In a dream, a man went to church with an angel as his guide. Once inside the church the man noticed it was filled with people, but oddly, there was no sound. The organist played, but no music could be heard; the choir’s lips moved, but no song came forth. The pastor went through the motions of preaching, but the man heard nothing.
He turned to the angel and asked, “Why is there no sound?” The angel replied, “This is the service as God sees it, because when there is no heart in it, there is no sound.”
Then in the back pew, the man heard a child pray, “Our Father, who art in heaven …” Then the angel said, “What you are hearing now, is the only part God hears, it is that, which comes from the depths of the purest heart.”
Now, this may come as a surprise to you, but there has never been a time, in our history, when ‘how people worshiped’ wasn’t criticized. When the Israelites worshiped God in the desert with tambourines, other nations would have considered that barbaric.
When David danced partially clothed before God in the street, his wife ridiculed him. King Davis wrote in the Psalms, “Praise God with the sound of the horn; praise Him with the harp and lyre. Praise Him with tambourine and dancing; praise Him with strings and flute. Praise Him with clashing cymbals.” (Psalm 150:3-5)
Yet in the early church, instruments were mostly forbidden. Thomas Aquinas, an early Church father thought God should be praised with song but no instruments. Augustine rejected the idea of musical instruments calling them a distraction from real worship. And Clement of Alexandria said, “Leave the pipe to the shepherd, the flute to the men who are in fear of gods and intent to idol worshipping.”
When the early Anglican and Catholics introduced an organ into worship, many pastors were horrified. Martin Luther said that using an organ in worship was like waving a banner for the devil. Even John Wesley, the founder of our faith, who loved music in its proper place, initially said, “I have no objection to instruments of music in our chapels, provided they are neither heard nor seen.”
What changed his mind? He and his brother went to see the composer Charles Avison preform Handel’s Messiah, afterwards he wrote that he was shocked, and he was moved in spirit. He wrote, “It far exceeded my expectations”.
The great Charles Spurgeon said, “One can make melody without strings and pipes…we do not need them. Sing unto him. This is the sweetest and best music. There is no instrument like the human voice.”
Listen to this quote, “Instrumental music is permissible for a church under the following conditions:
1. When a church never had or has lost the Spirit of Christ.
2. If a church has a preacher who never had or has lost the Spirit of Christ, who has become a dry, prosing and lifeless preacher.
3. If a church only intends being a fashionable society, a mere place of amusements and secular entertainment and abandoning the idea of religion and worship.
4. If a church has within it a large number of dishonest and corrupt men.
And 5. If a church has given up all idea of trying to convert the world.”
Guess who said that…Benjamin Franklin!
Throughout history, first the organ, then the piano, then guitars and finally drums have been condemned by many. Then, and still today, folks still fuss about the style of music; some want only hymns, other chants, or Taizé, others prefer modern praise music. There are still a few denominations that reject all forms of music or instrumentation.
This concern goes to the heart of our scripture today in Exodus. Moses and the Israelites arrived at Mount Sinai and made camp. After the visit with his Father-in-law Jethro, Moses went up on the mountain to pray to the Lord. During his time there, God gave Moses the 10 Commandments.
But the real story is what was going on down below. Moses was gone for 40 days and 40 nights. And so, the Israelites became frightened and disoriented. They felt the absence of God, because Moses was their connection to him.
So, the people went to Aaron and demand that he make them a visible representation of God, so they can worship it. Aaron was a high priest and should have known better than this, so why did he agree to do it? Maybe he was also disoriented, since Moses had been gone so long. Or maybe he was frightened that the Israelites would turn on him if he refused.
Either way, Aaron agreed to create a statue for the people. Ultimately, he created a Golden Calf, probably modeling it on statues of the Canaanite god El, who is depicted in the form of a bull. Those animals were considered sacred in their day.
Aaron went to the people and said, “Take off the gold earrings that you, your wives, daughters and sons are wearing and bring them to me.” Then Aaron melted them all down, along with all the other gold he could find, and he molded and shaped a calf for them.
The he said, “This is your god, O Israel, who brought you out of slavery.” Then Aaron created an altar in front of the gold calf to burn incense, in honor of God. Finally, he announced, “Tomorrow, there will be a festival here to honor the Lord.”
You may notice, their praise ‘is directed toward God’, but they worship best when they have something to focus on. They have no idea that God is currently on the mountain forbidding this kind of worship. So, what exactly was the problem?
