So What Does it Mean – REPENT?
Rev. Jeff Wood
Sept. 27, 2015
Last week we took a core word of the Bible that we speak with mystery but keep at arm’s length, holy. It’s deity plus moral sanitation. We say it in a hush but we don’t like the idea of holier-than-thou or holy roller or the Latin sanctus for holy, sanctimonious. And we moved into the Bible for its central meaning of promise, rest, adventure, and goodness. This life God has called us to and wants to bring us into is not something meriting heel marks on the carpet. Rather it is the good that we all deeply desire. It is a pearl of great price.
Today, we take yet another biblical word for our glossary of faith. It is a word which, perhaps more than any other, is associated with religion. It is another that we probably hold at arm’s length. It is the word, “Repent.” Can’t you see a preacher dressed in black, with an angry gnarly face, hanging over the pulpit, shaking a long finger down at you, and scowling while saying to you, “Repent”?
I remember once meeting a neighbor who when I asked her about coming to church said, “I already feel bad enough about my life. Why should I come and feel ‘more bad’?” Repent falls in with that thought “more bad”– if you have religion, you have “feel bad.”
But there is more to repent, actually most of it is something other than feeling bad. It is quite, quite fascinating. Let’s see.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit then, these words: Mark 1:9-15
At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.  As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.  And a voice came from heaven: "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased."
 At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert,  and he was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.
 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God.  "The time has come," he said. "The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!"
The Word became flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth and from his fullness have we all received grace upon grace.
From the first to the last of the prophets, they preached it – “Repent.” Yes, from Elijah to John the Baptist, they preached it – “Repent.” Jesus sent his 72 disciples out to preach it – “Repent.” After his resurrection and ascension – Peter preached it to 3000 – “Repent.” Paul preached it throughout Asia Minor – “Repent.” And in between it all Jesus preached it, as we see in our text today – “Repent and believe the kingdom of heaven is here.”
Garrison Keillor, the man on the radio with all the stories about his fictitious Lake Woebegone, a town in Minnesota, tells a story of Larry the Sad Boy who twelve different times fell upon the altar rail of his little Lutheran church wailing and confessing and generally feeling miserable. He was Sad Larry because he so often felt sad about being bad. We often think that there is something called feeling bad about doing wrong but when we feel really bad about doing wrong, then that’s called repentance. Is that what Jesus said, “Feel really bad and believe, the kingdom of heaven is near”? I wonder.
Dallas Willard is a favorite author of mine. Repentance is a Greek word meaning change your mind. Dallas Willard nuances it, I think helpfully, to “Reconsider – reconsider specifically your strategy for living.” Reconsider is change your mind. Reconsider your strategy for living. A strategy is a mind product. Change your mind equals reconsider your strategy for living.
We in the Wood family have five boys. I’ve noticed a thing or two about them. One thing I’ve noticed is that there is a big difference between a boy going into junior high school and a boy coming out of junior high school.
A boy going into junior high school wears crumpled t-shirts with jelly stains on them. A boy going into junior high school rolls out of bed and walks out the door without combing his hair. A junior high boy has no idea on earth what deodorant is nor why anyone would need it. The boy who goes into junior high school has a basic orientation of, “Girls, yuck!” However, the boy who comes out of junior high school is wearing a cleaner t-shirt (I didn’t say clean, I said cleaner). He has discovered the mirror and the comb for his hair. He has become a connoisseur of deodorant actually needing “Red Zone not Right Guard, Dadddddd!” The boy who comes out of junior high school has a different orientation of, “Girls, hmmmmn.”
I look at all this and think of the old west. In the old west women were often few and far between. With no prospects of ever having a life with a wife, the men lived like junior high boys. But when there was the prospect of having a life with a wife, the men shaved and put on cologne.
The difference for the men of the old, wild west causing them to go from no cologne to cologne and the difference for the young teen age boy causing him to go from dirty t-shirt to cleaner t-shirt is that one side has no thought of, or no prospect for, life with a gal … and the other one does. When there is no possibility or thought for life with a gal, we live one way. When there is that real possibility, we live another. Now hold this point in mind. We are going to come back to it.
