Beautiful aesthetics. There were chandelier like lights hanging from the ceiling, a perfect shape for the best acoustics, and stained glass windows depicting beautiful Biblical stories with such artistry that you could stare for hours – losing yourself in them.
Up on the stage – an orchestra. Hundreds of professionals set to play for this worship service. Violins, cellos and a golden glint shining off of the brass section.
It was impressive.
And then they played. Fantastic melodies traversing beautiful harmonies. A smorgasbord of sounds for your ears. Melodious highs mimicking the shimmering of snowflakes and trammeling lows – beckoning to the quiet sleep of the manger scene.
I remember my friend look over at me. He smiled. He said, “Now, that’s worship. This is Christmas.”
I’ve thought about that since then. Was he right? Was that worship? And are other forms of worship – forms without chandeliers and hundred member orchestras…are they worship?
If so, I suppose we need to shore up thousands of dollars in the church budget to hire a professional orchestra.
But then again – maybe there’s something more to worship.
Maybe – it’s always been something more.
Today we are going to continue our series called Old Fashioned Christmas. We will look at how people worshipped in preparation for the Savior – long before the first Christmas. We’re going to look at God’s Word and do two things: (1) identify a common worship pitfall (2) learn a few key traits about Old Fashioned Worship that we can put into practice this Christmas. Before we do that, join me in a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. An Old Fashioned Worship Pitfall
We are looking at a worship scene from 2 Samuel 6. This takes place right after the death of King Saul. Remember Him? We talked about him about a month ago in our sermon God & Voting. He was the king that the people chose to be their king – right after God warned them about a human king. God had said – A human king will be sinful. A human king will make sinful choices. A human king will have sinful effects on your life.
Guess what? God was right.
Especially in the area of worship life. Under King Saul, the worship life of the Israelite people became dreadful. The tabernacle – an ancient, portable church (very beautiful) – had been forgotten about. It’s altar furniture had been lost throughout the countryside. Worship was the last things on people’s minds – and King Saul tended to turn to psychics rather than God for comfort.
And worst of all -- the Israelites had lost the Ark of the Covenant.
Ever heard of that before? It makes a cameo in Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. It’s the box that the bad guys open up at the end – which causes them all to die.
Of course, that’s fake. (Indiana Jones – not the ark.) The ark was very real and very sacred. It was a box made of beautiful cedar wood. It was 4 feet long by 2 feet wide by 2 feet high. It had golden angelic statues which sat atop it’s cover and jewels encrusted in its etchings.
As holy sounding as that was, it was even more holy sounding inside.
It contained a jar of manna – heavenly bread that God had rained down on the Israelites as they were in the desert.
There was also a staff from Aaron, Moses’ brother. It was a staff that was originally a dead stick of wood, but God had caused to blossom with plant life.
There were also two giant tablets with the Ten Commandments written on them – commandments etched by the very hand of God.
In short – the Ark of the Covenant had been the center of worship for Ancient Israel. It was the connecting point between the Almighty, Holy God of heaven above and his people. It was the dwelling place of the one who didn’t need a dwelling place.
And it was missing.
So when King Saul’s successor, King David, came to power – he decided to bring the Ark back to Jerusalem. He located it in a dusty backroom outside the main part of the city. He arranged for a cart to hold the ark. (Think the most divine, holy Macy’s Thanksgiving Day float you’ve ever seen). He gathered together 30,000 men to protect the Ark and also cause a big enough commotion to draw attention to every small village they passed by in this glorious parade of divine proportions.
Things started well enough. The Ark was set on the new cart. (v.3) They began walking. (v.4) The men began celebrating – with castanets, harps, lyres, tambourines, sistrums, and cymbals. (v.5)
It was a sight to behold.
A glorious scene of pomp and circumstance.
Now that’s what I call worship.
…A bump. A jolt. A shift in the weight of the ark.
And it began to slide. Slowly at first – then picking up speed. Making it’s way to the edge of the cart – about to fall onto the ground and bust open this divine furniture.
Uzzah was walking alongside the ark.
Uzzah saw it start to slip.
Uzzah thought, “I can be a hero.”
Uzzah reached out his hand to stop it.
Uzzah caught it.
Uzzah stopped it from falling down.
Only…something else did.
v.7 The Lord’s anger burned against Uzzah because of his irreverent act; therefore God struck him down and he died.
The procession was quiet.
The soldiers stopped marched.
The percussion stopped drumming.
The sistrummers stopped sistrumming.
And David stopped being joyful and started being frightened: “Just who is this God that we’re worshipping?”