While they say they are worshiping God, they really aren’t.
Instead of focusing on the wonder and mystery of God, they are worshiping earthly things and enjoying carnal delights. After they bow down to a golden calf, they begin gorging on food, and drinking wine to excess. They begin dancing and striping and well, you can imagine what comes next.
None of this honors God. It is all about selfish wants and desires. They aren’t thinking about God – but about themselves. God, on the mountain with Moses, sees this and he gets angry. He tells Moses that he plans on destroying the people.
But Moses begged God not to do it. He said, “O Lord, why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand?” “Turn away”, he said, “and please don’t do this.” And the Lord agreed.
Then Moses went down the mountain with the 2 stone tablets, carved on front and back, with God’s Commands on them. As Moses approached the camp, he heard singing and laughter. And as he gets closer, he sees what is really going on. That’s when he loses it!
Moses goes off like a grenade and explodes in anger. He throws the two tablets down the mountain and shatters them into a million pieces. Then he runs down the mountain and knocks the calf into the fire, burning it. Finally, he ground down the rest pf the calf into powder and scattered it on the water and finally he made them drink it.
Then Moses turned his attention to Aaron, he said, “What did these people ‘do to threaten you’ that would cause you to lead them into such great sin?” On some level, Aaron must have known that this was wrong.
Aaron went on to make a bunch of excuses, but nothing can temper Moses’ anger. Moses looked around and witnessed the people running around wild and out of control and his blood boiled; remember not too long ago, he begged God not to let the Lord’s anger burn out of control!
Then Moses called out, “Whoever is for the Lord, come to me.” And scripture says, all the Levites rallied to him. Then Moses ordered them to grab swords and to kill the rest of the people.
Finally, Moses went back to the Lord to try and smooth things over.
Because Moses’ faith and trust in God waned at times and because he took matters into his own hands, – God eventually denied Moses the right to pass into the promised land. There was a cost to pay for his actions; but how we worship God really is a big deal.
Jesus himself deals with this issue when he talks to the woman at the well. In John Chapter 4 (vs. 21-24) Jesus said, “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 the Spirit and in Truth’, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”
Notice first, the place we worship is not the highest priority. While we love our church and we need sacred ground, God is not bound by a location. Jesus said it wasn’t about the mountain or the Temple in Jerusalem. We can and should worship God everywhere we are.
But what does it mean to worship in Spirit and Truth? Let’s break this down. I would suggest spirit here is two-fold. We must be in the right spirit, or frame of mind. Preparation for worship begins before we come to church.
I know this is hard on Sunday, especially with kids. Getting to church is often a chore. Betting cleaned up, dressed, feed and corralled takes a lot of effort. I hate to say this, but… maybe you should start a little earlier. Don’t wait too long or it becomes chaotic getting out the door.
Then, once you get here, take some to focus on the Lord. Open your heart and mind and be ready to really hear the word. I have noticed Peggy Keller in the prayer room early on Sunday.
Also, going to class with Paul is a good way to get focused before worship.
But to worship in Spirit also means we allow the Holy Spirit in so we can become fully engaged with God and his word. We must be in the moment. Listen to what the Spirit is saying to your heart. Throw yourself into singing and prayer. Be engaged.
And then, worship in truth. Not your truth, but God’s truth. Don’t listen for what you want to hear, hear what God is saying through the lyrics, scripture and the preaching of the word. As Rick Warren says in the Purpose Driven Life, “It’s not about you.”
If we get too focused on the music style, who is wearing what, who is doing something we do not like, – or generally lost in our own thoughts, we have missed the point. We come here, to meet with and be present with God and to praise him. He is the reason we show up on Sunday.
Get lost in the wonder and mystery of God. Think about his amazing love, grace, forgiveness and mercy. Try to imagine how much he loves you, so much so, that he would give up everything for you, even his earthly life. Not because of anything we have done – but simply because of who he is.
The Altar is open if you would like to re-dedicate yourself to Jesus, but you can also do it in your own seat. Just allow the Lord to consume you. Let the waves of hope, peace, joy and love fill you to overflowing. That is why we come and worship the Lord. Because he is good and great, reliable and faithful, Holy and awesome. This is no other like our God.
May you be moved and motivated in Christ alone. I pray it is so, Now, let’s take a few moments of quiet to praise God…
“And all God’s People said, Amen”