Jesus’ first work really is to proclaim. What does Jesus proclaim? Here’s how Mark summarizes it – boil it down and Mark says that Jesus preached, “Repent and believe, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”
Here’s the simple outline of Jesus … appearing, being baptized, being tested, and trying to get people to deal with the kingdom of heaven at hand. But now look at the background of the Bible. The Hebrew people appear, are baptized by passing through the Red Sea, are tested in the wilderness and they also find themselves dealing with a kingdom at hand. They called it the Promised Land. But it, too, was good news requiring both belief and a strategy. Remember we said that repentance is reconsidering your strategy for living.
Here’s how the matter of a kingdom, belief, and a strategy for living worked out for the Hebrews. The land was right there. They sent in twelve spies to check it out. Ten, basically, couldn’t believe life there in the Promised Land was possible for them and, consequently, could envision no strategy. Their position was, “Avoid.” Two spies, Joshua and Caleb, could believe the land was theirs and strategize how to enter it. Take that God sprung us from Egypt, has travelled with us, has promised us this good place, and will be with us going into it … we’re taking all that into our strategy for living. They were outvoted. But here’s the key: belief impacts thinking and thinking impacts plans and plans impact actions. Ten couldn’t get their arms around the Promised Land being really and truly theirs and therefore said “Avoid.” Two could and said, “Forward.” Repentance is what the two did.
Now let’s go pick up that idea of how men of the wild west and boys of the junior high school change based on the nearness of gals and the prospect of life with one. If they came to believe it was realistic that a gal is near and you could live with one, that belief impacted thinking and action. They said, “Forward.” But if they didn’t believe that, or if they did and there were no changes, then for all practical purposes with respect to gals they would be in retreat.
And, of course, we are talking more than gals, or some piece of ancient territory. Jesus is talking about the kingdom of heaven. He’s talking about us, as we move about this flesh and blood life, entering a spiritual realm – finding life infused with heaven.
Just as you’d walk up to the door of the sanctuary and say, “Look, the sanctuary is at hand,” invisibly we come to a spiritual dimension which is at hand and we may go into it in just the same way we may go into a sanctuary. Or just as when we see a gal and said, “Oh, I could have a relationship with her,” we can say, “Oh, I could have a relationship with him.” If we don’t believe that’s realistically possible, we live one way – in retreat. If we believe it is realistically possible, we live another – advance. If we believe it is realistically possible but don’t change our behaviors to fit the belief, then for all practical purposes we are also in retreat.
A guy I know had parents who said to his sister about pierced ears, “No.” She seemed to want it more than anything. They said, “You’re not old enough.” On and on this went year after year. One day they handed her a wrapped present and she opened it to find earrings, the kind you needed pierced ears for. They said, “The time is here.” Or the kingdom of pierced ears is at hand. If the girl says to her parents, “I don’t believe the time is here and this is all a bunch of baloney,” she retreats. If she says she believes but does nothing, for all practical purposes she retreats. She doesn’t feel sorry in order to get earrings for pierced ears. But she has to receive what is being offered. Her reconsidering a new strategy is to go get her ears pierced.
What do you really, really, really long for? A life with the profound realization that God knows you and will walk with you? The time is here. That promised land is something you can step into. Do you believe that? Do. But also hear that Jesus says this belief means stepping into, strategies for occupying the land, a/k/a changes in your life.
People do this. I ate breakfast with some pastors the other day and one guy was eating oatmeal. Someone asked him why and it was because he had had bypass surgery some years ago. He wanted the promised land of continued life and cardiac health so he reconsidered his strategy of eating. He didn’t just feel bad about how he had eaten. He didn’t just make plans to eat differently. He, most importantly, reconsidered his strategy and implemented it.
Alcoholics reconsider and elevate sobriety and restructure so that on holidays they don’t gather with old friends and drink but gather with others set on sobriety. It means saying good bye to some things and establishing new habits about others.
Kimberly Clark was a famous company that began with paper mills. That was the heart of the company. They made coated paper. Darwin Smith became CEO in 1971 and came to realize that the company, for whatever reason, could not be a great company, could not really compete successfully in the paper business. So he reconsidered Kimberly Clark’s strategy for living. In that world what happened is known as a corporate restructure. They sold what they were known for, the paper mills. They laid off personnel. They made new investments. It was tough. It took courage. He didn’t just go through the motions. He did what it took to implement the strategy. In that world what they did is known as a corporate restructure. It was getting into a new place for a viable future. Another word for what Darwin Smith did with Kimberly Clark is repent. It is to see what is essential to the business and making that the focus. Turning from all else.
