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Just some of the things that you will find people are interested in at Mill Road.  We are a very, very mixed group of people who represent countries all over the world – at the last count it was over 15 countries.  We don't all have fluency in English, we are not all academic, we are not all practical, we are not all physically at our prime, our lives are not perfect BUT

 

we are one church family, enjoying God, learning what it is to be disciples of Jesus, growing in our relationships together as we become more like Jesus, believing that Jesus is Lord and wanting  others to know our amazing God.

 

We are used to lots of people coming to join us – some are passing through and others stay for a while, or even decades!  Whether you come for one day, a few months or many years, we look forward to enjoying God with you and finding out what you are interested in.

 

Worship: have you ever thought what a visiting alien might make of the word ‘worship’?

 

Two people are leaving a church: one asks the other “What did you think of the worship?” and receives the reply “I didn’t get much out of it.” What do they mean? The alien doesn’t know but concludes that worship must be some kind of activity arranged for their benefit by the organisers in that building. Alien resolves to investigate.

 

Next, Alien is watching the news and sees footage of a congregation leaving a church. The voiceover refers to these people as ‘worshippers.’ Alien now wonders whether ‘worshippers’ is a kind of collective noun for ‘churchgoers.’ Perhaps worship consists of attending church every Sunday. Being a member of the congregation must make you a worshipper. It must be a fairly passive activity.

 

Feeling that the matter deserves further investigation, Alien attends church one Sunday and listens carefully to what is being said amongst the congregation. “Oh yes, the preacher’s awful but then I only really come for the worship!” From this Alien concludes that ‘the worship’ is only one particular segment of that Sunday morning activities and does not involve the main speaker.

 

Matters seem to be becoming clearer still when Alien discovers that the church musicians are commonly referred to as the ‘worship group.’ He forms a working hypothesis that ‘worship’ is a musical activity that takes place in and around a church. This is confirmed when he finds out that when a large number of Christians talk about ‘the worship’ they are indeed referring to the music, usually singing.

 

But then Alien hears the following snippet of conversation: “Oh I only really have my best times of worship when I’m out with the dog, enjoying nature.” Intrigued, he follows the speaker as she walks the aforementioned dog only to discover that she looks and sounds just like any other dog-walker in the local park. There is no music at all in this sort of ‘worship.’    

 

The last straw, for Alien, comes when he hears someone saying “Well, of course, the whole of my life is worship.” At this point poor Alien is strongly tempted to give up on the whole project. Does this person spend their whole life attending church? Are they singing from dusk to dawn? Does ‘worship’ turn out to be one of those words that means almost anything people want it to and therefore ends up meaning practically nothing?

 

Well, is it?

 

‘Worship means intimacy’ someone once told me and the evidence that they presented in support of that was a certain Greek word (proskyneo, in case you’re interested) which does indeed mean something like ‘to come towards to kiss.’

 

Except that, in the Bible, it’s not that kind of kiss. When they used that Greek word to translate the Hebrew Old Testament they were most often using it to say that someone bowed down before someone else (like Abraham does in Genesis 18:2). When you bow down low like that with your face to the ground the only things you are capable of kissing are somebody else’s feet which is rather the point: when a lesser king or his ambassador appeared before another, greater king in order to ask for his support or protection he would pay homage to him; he would bow down and kiss his feet (like Abraham does with the Hittite rulers in Genesis 23:7.)

 

Now there definitely is intimacy in that kiss but it says something very different to what a full on lip-to-lip smooch would say. It says “I am totally subject to your authority” “You are far, far greater than I” “I need your protection” “All that I am I lay before you” it does not say “I have strong feelings for you” or “You’re mine” nor yet “One look from you is rapture.”

 

David understands the kiss of homage. He gives it to Jonathan [1 Sam 20:44] and Saul [1 Sam 24:8] receives it from Abigail [1 Sam 25:23] while she is still Nabal’s wife and from Mephibosheth [2 Sam 9:6-8] and then at the lowest point of his story; exposed as a murderer and an adulterer, he rises from the death-bed of his infant son and gives that kiss of homage to God [2 Sam 12:18-20]. He is not telling God how he feels about him, he is telling God what he knows about him, that he is Lord and that David isn’t.

 

There has been a kind of revolution in songs of worship in my lifetime. Many of them are simply about voicing the desire for intimacy with God. Nothing wrong with that so long as we understand what kind of intimacy the Bible talks about; it’s not the kind that proceeds from our feelings but from the facts. He is Lord, so in approaching him we come off our pedestal and bow down to him, we humble ourselves, we submit ourselves.

 

Now, why is it so important to know that? Sometimes people do have the most overwhelming feelings of love for God, that’s not wrong is it? Absolutely not! But you also hear other people saying sadly “I just couldn’t join in with the worship this morning: if you felt like I did, you wouldn’t want to kiss him!” people who have let God down and messed up other people’s lives in the process, people who have only feelings of pain and confusion. They need to know that they can join in at will with no danger of hypocrisy because this intimacy isn’t the kiss of passion which starts from our feelings, it’s the kiss of homage which starts from the facts: in this relationship there is one Lord and it is not me.

