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.