The repentance restructure that the Bible talks about that leads to life puts Jesus on top and does whatever he says. So repentance is a strategy for living in the light of the kingdom of heaven but it is a strategy for living that is all about the essentiality of Jesus. Here’s the strategy he bids us adopt: seek first the kingdom of heaven.
The one we call the rich, young ruler was analyzing his strategy for living with the thought of ‘what if you could live forever and everyone didn’t just automatically go there?’ He was strategizing on what he should do. Jesus said there was one thing in his life that was ahead of seeking the kingdom and seeking the kingdom must be first. Sothe man sought but he didn’t repent.
I talked to two men last night that are dying. They are on hospice. I asked one what he was thinking of his life. He was quiet. I was so hoping he wasn’t going to say, “I lived with the wrong strategy of life.” So many do – I lived for career and now it’s over and my marriage is gone and …. So many can figure out a strategy for the career advancement, for their pension, for how they’ll manage their health care and estate, for … but what is the plan for the most important of all – God?
Fortunately, this man said, “I had a good strategy living to help others. It’s the way to go.” And he had gotten that from a life of faith built on Jesus Christ.
There really is a kingdom and a king. How do you want to live in the light of it truly being accessible to you? What do you need to rethink? Change?
We can have 99 plans that include lots of going to church and reading the Bible even. But if there is not plain ol’ giving your heart to Jesus … to do whatever he wants, then we have not yet repentance.
I was thinking that with that junior high boy, that if he had a plan that involved clean t-shirts and cologne and all the rest, that would be good, very good. It really will help. He might even win the girl. But if he just works his plan and never just gives her his heart, he really hasn’t figured it out.
How about you today? Want a minute to think about surrender to Jesus … to restructuring your life about him as the most important bottom line ever, entering his kingdom as the most important thing ever? I say to you and to me, “Yes, let’s pray and repent.”
If you would like to talk with someone about this message or your spiritual life, or to have someone pray with you, the pastors and elders of the church would welcome your call.
PLEASE, NOT A HOLY LIFE
Pastor Jeff Wood
Sept. 20, 2015
I know a man who was hired by a company right out of college. After a few years he was called into the office of his supervisor’s supervisor. There he was asked if he would do an MBA on the company’s dime. But that was not all. After the degree the idea was that he would go to one company plant in this one state. After eighteen months, another plant in another state. Following these two stints, be VP at one small division of the company. Then VP of the medium division. As he walked out of that office he realized he hadn’t been saved from unemployment with this business but he had been selected to a place and a role. The passage we read today says we were not just saved but were selected to a place and a role. It bears the name holy, a holy life. We pray.
Paul is writing to Timothy from prison. These are perhaps his last recorded words before dying. So they are flavored with that kind of heart.
II Tim. 1:1, 7-12. 1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, in keeping with the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus, 2 To Timothy, my dear son: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. 3 I thank God, whom I serve, as my ancestors did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. 4 Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy. 5 I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also. 6 For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. 7 For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. 8 So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. 9 He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 11 And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. 12 That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.
And vs. 8, there are different translations but the message gets to us if we read, ‘A holy God has issued to us a holy call to a holy life.
I know I am supposed to, because I’m a church guy, be excited about a holy life. But the truth be told, I don’t know that a holy life sounds that exciting … at least, to me. It’s in league with the boy who said he didn’t want to go to heaven. Why? It’s eternal and that means long therefore heaven was sounding to him like a, really, really long church service. I get that. I love you and I love church but a kajillion years of 10 am to 11 am on Sunday morning?? No, I don’t think so. Holiness sometimes come to me like that.
If we did a man on the street interview over at Country Ham and Eggs or at the Sebastian High School and asked for quick word associations with “holy,” I’m guessing we’d get, “Holy cow!” But eventually someone would say, “Holier than thou,” or moralistic. This makes the case that we have appetites for chicken wings, fast cars, happy families, and European vacations, … but holiness?