Boomerangs, eh? No matter how hard you throw the wretched things away from you they just keep on coming back. And there we have a picture of the problem facing us when we try worshipping God in Spirit and in truth from out of a self-centred world.

 

Worship is something we do for God. Most of us know that ‘in theory’ and yet we regularly find ourselves coming away from an ‘act of worship’ muttering rather darkly and disappointedly something on the lines of, “Well, I really didn’t get much out of that!”

 

Service is probably the issue here. Lots of the time when we read the word ‘worship’ in our Bibles there is behind it a Greek or Hebrew word meaning something like ‘service’; the kind of work that a servant or a slave does for their master or (linking up with last months article about homage) the kind of service that an overlord receives from a vassal.

 

Already for us there may be a problem. We are quite used to connecting the two words ‘worship’ and ‘service’ because after all there is that often used phrase ‘a service of worship;’ but we may not have made the connection with work before. Worship is something we more typically associate with rest, after all ‘services of worship’ take place on the ‘day of rest’ don’t they? So when we find that the act of worshipping is making demands on us - perhaps praying might be a struggle, we have to make an effort to understand God’s word or it is hard to find ways to fit in with the worshippers around us – we feel something has gone wrong with the worship somewhere and we are tempted to give up. We are taught (not by the Bible) to believe that real worship is always an easy, restful, soothing experience – almost a tranquilizer for our frenetic selves – and we reject anything that does not fit that pattern.

 

If once in a while we do rise above ourselves and make an effort, we will certainly expect some kind of reward for it; some kind of recognition that our service was above and beyond the call of duty.

 

And that’s the real issue, the reason why worship becomes a boomerang which we keep aiming at God and it keeps on returning to us. When the Bible talks about ‘service’ like this the whole point is that the work is never above and beyond the call of duty. We don’t have servants or slaves and we are deeply uncomfortable with the kind of relationship where one party can expect the other to work without reward. Nevertheless, the Bible uses this kind of language very deliberately [Luke 17:7-10].

 

We are servants of Christ Jesus [Ro 1:1] also friends [John 15.15] also children of God [1 John 3.1] So we are in a relationship where whatever we do for him can never go any way towards matching a millionth part of what He has already done for us. The effort, the work that worship will involve cannot put Him in our debt. Neither does it go any way towards paying off our debt of love and gratitude to Jesus. It is simply a true expression of our relationship and an appropriate response to the generosity of His lordship over us.

 

Once we get our heads round that, the boomerang stops coming back.

Some groups of words or ideas hang out together like kids around a skate-park: where you find one you know the others cannot be far away. So it is with ‘worship’; where the Bible talks about worship, for instance, the idea of homage is never far away and the word covenant keeps cropping up. A covenant was how a Lord established exactly what kind of a relationship he was going to have with his people, how they would honour him and what he would do for them. In the case of God and his people the covenant is amazingly intimate: “The Lord confides in those who fear him; he makes his covenant known to them.” [Ps 25:14, my italics] ‘Service’ is another word that hangs around with ‘worship’ so a few verses on from “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” [Dt 6:5] you get “Fear the Lord your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name.” [Dt 6:13]

 

Notice the other word hanging around in the background: ‘Fear’ is the third of the Bible’s inseparable ‘buddy words’ with ‘worship.’ Take away the fear of God and you get not worship but wickedness [Ps 36:1 Ro 3:18].

 

‘Fear’ though, that’s not a good word for us, is it: surely fear is a crippling thing, a disabling thing; the kind of thing you meet in an abusive relationship not an intimate one? How can fear possibly be anything but an undesirable element in worship; doesn’t fear cause us to keep our distance rather than make the approach?

 

We should acknowledge that this kind of disabling, distancing fear will be found among God’s people. On a first encounter with the holiness and awesome presence of God, for instance [Ex 3:6; 19:16; Lk 5:8] or when idol-worshippers are confronted by the day of the Lord [Is 2:6-22]. But as a way of life, fearing God is an enabling thing, a motivation source that enables us to keep his commands [Dt 6:2,24]; obey his voice [Haggai 1:12]; walk in his ways [2 Chr 6:31]; shun evil [Job 1:1,8-9; 2:3] and serve him [Joshua 24:14]. We are talking about the ultimate in respect here: a reverence for God that means his worshippers would rather die than forego his good pleasure [Dan 3:16-18].

 

In recent years, in a bid to make God more popular, we have tended to play down the fear of the Lord and emphasise his friendship with us. Long term, this is not likely to succeed as a way of reaching people with the gospel. Living in the fear of the Lord is the secret of the growth of the early church [Acts 9:31] and you can see why: how can the world see that Jesus is Lord if his followers do not truly respect him? Faith moves mountains and this kind of enabling, overwhelming respect for God is what derives from a true faith [1 Pet 1:17-21]. Above all, when God’s people have this kind of fear of the Lord, and overwhelming respect for him, it naturally flows over into proper respect for everyone else [1 Pet 2:13-17].

 

They say you can tell a lot about people from the company they keep; well, words keep company with each other too. Sometimes words in the Bible can seem to us to be choosing some very strange companions: “Serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling”? [Ps 2:11]  But taken together, those words present a picture of true worship that is richer by far than anything we might put in its place.