What is the Liturgy?
In our June newsletter I asked the question, “Why the Liturgy?” In that article I wrote, “Martin Luther and other reformers saw great value in retaining those practices of the church that were in keeping with the clear teaching and practices of the apostles and the early church fathers. As Lutherans our worship, formally called ‘the Divine Service,’ may be seen as formal when compared to other Protestant worship services, especially today’s more emotionally charged contemporary services that emphasize God’s provisions for ‘me and my needs’ rather than on the biblical call to ‘worship in the beauty of holiness.’”
This month we turn our attention to the question, “What is the Liturgy?” The most simple answer, in common language, the Liturgy is the time tested means that we employ to guide us in the true worship of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – in the beauty of His Holiness as He has revealed Himself and His desire to us through His Holy Word.
In John 4 we read about Jesus and His encounter with a Samaritan woman. We often refer to her as the “Woman at the well.” In those verses Jesus and the woman engage in a dialog that turns to the subject of worship; not just worship in general but worship in particular. As we carefully read the words of John, the dialog between Jesus and the “Woman at the well” becomes a question of what constitutes real worship or acceptable worship, not in our eyes, but in the eyes of Almighty God.
As the woman seeks to justify the worship of the Samaritans, Jesus quickly turns the tables and goes to the very heart of the matter. Jesus said to the woman, “22You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” [John 4:22-24, ESV].
Jesus, the Master Teacher, hits the proverbial “nail on the head.” He cuts through the smoke screen and goes directly to the importance of what it means to worship God. Notes the words of verse 24, “God is a spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” In other words, how do we know what is true? Simple, God is truth and has revealed Himself to us in the Old Testament, in the New Testament, and in His Son, Jesus Christ our Saviour and Lord. Jesus and the written Word of God, the Holy Bible, are divine truth. Therefore, to properly worship the Almighty is to begin by looking at His requirements, His desires, and His revelation of how we are to worship Him.
Worship in spirit and truth originates with God and His will. We are not free to worship God as we desire or please. The Old Testament is filled with examples of men who thought they knew better than God. They attempted to worship Him as they pleased and not as He instructed. As a result, their worship was rejected and they were judged for their failure and arrogance. The end was death as the wrath of God was poured out upon them.
The first point we need to know is this, God has revealed how He wants to be worshipped. He has not left worship up to our imaginations and Jesus made this eternal truth very clear as He spoke with the Samaritan women.
There is more! As we look closely at the words of Jesus as recorded by John, we also must not overlook something that is easily read over. In this case, the words of verse 23, “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.” Note the phrase “for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.” To what do the words “such people” refer? We are told, “true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.”
In other words, Jesus was telling the Woman at the well and He is telling us today that those who worship God as He has instructed, those who worship Him in “spirit and in truth” are the very people that God is seeking!
Wow! Have ever considered this? On Sunday morning, God is watching you and me perhaps more closely than any other time – if that were possible, and it is not. He is watching our worship. He is watching what we give to Him. He is watching as we present to Him our confession, our prayers, our praise in hymns and spiritual songs, the Kyrie, the Gloria in Excelsis, and the Collect of the Day. He is watching as we listen with open hearts and minds to the readings of the Holy Scriptures and the Gospel. He watches and sees us as we confess our faith by using the Apostles’ and the Nicene Creeds. He blesses us as we share His peace with each other. He receives our prayers of supplication for each other, our world, and ourselves. He looks at us, and the abundance of the blessings He has bestowed upon us, as we give to Him His tithe and our offerings. He watches over the proclamation of His Holy Word and opens our minds to His truth as it is preached. He meets with us in special way in the sacraments (Baptism and the Lord’s Supper) of the church. He blesses us with His gracious benediction and dismisses us to go in peace and to serve Him.
As we look at the book of Revelation, as we carefully read the words of John as recorded there, we see heaven opened to us and we catch a glimpse of the Heavenly host and the redeemed of Christ. Through the words of the risen, living, ascended Christ given to John, we see heavenly worship in the very presence of the Eternal King, the God of heaven and earth. We also see just how important worship is to Him!
As we consider the subject of worship and the Liturgy through which we embrace and express our worship, we should rejoice in our invitation to worship Him who created us and has redeemed us with the blood of His One and Only Son. Yet, at the same time, we should enter into worship trembling before Him as we recognize that He is Holy, we are unholy; He is righteous, we are unrighteous; He is perfect, we are sinners; and realizing the immense blessings we have received by his love, grace, and mercy!
If you don’t remember anything else, remember this: Worship, true biblical worship revealed to us in the Holy Scriptures, is always all about God; not us! The historic liturgy of the church is founded upon the revealed truth of God’s Word. As we continue to look at the topic of Liturgical worship each month, may our Heavenly Father empower us with a renewed zeal and desire to be faithful each week as we “worship Him in spirit and in truth” all to the glory of His Holy Name!
What is the Liturgy? The Liturgy is the means we employ to guide us in the true worship of God, as He has revealed Himself and His desire for appropriate and true worship to us in the Holy Scriptures. Thanks be to God!
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