What has happened to our sense about holiness is not unlike what has happened in san Antonio where I used to live. The town grew up around the Spanish mission on the San Antonio River that we know as the Alamo. There is it is today in downtown. We think of downtown as the center but actually the way the city has grown and developed, lopsidedly to the north, the true geographic center today is miles north of downtown. There’s been a shift. Words and their meanings do the same. But I want to go back to origins of the word holy in the Bible so we can capture its goodness and not be leery of a holy life, the one we are made for and called to by God.
We’re going to zero in on four words or phrases in this passage and the first is promise. Right at the beginning of our passage we read of “the promise of the life that is in Christ Jesus.” The life we are called to is a promising life. A promising dinner is not a sticky clump of a few grains of cold rice. It’s thick chili with sharp cheese and onions along with hot cornbread covered with real butter. We’re talking sumptuous.
The great paradigm of saving and calling in the Bible is in Exodus. God saves the Hebrew people from slavery and calls them out Egypt … calling them out of slavery and into freedom (mark that word) in the _____ land. What kind of land? the promised land. Joshua and Caleb spy it out and say of it what? That it is – boring and puritanical? No, a land flowing with milk and honey. That sounds full (flowing) and almost sensuous.
I can still remember Dr. Gerry Hawthorne, my first Greek professor, there on the 2nd floor of Blanchard Hall. He could give the best 60 second devotional. One day he talked about how he loved the word, “Yes.” He loved hearing his girlfriend say yes to his proposal of marriage, his wife say yes that they were pregnant, his examiners say yes to his dissertation’s success, his interviewers say yes to him having a job at the college. And, then, he said, “Guess what? I Corinthians 1:20, all the promises of God are yes in Christ Jesus.” Whatever else holy is it is wholly promising.
The next word or phrase is set apart. In verse 8 and 9 the actual word “holy” is used. Holy at its root actually means separate like a separate category. And the verb separate means to cut. Think of It as in “a cut above.” A fine garment we say is a cut above the rest. With the butcher we talk about a fine cut. It means different, special. We’re called to something that is a cut above.
Here’s a way to think of it. Vacations are not ordinary days they are special or a cut above. Holidays … holy days are not same ol, same ol, … they are special. One day that is said to be holy is the Sabbath as in keep the Sabbath for it is holy. Holy in what sense? The Sabbath is patterned after God resting on the 7th day having just made the world. He saw it was good, good, good, good, … good. Then he finished and he rested. Was he tired? No. Did he not like working? Seems like he did like it. But if you have been building a boat for six days and finally finish it, what do you do on the 7th – rest in the sense of napping? No, you stop working on it and go out and play with it! Holy is a cut above and delightful.
Some Hebrew and Greek dictionaries define holy and what I have been saying as “awesome.” Like, “This is awesome.” The seraphs in the Bible, these flying creatures, full of eyes, around God’s throne, … sing forever, “Holy, Holy, Holy.” The Bible says something twice for emphasis as in “Verily, verily.” Here it is thrice, “Holy, Holy, Holy.” Have you ever heard someone say, “I’m all ears”? It means they are focused and ready to listen. The seraphs are literally all eyes. All these eyes, many of them, big and full and they cannot get their fill, enough. They are saying of the one who is holy – “Awesome, awesome, awesome.” And implied is “More, more, more.” Whatever else holy is it is wholly a cut above and awesome where we want more.
Next word – “unearned.” Vs. 9 and 10. “… a holy life -- not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.” Holiness involves our decisions but it is not something we earn or achieve. If we do work at it and earn it and achieve it at some successful level, do you know what happens? We end up holier-than-thou. Sanctus is Latin for holy. It is related to sanctimonious. If you try and try and try and try to be holy … and you succeed, you end up being sanctimonious.
If this holiness was gotten by trying, we would have to keep trying, trying, and trying to keep it going. If we don’t succeed, our life is worried. How am I doing? How am I going to get it? Am I going to lose it? Redouble your efforts. And whether you are successful or not, you are exhausted. You end up sanctimonious or sorry, sanctimonious or sucking wind. But this called-to-life isn’t gotten by effort.
