Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

Text: Isaiah 40:28-31
Don't you know? Haven't you heard? The Lord is the everlasting God; he created all the world. He never grows tired or weary. No one understands his thoughts. He strengthens those who are weak and tired. Even those who are young grow weak; young people can fall exhausted. But those who trust in the Lord for help will find their strength renewed. They will rise on wings like eagles; they will run and not get weary; they will walk and not grow weak.

The WOW factor

All around the world today people will gather together in buildings like this one.
Some arrive in formal clothes; others in more casual attire.
Some arrive in their Monaros and Jags, others in smoking rust buckets, others by taxi; still others in wheelchairs.
Some meet in high arched cathedrals, some in humble timber buildings, others secretly in a house.
Some attend churches where there is a huge crowd; others attend gatherings with just few people present.
Some arrive to help prepare for the service; some to lead in the service in some way; others to participate as one of the congregation.
Some have arrived to the sound of an organ playing softly; others have entered churches where a music group is strumming out hand clapping songs.
Some are attending services where a minister leads the service; others where lay people will lead the worship.

In spite of all this variety within the church of God today, people have assembled for one reason Ė to worship God.

In some places the organist will play the hymns too slowly; in others the music is too loud.
In some places the preacher will be dull and dry and long winded; in others a drama will present a powerful message.
In some places people will feel uncomfortable with certain things in the service; in other places people wonít care as long as they meet God and experience his love and help.
Today some people will enjoy meeting up with their fellow Christians, others will sit alone and leave straight after the service.
Around the world all these things, and more, are happening as people come to worship, (Iím sure many of these things happened here this morning) but in spite of the circumstances and the differences from one congregation to the other, they have come for one reason only Ė to worship God.

The first thing we ought to answer is the question, "Why do we worship? Why do we turn up at this church Sunday after Sunday?" I have heard a lot excuses why people donít attend worship - "Iím too busy", "Itís the only day I can sleep in", or "I had a bad experience with a church so I donít go anymore" and of course the classic, "There are too many hypocrites". But what are the reasons people go to worship when their neighbours are packing up their boat for a day at the beach?

The word "worship" comes from an old English word "worthship", meaning that God is worthy; he deserves our praise. Worship is our response to all that God is and all that he says and does. When we really believe God deserves our worship, nothing will keep us away from church. Itís simply a matter of priorities.

The reading from Isaiah points out clearly that God is worth our praise.

Have you not heard how the world began? It was made by the one who sits on his throne above the earth and beyond the skyÖ. To whom can the holy God be compared? Is there anyone else like him? Look up at the sky! Who created the stars you see?
Haven't you heard? The Lord is the everlasting God; he created all the world. He never grows tired or weary. Ö He strengthens those who are weak and tired. Ö Those who trust in the Lord for help will find their strength renewed. They will rise on wings like eagles; they will run and not get weary; they will walk and not grow weak. (Isaiah 40:21-29).

The writer is telling us what kind of God we have. He is trying to put into a few human words something that is beyond human words to describe. The paper on Thursday had an article entitled "Men are from Mars, after all". It talked about the origins of life on earth. A physicist and astrobiologist at Macquarie University, Sydney, has written a book that claims that the most likely place that life on earth could have come is from Mars. It is claimed that meteorites from Mars have crashed on earth and brought life to this planet.

Get real! Besides the fact that life cannot survive hurtling through space and into our atmosphere (tragically proven this past week), what about the fact that life comes from God. This is documented to a far greater degree with far greater accuracy than any theory about Martian meteorites. God is our maker, he is the one who cares for us, supports us in the ups and downs of life. As Isaiah said, "He strengthens those who are weak and tired. Ö Those who trust in the Lord for help will find their strength renewed." When grief, pain, confusion, doubt and heartache cause us no end of suffering, God is our helper and strength who lifts us up "on wings like eagles" above the crises and tragedies that come our way.

God is worth our worship because of what he does for us so generously and lovingly. We come here because we want to thank and praise the One who has done so much for us without even being asked. We come here because we know that here we can find the help and comfort we need after the events in our lives this past week. We desire the closeness of God in this place and to be reassured that we are God's dearly loved children and that his power and love are available to help us in our times of need.

