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For years the Gallup Research Organization has taken a poll which asks people if they attended church last Sunday. The results of this poll have consistently found that roughly 40% of Americans show up in church on any given Sunday. That's around 118 million people filing into pews across our country every Sunday.
No doubt they don't all come for the same reason. Some come out of simple curiosity. Some are brought, by friends or by their parents. Some are attracted by a special event. Some want to skip, but know they'll feel guilty, so they come anyway. Some are responsible for part of the service. Others are struggling with a particular problem or burden, and come seeking relief. Some come out of habit, it's just what they do. Others come because of some blessing that has fallen into their life, a blessing which they wish to thank God for. Still others come to simply hear and learn from the Word of God.
There may not be as many reasons as there are people, but I think we can agree that people come to church for a lot of different reasons.
Why did you come to church today?
Christians may find themselves coming to CHURCH on Sunday for a variety of reasons. But when Christians come to WORSHIP, there is only ONE reason. Our sermon reading for today reveals that "Christ is the reason why we worship."
Colossians 3:15-17 (ESV)
15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
This reading comes from Paul's letter to the Colossian Christians. If you turn back to the beginning of this letter you'll find Paul greeting his fellow Christians like this. He writes...
"1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,
2 To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father" (Colossians 1:1-2 ESV).
Paul makes it a point to say, "Grace to you and peace from God our Father". Christians need to be reminded that we have peace with God through Christ Jesus. It's not that we don't KNOW this, but we forget it. We are distracted by the worries of this life and often let our troubles crowd in and take away our peace.
The apostle Peter experienced this on the sea of Galilee. You remember the story of Jesus walking on the water. The disciples were stuck in a storm out on the sea of Galilee, and Jesus came to them, walking on the water. At first they were scared that He was a ghost until Jesus said, "Don't be afraid, it's me!" Then Peter replied, "Lord, if it's you, tell me to come to you on the water". And Jesus said, "Come."
At first Peter was fine. He stepped, one foot after the other on the surface of the waves. What an experience! But after a moment his attention fixed on the rough waves and the howling wind. His peace was gone, and he began to sink into the water.
In the same way, when Christians take their eyes off Christ and focus instead on the problems around us, our peace evaporates. Instead Paul encourages us to "let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts".
The "peace of Christ" is the simple truth that because of Jesus, we are destined for heaven. He took all our faults and failings and ugly sins on His own back and He took them to the cross. And through His suffering and death our record of evil has been wiped clean. Connected to Christ by faith, we are lifted up out of the sea of our own sins. We are rescued by Christ's own hand.
From Christ comes our peace. And from this peace springs our worship.
Now, we can worship God alone, and we do in our own prayers and in other ways. But Christ has not called Christians to be alone in their lives. He has called us to be united to Him, and united to one another. In verse 15 of our sermon reading, Paul writes, "you were called in one body".
In Romans Paul wrote...
"4 For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others" (Romans 12:4-5 NIV).
As people who have individually experienced the forgiveness of God in Christ, we are joined to each other in His. We are one body, with Christ as our head. And so, because we are one in Christ, we then worship together as one.
The Scriptures are full of examples of Christians gathering TOGETHER to worship God. In the Old Testament they went to the Temple. Jesus and company routinely went to synagogues. Most of the New Testament letters were written with the express purpose of being read to groups of Christ followers who were meeting in different cities throughout the empire of Rome.
In the book of Hebrews God tells Christians not to stop meeting together as some do. There it says...
"24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching" (Hebrews 10:24-25 NIV).
All this meeting together springs from the fact that in Christ we have peace with God. And one of the main purposes of this meeting together is to maintain our own faith connection to Christ and to grow in Christian maturity.
In verse 16 of our sermon reading, Paul writes,
"16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God" (Colossians 3:16 ESV).
We have a tendency to compartmentalize things. We think of worship as what we do here in the sanctuary. But of course, when children learn Bible stories in Sunday School, that too is worship. When adults study the Scriptures together in Bible Class, that too is worship. When Christians talk to each other, trading thoughts about God's word and insights learned from the Bible, that too is worship. And all of this worship leads to spiritual maturity.
In order to be spiritually mature, we need to be in God's Word frequently. Learning, teaching, being corrected by our fellow Christians as the Spirit of Christ directs them to correct us. Like the Scripture says, we start with the "milk" teachings, the simple Gospel of Christ and other easy teachings. But then we build on these milk teachings. We add the "meatier" teachings of the Bible. Things we need to chew on a bit to understand and benefit from. This is one of the reasons why we gather in church to worship - so that God will build us up and make us stronger in the faith, more mature followers of Christ.
But our worship is not all God serving us with His wisdom. Part of worship is also us glorifying God because of what Christ has done for us.
After studying through the book of Psalms, a man by the name of Bill Gothard said that he believes that David memorized the word of God, then personalized it and gave it back to God in the Psalms. This is what we do when we sing isn't it? Aren't our psalms and hymns and spiritual songs just offering back to God what He has already given to us in the Scriptures? I think so.
It's kinda like taking a favorite photo of a loved one and framing it to hang on the wall. The photo remains the same, but we focus people's attention on it with what's around it.
Or think of worship like this; it is like the work of jeweler who takes a perfectly cut diamond and sets it in a golden filigreed ring. The diamond is still the diamond, but it's lifted up to show off it's sparkle.
These two comparisons bring out how important it is to keep Christ as the center of our church services. How impressive would a house be if it was filled with beautiful, but empty frames? How striking would an expensive wedding ring be if you pried out the diamond?
How special would Christmas be without the baby in the manger? Or Easter without the risen Christ? How full of peace would the Bible be without the Savior who makes us His own through His blood, sweat and tears?
No, Christ our Savior must remain the heart of our worship, or our worship will be empty.
Now, I said earlier that worship doesn't just happen in this room. It's also happening in all the other places where we gather together around God's Word. But Paul takes it a step further. In verse 17 Paul says...
"And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him" (Colossians 3:17 ESV).
Can we really do everything in the name of Christ? Can you change your oil, in the name of Christ? Can you cook supper, in the name of Christ? Can you drive to work, in the name of Christ? Perhaps it's the formal sound of that phrase that makes this seem odd to us. "In the name of Christ" just means "with reference to Christ". And yes, we can do these things in a way that brings honor to our Savior.
Martin Luther once said that a parent washing dishes could be an act of worship. And if you think about it, it makes sense. Part of parental responsibility is keeping things clean right. And parental responsibility is placed on parents by God. So, fulfilling that task in a simple cheerful way IS honoring God by taking care of the responsibility He gave. It is worship.
The apostle Peter wrote...
" 9 Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: 11 whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen" (1 Peter 4:9-11 ESV).
Because of Christ, you and I have been given new life. Eternal life in heaven, and the ability to live and love for God in this life. Like Paul wrote...
"...he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again" (2 Corinthians 5:15 NIV).
At the beginning of our meditation today, I asked "Why did you come to church today?" How did you reply in your mind?
If your answer was less than noble, ask God for forgiveness. If your answer was the right one, ask God for humility. And no matter why you find yourself IN CHURCH on Sunday, take care to turn your hearts and minds to Christ. Let the peace that His cross gives lead you into the presence of the holy God. Let the gift of His forgiveness lift you into the land of true worship. Teach and be taught, according to God's Word. Sing with heart and mouth to the author of your existence and author of your salvation. And when this hour or two of worship ends, take the spirit of worship with you. After all, your Savior doesn't go back to heaven after church ends. Your salvation doesn't cease to be when the final "amen" is sung. Take worship with you. Take Christ with you. He is the reason why we worship.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.