Reformed Worship: Taking the Word into the World

Scriptures: Isaiah 49:5-13; Matthew 28:16-20; 1 Peter 4:8-11

[Note: this sermon was preached at First United Presbyterian Church in Morning Sun. It is mostly the same though not identical to the sermon preached at First Presbyterian Church in Wapello, the recording of which was unusable due to technical problems.]

Today we continue our series on Reformed worship. As before, I’d like to note there are four major parts to the Reformed worship, and we have explored three so far – the gathering, the hearing of the Word, and the response to the word.

In the gathering, we clear our hearts, minds, and spirits to prepare to hear the Word of God as we sing songs, confess sins, and reconcile with each other. In the Hearing of the Word, we listen with open hearts for whatever message God may be giving us through a variety of means.

In Responding to the Word, we offer sacrifices of praise, and come together with grateful hearts to celebrate just what God has done for us. Some of those responses may include offering, communion, hymns, personal testimonies, Baptism, and prayers.

Now in this fourth section, sometimes called the Sending, sometimes called Taking of the Word into the world, we begin to turn our focus outwards. We have been fed, and now we need look at the purpose of our calling, the church’s purpose, and Christ’s very commands. We need to consider our commitment to the relationship we have been nurturing here.

Now, we do this as we pray intercessory prayers, sing songs, hear missional testimonies, and receive the charge and benediction. The charge and benediction will be covered more in the wrap-up next Sunday; but today I would like to focus on what the sending, or the Taking the Word into the world is really all about – servant hearts.

You see, we need to have a servant’s heart to successfully take the Word into the world; and we use this fourth part of the worship experience to help us align ourselves in that manner, so that we can “Love the Lord our God with all our hearts, minds, and strength, serving only Him” as we “love our neighbors as ourselves.”

1 Peter, as I noted, was written during a time of persecution. It was a time of struggle for the church. Many people were falling away. Peter, steeped in the Jewish tradition, reminds them, throughout the book, of who the real Suffering Servant was, and of the Servant’s command and mission to reach the whole world with God’s salvation.

Then he tries to encourage them in the passage we read today, as he says, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” Love, as I’ve said often before, particularly in wedding ceremonies, is of the will. Being in love is one thing. That may be passion.

But loving someone is a choice, because sometimes people are very unlovable. But you choose to love them anyway. And that love, as he notes here, covers a multitude of sins, as we choose to forgive, as we choose to continue to be faithful to one another, as we choose to continue to serve and to care for each other, even when we may feel as if we have been wronged.

That’s part of what being a community of faith in Jesus Christ is all about. Reconciliation. As we seek reconciliation with each other and with God, knowing that in Jesus Christ we have achieved the second, and with Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, we can achieve the first.

It also has an assumption, if you’ll note in there. If we need to achieve reconciliation, that means that we’re going to screw up, because we’re human. Sometimes I think we forget about that here in the church. We have this expectation of perfection.

Certainly there are those that are outside the church that feel that way. They say, “I don’t want to come to church because it’s full of hypocrites. They say one thing, but then they don’t manage to do it.” I always like to say, “Well, then, join the club.”

Love. Serving. He notes “to offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. And each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others.” God gives every single believer a gift, sometimes more than one.

You never get all, because if you had all, then you wouldn’t need anybody else. But you have a gift and you’re supposed to use it. Use it or lose it. And you’re supposed to use it, not in a selfish manner, but to serve each other, “faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.”

Then he says, “If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God.” So be careful what you say, but say what you say with a fulness of authority. Christ said in Matthew, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given unto me, and now I give you these commands, to pass these things on.”

One of those things was to baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But the other was to teach all the commandments that Jesus had given. And if you want to teach, you have to have authority. Those of you who have been teachers know. You have to know what you’re talking about. You have to believe in what you’re talking about. Or they won’t believe, they won’t accept, they won’t follow.

And then “if you serve, you should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.” You can’t do it all on your own. God will provide strength for you, for the needs of the day, for that service that He calls.

I go through all this because sometimes, I think that this is probably the most fearful part of the service. It’s fun to come together and have fellowship and be reconciled and feel good, and open our hearts to hear the Word and then to respond, and touch the face of God in Communion and feel the presence of God. But now, now God wants us to do something. And we’re afraid.

We need a correct focus to carry out the mission that God has given us through Jesus Christ; and that takes a heart that is right, a servant’s heart that is full of thankfulness. There’s a song that you may know, if you had kids or grandkids of the right age, and watched The Muppets Christmas Carol. It has a song, once Scrooge’s heart was changed, and I’d like you to listen to it.