God is worth our worship because of what he has done for us through his Son, Jesus. Even though we can only grasp in such a small way what it meant for God to come to earth and become one of us, to let himself be humiliated, to suffer and die at the hands of wicked people, we understand just enough to realise that God's love for us is immeasurable. He has gone to all this effort to destroy the one thing that would prevent us from enjoying eternal life. He paid the price for our sin and made us clean and holy in his sight.

God is worth our worship because he has brought us into his family through baptism. He has given us his Holy Spirit to build up our faith and guide us in our walk through life. At Holy Communion he assures us again that our sins are forgiven and that his love for us is still as strong as ever. We havenít deserved such wonderful treatment.

What a wonderful God we have! When we come to worship, we come with eyes wide open in amazement for all that has done for us and will do for us when we need it the most.

There is something of the WOW here.
When an Olympic gymnast tumbles and leaps to impossible heights and with amazing speed, we say WOW.
When we are standing at a lookout and gaze at the spectacular view, this is a WOW moment.
When we look at the tiniest newborn baby Ė the perfect response is WOW.
When we are amazed at the love that our spouse or child has for us in spite of our failings Ė we express our joy with WOW.
When a friend comforts us and sticks by us even though we were depressed and really obnoxious, with amazement we say WOW.

WOW! What a wonderful God and Saviour! Worship is coming here to be strengthened, nurtured and reassured by God. Worship is coming here to express that WOW in the best way that we know how. This kind of worship comes from the heart. Thatís where worship starts and thatís where real worship takes place.

Whether the organ is used or guitars and drums, what style of worship is more correct, whether lay people can lead in worship or not, whether people should clap to the music or not Ė none of these are the central issues in worship. Worship is first and foremost a thing of the heart. Jesus made this point with the woman at the well when she asked which is the right place to worship Ė Mt Gerizim or Jerusalem. The place isnít important, Jesus answered. What is important is worshipping in spirit and in truth Ė worshipping with sincerity and genuineness (John 4:23).
Confessing our sin in spirit and truth.
Hearing his Word in spirit and truth with open hearts and minds.
Praying, praising and thanking in spirit and truth with unbounded joy.
Thatís what God is looking for in our worship. Not simply going through the motions, singing the words, saying the prayers, but to do this with what I call the WOW factor Ė WOW what a fantastic God we have.

(In fact, I believe that if we were able to worship in spirit and truth, come with a deep love for our brothers and sisters in God's family and a heart felt WOW for the God who loves us then most, if not all, of the dissension about styles of worship would fall away.)

There can be no doubt about the awe and wonder of the Psalmists when they called people to sincere and genuine worship. WOW what a great and wonderful God we have, "Clap your hands for joy, all peoples! Praise God with loud songs!" (Ps 147:1)

WOW God is a great God. "Give thanks to the Lord with harps, sing to him with stringed instruments. Sing a new song to him, play the harp with skill, and shout for joy!" (Ps 34:2-3).

I know that there have been far too many times when I have spoken the liturgy or sang the songs in a routine way. I have not worshipped in spirit and truth. I would guess that I am not alone in this. There are times when the wonder and the grace of God have not led us to be enthusiastic and sincere in our worship. The whole thing is a big yawn and we canít wait for the last "Amen". At times we get upset about the music, the style of service, or whatever it is we get upset about, that we lose all perspective and we no longer worship God because of his goodness to us. The WOW has vanished Ė something has come between God and us - and we are just mouthing the words. This happens to me just as Iím sure it happens to you.

But hey, thatís why we are here. Even our poor worship and loss of appreciation for everything that God does for us can be forgiven through Jesus our Saviour. We are part of a family in which the members care for one another and so we need to make it our responsibility to encourage one another to worship in spirit and in truth. We need to think broader than just our own personal needs but to help each other rejoice in the forgiveness of our sins and the wonder of such a great God.

The more we worship God in spirit and in truth, the more we will say with appreciation, "WOW we do have a tremendous God".

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
9th February, 2003

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Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from Good News Bible: Today's English Version (TEV), revised edition, © American Bible Society 1966, 1971, 1976, 1992, 1994, inclusive language with Australian usage text, 1994 
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