Somebody gave me a Kindle once. It was so cool. I could have saved for one. I could have bought one. I could have bartered for one. I could have performed for one. But one of the delights about it, one of the surprises about it, one of the gifts about it … was that I didn’t save, exert, barter, or perform for it. One of the gifts about it that makes it so special is that it was a gift. A paycheck is great. But I earned it. A gift is awesome. Whatever else holy is it is wholly unearned, wholly gift.
The final word is “unending.” Vs. 10. “Jesus who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” I do have an appetite for living forever. I hate us getting old. I hate us having a hard time getting out. I hate us moving away to be nearer to family because it is difficult to manage. I hate saying good bye to loved ones at a funeral.
The Bible says the wages of sin is death. But the gift of God is eternal life. We’ve just talked about wages and gifts. And what’s the opposite of sin? Holy. What is the opposite of death? Life. So the wages of sin is death but the gift of God or the gift of holiness is life.
CS Lewis put is so superbly when in his Chronicles of Narnia stories he spoke of Narnia as a land which had been, under the white witch’s rule, always winter and never Christmas. This life, forever life, good life … just out of reach. Always winter, never Christmas. Until Christ comes. Then it is CHRISTmas. On that day we tuck our children into bed and they are happy but a little sad it is over. What do we say? All good things must come to an end. Here is the good news in Jesus Christ – the truly good things do not come to an end ever. Always Christmas in Christ. The holy life, whatever else it is, is wholly that, wholly Christmas, wholly unending.
Scott Wesley Brown has a song, “Please don’t send me to Africa, I don’t think I have what it takes. I’m a man and not a Tarzan. I don’t like lions or tigers or snakes.” That’s a call to be missionary that he doesn’t want. We do not need to sing any like song about the call to holiness. It isn’t like caster oil good for you. It is a call to a promising life, an awesome life, a gift full life, an unending life.
My friend who was hired by the company out of college. Did go on and do all that he and the company laid out for him. He didn’t stop at VP however. Today he is the president and CEO of Hon Industries. What a destiny! And guess what, believer, eye has not seen or ear heard what God has prepared for those who love him!
If you would like to talk with someone about this message or your spiritual life, or to have someone pray with you, the pastors and elders of the church would welcome your call.
The Heart of Worship is the Heart
Pastor Jeff Wood
First Presbyterian, Sebastian
Sept. 13, 2015
I received a wedding announcement in 1995 from Ed Fortenberry and his bride-to-be, Norma. It invited me to the wedding in Brazil. There was to be an afterward reception also in Oakland, CA. As I was reading the announcement I got the words, I got the message, but I didn’t get “it.” I didn’t get “it” because I had no idea who Ed or Norma were. Down at the signature at the bottom of the invite, in parenthesis, was this message: “In 1975 at Honey Rock Camp you were my counselor and I said that if I ever got married, I would invite you to the wedding and well, a promise is a promise!” Pretty neat, huh?
I realized that my experience reading the announcement is like many of our experiences with church and with worship in particular. We get the words that man and woman’s chief end is to know God and enjoy him forever. We get the words that central to church life is worship. We get the words about worship being “worth” plus “ship” or being into something really worth it. But do we get “it”? We get perhaps sit down, stand up, sing, pray, pass the plate, … but do we get “it” as in the guts of worship?
Today I want to take us to a passage that helps us get “it” with respect to worship. If we are going to do it, may as well get “it” so that it is strong and good.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, these words: Luke 7:36-50
Now one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went to the Pharisee's house and reclined at the table.  When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee's house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume,  and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.
 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is--that she is a sinner."
 Jesus answered him, "Simon, I have something to tell you."
"Tell me, teacher," he said.
 "Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty.  Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?"
 Simon replied, "I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled."
"You have judged correctly," Jesus said.
 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair.  You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet.  You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet.  Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven--for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little."
 Then Jesus said to her, "Your sins are forgiven."
 The other guests began to say among themselves, "Who is this who even forgives sins?"
 Jesus said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace."
The Word became flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth; and from his fullness have we all received, grace upon grace.
