Send me.”  Amen.

 

©2015

[1] See Marva J. Dawn, Reaching Out without Dumbing Down: A Theology of Worship for this Urgent Time (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 64-65.

[2] Augustine, Confessions, 1:1.

[3] John 21:18.

[4] John 6:68

[5] Matthew 18:20.

[6] Even the disciples found that they couldn’t stay on the mountaintop.  Life is to be lived in the valleys and on the plains, where people are at.  See Matthew 17:1-13, Mark 9:2-8 and Luke 9:28-36.


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