Last Sunday for communion I shared about freedom and what that means to us as Christians. I was inspired after talking with one of my friends who was concerned about the lack of "true worship" in our church and reminded me that God freed the Israelites from Egypt specifically so that they could worship him. So freedom and worship go hand in hand. The wheels in my head started turning and out came this:
Wednesday is the fourth of July. A day to celebrate the birth of our country and the freedoms we have. But how does that relate to us, this morning, as we’re gathered to worship our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ? First of all, we’ve heard from this podium before, in fact I’m sure I’ve even said it myself from up here, that we should be grateful to God that we have the freedom to gather together to worship him without fear of death, injury, or persecution. We are guaranteed the freedom to worship publicly. But we’re also given the freedom to worship as we choose. And that’s a part that I think is often forgotten. If you look at the history of this country many of those who first settled here did so so that they could worship they way they wanted to: Quakers, Puritans, Catholics, and others all came to this land because they were required to worship a certain way where they came from and were persecuted for not doing so. So today we have the freedom to worship however we want to. This freedom enabled the different Great Awakening periods as well as the Restoration Movement that we owe our history to. So without this part of our freedom, we may have been able to worship publicly, but it’s unlikely we’d be worshiping in this church.
But this isn’t a patriotic rant or an historical lesson. I’m here worship our Lord through communion. Remembering the sacrifice of Jesus. And that’s where I want to turn our attention. God has consistently used the freedom of his people for worship. Mishach, Shadrach, and Abendigo were thrown in the fire for not worshiping how they were told. And then saved so that they could freely worship the one true God. The Jews in exile with both Ezra and Nehemiah were freed so that they could worship God in Jerusalem by rebuilding the temple and then rebuilding the wall. And probably most explicitly, God freed the Jews in Egypt so they could worship him freely. In Exodus 7:16, when Moses was confronting Pharaoh, God instructed Moses to say, “The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, has sent me to say to you: Let my people go, so that they may worship me in the desert.” And that reason did not change as Moses continued to confront him through all the plagues.
It is no different for us today following Jesus. Jesus died so that we would be freed from the slavery of our sin. But he also died to free us from the religious tradition that ruled his day. Just because our country allows us to worship however we like, doesn’t mean we should. Paul said not to use our freedom as an excuse to indulge in sin. In the same way, we can’t use our freedom to worship as an excuse to make up our own traditions, our own rules, or bind old traditions to others arbitrarily. Please turn to John 4. Starting in verse 19, we read…
"Sir," the woman said, "I can see that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem."
Jesus declared, "Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth."
The woman said, "I know that Messiah" (called Christ) "is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us."
Then Jesus declared, "I who speak to you am he." (John 4:19:26)
To worship in spirit and in truth. That’s what Jesus died for and what we need to reflect upon when we celebrate our freedom. Are we worshiping in spirit and in truth? With the hundreds of denominations that exist today, I’d argue that we’re not. With the countless traditions, expectations, and doctrines that continue to divide, I am certain that we’re not. This morning I want to call us to a higher standard, to worship our Lord in Spirit and in Truth.
So I left it hanging. What does it mean to worship in Spirit and Truth? Does it mean ecumenism, seeker-friendly services, Power Point slides, instrumental music or a-capella, emerging churches, speaking in tongues, etc, etc? I'll leave it to you the reader to search this out for yourself. Let me know what you find.