Honey Rock Camp got me to thinking about a pretty significant incident that happened to me there. It involved the director of this mega camp in the Northwoods of Wisconsin. We called him Bionic Buddy because his bio-motors always ran fast. I remember Bionic Buddy on cliff tops of the Porcupine Mountains with his navy blue stocking cap on those fall rock climbing days. I remember Bionic Buddy behind the wheel of the large green supply trucks. I remember Bionic Buddy in front of the class lecturing. There was a relentless to him and he was always demanding we live as stewards and caretakers of the camp and its values.
Buddy was part of a memory I will never forget. One particular trip I led was through the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. Moving from lake to lake was mostly a matter of portaging, hauling canoes overland down a trail to the next lake. On one occasion we had two lakes chained together by a whitewater river.
I wanted to let the group shoot the short stretch of rapids for a bit. I studied the water, decided to run it first, and then we’d know about it for them to run safely. The whitewater was fun, especially after the flat water of the lakes, and all was going exhilaratingly well until the very last rock and then something happened. The fella in the bow, his name was Gator, leaned too hard and in we went.
Once in, I was astounded at how deep and ferocious the water was. From that moment on at a cellular level I have a very sober respect for water’s power and how we might misjudge it. I would covet for all of us, something similar with God … an experience with him such that at a cellular level we would have a sober respect for his otherness and power.
Going into the water shouldn’t have been a problem except we broadsided the canoe on the rock with the gunnels and thwarts upstream (ie, the open part of the canoe was capturing all the force of the river in it). In an instant that canoe was wrapped like a horseshoe around the rock.
All I could think of was our rule about each leader being personally responsible for camp gear. All I could think of was my $50/week salary and how the whole summer earnings had just instantly disappeared in replacing a camp canoe. I carried the weight of that for many a day and then came the moment back in camp headquarters when I met Bionic Buddy for equipment inventory. “Buddy, I lost a canoe. Wrecked it. I’ll pay for it somehow.” He looked me in the eye and said, “It’s okay, I’ll take care of it. I can handle it better than you. Now get out of here.” I’m grateful to Bionic Buddy to this day. He took care of my debt. Grateful to this day. When it comes to worship we are talking about power, about personal regard, about being with someone who absorbed a debt we couldn’t handle.
Let me tell you another story from that era of my life. It involves a young man named Jamie. Jamie was a prodigy. I had seen him play the piano in a college which among its many departments housed one of the finest conservatories of music in the Midwest. I had seen him play that piano before an audience of 2500 people and he had played it such that the instant the final note went silent, the entire assembly arose as one in fevered applause. I was privileged to have Jamie as a friend. I don’t remember how we met and the story I want to tell you about him really doesn’t have much of a plot line to it. Jamie lived in the home of the college’s German professor. This elderly woman had a grand piano and Jamie could practice there without distraction for hours on end. This story simply brings up the memory of Jamie inviting six or eight of us over. The wonderful living room was a welcome change to the dormitory rooms. Real furniture. Real lighting. Real plates. And we sat enjoying coffee and cookies while Jamie played and played. Oh, the pleasure at having this good company of this good friend in this good setting. I was awed at his awesome ability and I was awed at this awesome friendship and hospitality. This is another dimension of worship – awe, ability, friendship, hospitality. I am moved in my heart when I think of these things and the truth is that worship is a matter of the heart.
The passage we read this morning obviously has a lot of heart in it. It’s about worship and the heart of worship is the heart. This woman’s heart knows the personal connection, the forgiveness of debt, the awe of his love, the hospitality of his touch … which I have just been talking about. Her heart also tells us more about worship. Picture a heart with its four ventricles. Her heart’s four chambers tell us this.
First, there is the chamber of a heart prepared for worship. She came with an alabaster jar of perfume. It’s very important to realize that she does not show up with this perfume in order to buy Jesus’ forgiveness but she shows up with this perfume to thank him for the forgiveness he has already given. Jesus says of her to Simon, ‘She loves greatly because her many sins have been forgiven.’ But the thankfulness has generated the thought, “How can I show my thankfulness?” What token can I bring? She’s given it some thought.