Does it sound a bit harsh? Remember – we said the Indiana Jones things where the people die for touching the ark wasn’t real. But the writers didn’t come up with that on their own. They come up with that from this verse. Uzzah is struck down by God!
But it’s not so much for touching the ark.
It’s not so much because he tried to save it.
It isn’t because God had a beef with Uzzah anyway and this was his way to get at him.
v. 7 The Lord’s anger burned…because of Uzzah’s irreverent act.
Irreverent is a key word then. What does it mean?
It means to not take seriously.
It means to not think deeply about.
It means to treat as more ordinary than you ought.
Which is so strange! Because this was such a huge festival. It looks like a big deal. Thousands of men. Hundreds of instruments. A grandiose parade.
But that seems to have been all it was.
What was there to distinguish it from the victory parade of the army?
Or from the parade downtown when the Jerusalem Cubs finally won the World Series after 108 years?
The answer isn’t: CW pg. 15.
It isn’t: a better liturgy.
It isn’t: A long white robe.
It isn’t: organ music.
It isn’t: Chris Tomlin’s greatest hits.
It isn’t: an electric bass.
It isn’t: hands waving in the air like they just don’t care.
It’s the heart.
Jesus said this, “Out of the heart comes…sin.” (Matthew. 15:19)
Out of the heart comes irreverence for God.
Out of the heart comes Uzzah’s sin
Out of the heart includes David’s sin.
It wasn’t necessarily caused by any external forces.
(Pause as the preacher gets down on a knee. Bows his head and appears to be praying.)
That looked really reverent, right?
It wasn’t! (I was thinking about whether Papa John’s or Dominos makes a better pizza!)
Irreverence isn’t something you put on.
It’s something you put out.
That’s huge. It means we can’t just boil it down to – You need a more traditional worship style. Because you might do what I’ve done plenty of times in a service like that – zone out and think about what “Thee” and “Thou” even mean.
It can’t just boil down to – You need more excitement in your worship style…Because you might do what I’ve done plenty of times in services like that – zone out and think about what kind of hair gel the pastor has in his hair.
The biggest pitfall with worship back then and the biggest pitfall with worship right now – is our own, sinful, distracted, irreverent heart.
II. True Worship
That was the problem in this 2 Kings procession. And as David stared sullenly at the limp body of Uzzah. He took a break. The parade dispersed.
The people went home.
The ark went to a nearby home for three months.
And David thought out the situation.
He thought out his own struggles.
He thought about how He hadn’t went to the Bible to learn of how God would have the ark transported.
He learned that the ark was never transported by cart, but by poles – held by four priests.
He learned that the ark was a symbol of God’s holiness and a connection to his power – one to be approached with reverence.
He learned that the ark pointed to God’s mercy – it was covered with a seal – a visual portrayal of God’s mercy. – sealing away God’s holiness and righteous anger against “not holiness”.
He reflect that this mercy seat reflected the truth that God – in mercy – would cover his own sins.
His sins of irreverence.
His sins of transporting the ark irreverently.
And David tried again.
This time there is no mention of thousands of soldiers.
There is no mention of a beautiful, new cart.
There is no mention of an ancient orchestra.
There are priests.
There are sacrifices.
There is David – in a linen ephod – ancient underwear – dancing before the Lord with all his might.
And there in this less grandiose scene.
There in this seemingly irreverent scene.
There is reverence.
And what caused it is this. The house that the ark was being stored at for those 3 months was being blessed by God. God and his mercy was poured out on some guy named Obed-Edom!
David saw God’s mercy.
David remembered God’s mercy to him.
David remembered God’s promise of mercy – that one day – “a Savior will be born – He is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2)
Brothers and sisters – this is the key.
It isn’t more tradition.
It isn’t less tradition.
It’s more God.
True worship comes from the heart focused on God.
Because that heart sees God’s incredible might – that He created mountains and controls hurricanes.
Because that heart sees God’s incredible knowledge – that he created our DNA, antibodies, and white blood cells.
Because that heart sees God’s incredible holiness, that he hates even the slightest of sins.
Because that heart sees God’s incredible love – that he sent his only Son to live perfectly, die innocently, and rise triumphantly for the forgiveness of all our sins.
Because that heart sees God’s mercy – that he says to you and to me. “I forgive you. I forgive you for your irreverence.”
It’s kind like NFL Films. Have you ever seen their team year in reviews? I’m a Packers fan and every time I am feeling down about the way that they play – like this year (5- 6 isn’t too grand), I look up the film on Super Bowl 45. I watch Aaron Rodgers, Clay Matthews and company win. I watch them score touchdowns. I watch the confetti fall from the sky.
And I’m pumped.