Listen here:

Despite the fact that Michael Caine cannot sing, that is a great song. You’ll notice as it started, he talked about having a grateful heart, full of joy, and boy and girl would be nephew and niece to him, and that every morning he’d start with a grateful prayer and a thankful heart, and he’d reach out to others, taking joy in life.

At the end of the song there, in that last verse, he talks about “and every day, may the first thing I do is sing your praise.” It’s very much what our call is, as the church, as we are sent out to serve and to share the love of God.

Part of the purpose of a teacher or worship leader, according to the Scriptures, is the “equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ.” (That comes from Ephesians 4:12.)

Through the hearing of the Word, the strengthening we get in the sacraments, and the encouragement we can get in the Sending, we are prepared for the work God has for us as His servants. We hopefully gain servant’s hearts through our experience of God in worship, and are excited by the opportunity to share that joy and love, and the good news of the Gospel.

Your church has taken a number of opportunities to reach out and serve others and in the community. You have the food pantry that you host here and is led by a member of the church; Koinonia, which as we saw during the annual congregational meeting, has a number of missions that it supports financially. Even this Shrove Tuesday Supper we’re going to have, it says the freewill donations will go out to help those in the community.

It’s wonderful what you do. But there is such a potential for new service, I believe, in this community. God made it clear in Isaiah that He intended His servants to reach out to all parts of the world, in all aspects of life. Despite what the world tells us, that faith should not enter the public square, that’s probably where it’s needed the most, as we reach out and touch others.

There may be difficulties and trials in the world, and we need to be clear in our mission, and committed to our path, or we will not get there. We’ll get turned aside, or turned away. Only that authenticity, that we show and know, will draw others into the mission and the knowledge of Christ Jesus.

When I was in seminary, I had a number of theology classes, as you might imagine. In one of them, there was a test question. Paul Fries was probably my favorite professor there, and he asked this question. He posed a conundrum for us to answer on the test.

He posed this scenario: You’re part of the Presbyterian Board of Missions, the international board. There is a hospital that has been run for decades in one of the South American countries. A coup occurs, and the junta comes to the leaders of that hospital and says, “You can continue your work in the hospital but you have to shut down the chapel, have no more church meetings, no more tracts being handed out, no more praying over anybody.” Because they’re an atheist junta, and they don’t want any of that being shown.

So the question has come back to the mission board, and they are discussing and trying to determine what to do. The question that is: Do we pull up roots, knowing that we’re not going to be able to share the Gospel, and set down somewhere else where there’s a better chance of reaping what’s sown and saving people as they are treated and cared for in the name of Jesus Christ? Or do we shut down the chapel and church services, and trust that our good works as we run the hospital and we care for people will be a sufficient witness unto Christ?

You were supposed to pick a side and then argue that. Well, me being the way I am, I said in my answer, “Neither.” I said I would hold the chapel open and greet each person in the name of Jesus Christ. I’d be willing to forgo things like tracts but I would never stop praying over the people there. If God blessed this endeavor, then it would continue despite everything the junta could do. And if God wanted us elsewhere, then He would make that clear as well. When the government shut down the hospital, then, and only then, when we were forced out, would we move to somewhere else.

I gave my Scriptural and theological reasons for that, in terms of the trust and provision of God. My teacher wrote a nice little note, but he gave me only partial credit. He said, “It’s a well-reasoned answer, but it’s not what I asked.”

But it is, I think, really truly what God intends. We are to be authentic. You can’t be authentic if you’re running the hospital without having the greetings in the name of Jesus Christ and praying over each other and the patients, if that’s why you’re there.

Neither are you truly authentic if you’re willing to let the nations and the governments of the world dictate to you the mission of Jesus Christ. It takes courage and commitment to follow the calling of Christ and to be servants in today’s world. But that is the best way we have of sharing of the Gospel.

You know, today also happens to be Transfiguration Sunday. We did not read the passage because of the sermon series, but Jesus finally shows His deity to three of the disciples. At that same moment, the Father speaks and tells the disciples who Jesus is (His beloved Son) and then tells the disciples to “listen to Him.”

Jesus came to reconcile the world to himself, not just by dying for our sins but also by showing us who God is, and sharing the good news of God’s love and impending reign with the world at that time. Today, as disciples of Christ, we are to show who God is, and to share the good news of God’s love manifested in Jesus Christ, and of God’s impending reign – just as Jesus did.

Strengthened, encouraged, and emboldened by our worship here together, we commit ourselves to carry out the mission Christ gave us as we serve and love one another and our neighbors.

So as we enter the Sending part or the Taking the Word into the world part of our worship service each and every Sunday, may you find it in your hearts to experience that gratitude, that joy, and that commitment to serve the Lord, every-when and everywhere, and give Him praise and glory with all that you do.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.


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