Gals, let me ask you, “On your anniversary do you like it when your guy shows some forethought about how you’re going to celebrate and what he is giving you or do you prefer it to be just thrown together and a sort of afterthought?” You don’t need to answer. I think I know. And, you know, the quality of that experience generally is not only deeper for the wife but for the husband as well. Exodus 23:15 has these words, “No one is to appear before me empty-handed.” That means giving it some thought, doing some preparation. Maybe you could think about kneeling beside your bed each Saturday night and saying, “Lord, prepare my heart for worship through the night.” And if you want to add, “Set the preacher on fire tomorrow,” that’d be good too.
Second, there is the chamber of a heart submissive for worship. Look at her posture – she stoops to his feet. She is behind him. Look at her actions – she is wiping his feet. She wasn’t there to criticize or to analyze or to say, “Jesus, you’re lucky I’m here” (as we human beings sometimes do). Hers was a submissive, surrendered, sacrificing place. She is pouring out this perfume. It came in a stone jar and when you broke it open and that was that. You used it. The dollar value of this was discussed at another point by Judas. Very expensive. Submission, surrender, sacrifice. You know that sacrifice and sacred go together? When you go to a battlefield where there was a great sacrifice of life, we speak of that as hallowed ground. Sacrifice and sacred. David said, ‘Far be it to me to sacrifice what has cost me nothing.” (2 Sam. 24:24)
What’s your heart’s posture as you come into worship? Let’s check our egos at the door. Let’s ask for a love that wants to give gifts to God that come from way down inside of us.
Third, see the chamber of her heart expressive in worship. She literally let her hair down. We say that someone for the idea of being honest, being yourself. She kissed Jesus’ feet. She wept. That’s expressive. Let me ask the guys this time. “Guys, do you want your gals cool, calm, and collected with respect to you all the time? Do you want her playing her cards close to the chest?” You don’t need to answer that one either. I think I know. You want a sense of really being loved and having a real person with you, not one who is aloof or putting on airs. When there is mind and emotions, not just voice but facial expressions, touch.
David worshipped once before the ark … with exuberance. He danced. He did it in casual clothes. (1 Chron. 15:27ff) This woman is doing the same with tears and kisses. People looked askance at David for doing this. Stay dignified or “let’s all keep our self-respect and ego’s intact.” But this is a place for humility and authenticity. Decorum is appropriate but so is letting your hair down. By the way this made this woman, like David, subject to a critical eye. This time it was the critical eye of Simon.
If you get into believing you are in the presence of God in worship, if you get into believing that he wants your devotion, if you get into giving it to him in wholehearted ways, it won’t surprise me if you’re going to find someone being a little critical. But guess what?? She wasn’t there, the woman wasn’t there, for Simon. She was there for Jesus.
Find a way each week to be yourself in your heart before God, to surrender, to submit.
Finally, see the chamber of her heart expectant for God. This is really the hardest for me to prove but I have hard time seeing this woman come into Jesus presence and not believe that she expected Jesus to notice her, to touch her back, to say something to her (all of which he indeed did). Would she really come thinking, “He’ll just keep on with his business with party and all”? No. Do you come to worship expectant that the living God is speaking? Someone once said that even a broken clock is right twice a day. So even if the church is off kilter, the service is off kilter, even in the most broken of services, there is something at least twice that can be for us.
Or if I ask you to go over to my office and look around, you go in there one way. If I ask you to go over to my office and look around for the $100 bill I put in there for you, you go in there another way, don’t you? There is something for you with Jesus in the act and experience of worship. The Bible says that without faith it is impossible to please him. Do you have faith that he wants to touch you, speak to you? The Bible says that we must believe that he rewards those who seek him. (Heb. 11:6)
Do you remember an old TV commercial for Starkist tuna with Charlie the tuna with good taste. He was always trying to impress Starkist with his savoir faire and his sophistication. And they would say to him, “Sorry, Charlie, Starkist isn’t looking for tuna with good taste but for tuna that tastes good.” In terms of God and us, the worship that tastes good has to do with the heart – personal, thankful, awed, prepared, submitted, expressive, expectant. Let’s ask God to work in our hearts and receive his heart and to make our hearts great with worship.
If you would like to talk with someone about this message or your spiritual life, or to have someone pray with you, the pastors and elders of the church would welcome your call.
Pastor Jeff Wood has been a pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Sebastian since 2014.