It’s the same for you. If you want to get pumped up for God again – you’ve got to review his victory. See him crushing the devil. See him crushing your sin. See him winning eternal life…for you.
III. What now?
(1) Focus on God
I mean really focus. Scripture says this, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and all your strength.” That’s what David did as he danced that ark into Jerusalem. He danced “With all his might.” (v.15)
That’s really important in our age of no focus. We have this thing. It’s called a cell phone. It’d be better named a cellular distractions device.
Has it ever happened to you that you sit down to read God’s Word on your phone and you start reading John 3:16 and you reflect, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him should not perish, but…” Oh look! A New funny cat video!
At Chick-fil-a they give away free sandwiches if you can put your cell phone away for an entire meal and talk to your family.
In his church, God gives away a distraction free, peaceful, reflection on his love if you put your cell phone away for an entire visit with your Dad.
(2) In Variety
I think it’s interesting – this is something that Lutherans – coming from a rigid, proper, German background – don’t do very naturally – David does: He dances for worship!
It doesn’t say what kind of dance that he does.
It doesn’t say if it’s a polka.
It doesn’t say if he waltzes.
It doesn’t say if he whips and nae-naes.
He simply dances from the heart.
1 Corinthians 10:31 says this, Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do—do it all for the glory of God.
It’s the same with worship. Because (and this might be surprising to you), did you know people are different? They like different things. They like different Christmas cookies, different Christmas traditions, and different Christmas eggnogs.
They even like different styles of Christmas worship.
Some like traditional, organ style.
Some like contemporary, worship band style.
Some like R & B, Gospel style.
Here’s the deal – all these forms are valid. The validity comes from the focus. That focus comes from the heart.
Are we focused on God? Good. Then we’re worshipping.
That’s glorious. Because our God shows us that there are so many different ways to worship him.
It’s like watching the preschoolers color a picture. I could demand that they all use the color grey always – always—and always. And throw away any coloring page that had any other color on it.
But I don’t. You probably wouldn’t either. As a result, we see some beautiful creativity. Unhampered creativity.
That’s what Jesus wants from you. A heart worshipping him. A heart worshipping him in a variety of forms. A heart worshipping him in your own, incredible, you way.
This is important. Because we are a church. When we gather together, we worship together. God says we need to worship together for accountability, for encouragement, for prayers, and for fellowship.
But it means we will be worshipping with people who don’t all like the same things.
Be gracious. Because that’s ok.
Remember God’s grace – he lovingly, kindly, patiently waited for us to return to him after we have sinned! That’s amazing.
Practice God’s grace --- lovingly, kindly, patiently endure a worship style that you don’t love (but isn’t even sin), because of His grace.
It’s necessary in our worship. We have kind of a blended worship. We have some traditional, some contemporary. Some services are more one or the other. Soon…the elders and the leadership are working on creating two services – one that highlights traditional styles and one that highlights contemporary styles.
Fight the sinful urge to be angry!
That means if you don’t love organ, you take a breath – remember your God – and belt out that hymn to God’s praise.
That means that if you don’t love guitar, you take a breath – remember your God – and sing the refrain to God’s praise.
Besides – God says to Love your neighbor as yourself. This means a heart focused on God – is going to be thinking of his neighbor, not just himself.
It’s going to be gracious.
(4) Ignore Haters
David had to do that. 16 As the ark of the Lord was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart.
Afterwards, when David came back sweaty and short of breath, she got in his face.
How pathetic! How foolish! What an absolute disgrace you are for the way that you worshipped today.
Ouch! That would hurt my feelings.
Maybe you’ve had something like that said about the way you worship.
Maybe you’ve said something like that about the way someone else worships.
But look at David’s thoughtful response. “It was before the Lord….that I did this. I will celebrate before the Lord. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes…for the Lord.”
David ignored the haters. David focused on God. David worshipped with all his heart.
You ignore the haters. You focus on God. You worship with all your heart.
Like Jimmy. You ever hear of his story? Jimmy had down syndrome. But Jimmy wanted to be a part of his school’s Christmas worship program. He tried really hard, but he couldn’t get the words quite right. The night of program – he struggled. He fidgeted. He fumbled on words. He was (as some people put it) – a distraction.
But while other kids were hanging out afterwards, eating their Christmas candy from the obligatory Christmas candy bag – they couldn’t stop talking about all the toys they were going to get. About how great it would be to get out of church. About how great it would be to stop singing Christmas songs.
But then, they stopped…because it was hard to hear each other.
Jimmy was passing them by, ignoring their looking, refusing to hear their snickers, focusing on his God and singing as loudly as his voice could carry:
“Happy Birthday Jesus! I love you! Happy Birthday.”
Now that’s worship.