Read Revelation 22:8-11, 1 Chronicles 16:23-34 here.
During a worship service one Sunday a man was so moved by the Spirit that he cried out, “Amen!”
The people around him looked uncomfortably at each other.
Then he said, “Hallelujah!” A few more people were becoming disturbed.
He got louder when he shouted, “Praise Jesus!”
An usher moved quickly down the aisle. He bent over and whispered to the man, “Sir! Control yourself!”
The man exclaimed, “I can’t help it. I got religion!!!”
To which the usher responded, “Well you didn’t get it here!”
Some people were similarly uncomfortable with King David’s enthusiasm in praising God with the words we read this morning from 1 Chronicles.
Let the whole earth sing to the Lord! (1 Chron 16:23 NLT)
This exuberant song of praise by King David is the perfect response to the story that comes just before this, the saga of the journey of the Ark of the Covenant.
The Ark was a very special box that had been made all the way back when Israel was in the desert with Moses. It was to go in the special tent that they had made for worship, their portable temple called a tabernacle. There were rooms in the tent, and the center room at the very heart of the tent was the place for the Ark. God told them to put a jar of manna and the stone tablets with the ten commandments into the Ark. The Ark had gold rings on the feet (Ex. 25:10-16) so that when it was time to move it, the priests could put poles through the rings and carry the ark without touching it. On top of the ark were two gold statues of angels, and God said he would meet with Moses from between the angels (Ex. 25:22). So we can see why this box was their most sacred object. It was their connection with God.
Years later when Israel got to the Promised Land, the Philistines attacked and took the Ark away (1 Sam. 4). But while the Philistines had it, strange things happened. A lot of people got sick (1 Sam. 5:11), and one of their stone gods kept falling over and getting broken (1 Sam. 5:1-5), so they decided they needed to get rid of the ark. They put it on a cart, hooked up two oxen, and sent the cart off in the direction of Israel (1 Sam. 6). As you might imagine, a riderless cart will wander, and so the ark ended up at somebody’s house for awhile, but at least it was back in Israel.
When David finally got to be king, one of his goals was to get the ark back to the tabernacle. The first time David tried to get the ark moved, they put it on a cart, and one of the oxen stumbled and the ark started to fall, so one of the guys walking along with it reached out to steady it. When he touched it, he died. (1 Chron. 13, 2 Sam. 6) So David stopped there and didn’t try again for awhile.
David did his homework before they tried again. He read the scriptures about how the priests were to move the ark:
“… the Kohathites are to come to do the carrying. But they must not touch the holy things or they will die…” (Num. 4:15).
They really should have read the instructions first! It says very clearly, “Don’t touch the ark!”
David said, “Because you Levites did not carry the Ark the first time, the anger of the Lord our God burst out against us. We failed to ask God how to move it properly” (1 Chron 15:13).
This second time, David asked God how, and made sure they followed the instructions in the scriptures, and they had a grand celebration with trumpets and choirs and loud, crashing cymbals, and David danced with all his heart, for the Ark, which was the dwelling place of God, was back in its proper place at the heart of the tabernacle, in the center of Israel.
We probably don’t ask God how enough. We’re more likely to ask God why or what or when or where. The question of where was hotly debated in Jesus’ time. Some people said the only true worship happened in the temple in Jerusalem. Others said that Moses had told them to worship on Mount Gerizim. But Jesus changed everything. When Jesus meets the woman at the well, he says instead that true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. (John 4:23) In other words, worship is not about having special furniture, or having to be in a specific place, but about giving God our whole hearts.
Today’s message is titled “Why Worship?” but the question of why we worship is very much entangled with the question of how we worship. David realizes that the heart of the problem was that he failed to seek God. Both questions, why and how, can be answered very simply in the same way: With our hearts.
You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. (Jeremiah 29:13)
It’s simple, right? . . . and yet not. To see why not, it helps to take a look at our other reading this morning from Revelation 22. The angel has just finished giving John the vision that has been described over the twenty-two chapters of this book, and now John falls to his face before the angel. He bows down to worship the angel. And the angel says, “No, no, don’t worship me. I’m just the messenger. I’m a servant of God just like you. Worship only God.”
John’s response is not surprising. The angel has just taken John on a fantastic journey, like the most incredible 3D movie ever. John has been thrilled and terrified. His imagination has been stretched far beyond its limits. John is amazed, and in his amazement he gives the ultimate gesture of admiration to the giver of the vision. He bows down to the angel.
Haven’t we all seen someone do this? Rachel Rey, just this week, had the travel guru Peter Greenburg on her show who described some amazingly simple and yet helpful travel hacks. Rachel, in awe of his brilliance, bows to him.
We do this, too, don’t we? Our temptation is to worship the things God has created more than or instead of the One who created them. (Rom. 1:25). We need to be reminded by the angel saying, “Worship only God.”
One of the ten commandments on those stone tablets inside the ark is, “Do not worship any other god.” (Ex. 34:14)
The reality is, though, that we are drawn to worship people and experiences and things that make us feel good or amazed. What we need to remember is that all of those things and experiences and people came from God. God created everything. God gave us the ability to enjoy all these things. We worship God whenever we acknowledge God’s work. It’s why, in the New Testament, Paul repeatedly tells us to give thanks to God, and why we find our memory verse for today in so many of the psalms and the stories of the Old Testament:
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His faithful love endures forever.
Why worship God? Because we’re commanded to in the Bible, and because it helps us remember that everything we have and everything we are comes from God.
Why else? Because worship transforms us.
Richard Foster, the Quaker author and theologian, says, “To stand before the Holy One of Eternity is to change.” When we see God, when we turn all our attention to seeking God and we find God, we are changed.
I wonder if you have ever had an experience that you would say brought you to your knees? Think about that for a minute. When have you felt that way? What sort of experience was it? I can only think of a few times like that in my life. Not all of them felt good. All of them made me see something about myself or about my life differently. We should come to God expecting something to happen. Otherwise we are simply . . . neutrinos.
A neutrino is a subatomic particle similar to an electron, but unlike an electron, is not positive or negative. It’s neutral, hence the name neutrino. Because a neutrino is neutral and has zero mass, it passes right through things without having any impact. As we sit here this morning, neutrinos are going right through us.
Our experience of God’s presence in worship and in life can be like neutrinos. We can be unaffected, and unchanged. This is why a central part of our time together on Sunday mornings is a prayer of confession, in which we intentionally consider the ways that we have given our hearts to the wrong things, or hardened our hearts. We ask God to help us change. We have a time for silent reflection there because the words we say together are never going to be specific enough to address the things that are happening in each of our lives. Sometimes we might not even know during that time what we need to confess, but just the process of saying to God, “I know I’m not perfect and I know I need you,” makes us open to hear what God might be trying to say to us through the songs and scriptures and sermon and prayers. Sometimes just being here and sitting still for worship gives us the time and space to listen to whatever God has been saying to us in our consciences. When we listen and do what God says, we are changed. It’s not just for Sundays. We can do this in our daily prayers, too.
One of the big reasons we resist this is that we are afraid. We’ve been hurt. We’ve been made fun of. We’ve been unappreciated. We’re afraid of taking a risk and being vulnerable by opening our hearts to God.
This past week on the show America’s Got Talent there was a 13-year-old girl named Charlotte who sang the James Bond song, “Diamonds Are Forever.” It’s a big, dramatic song, and she has a big, dramatic voice, one that’s quite mature for someone so young. And she’s singing with all she’s got, really putting her heart into it. When she’s done, the audience is on their feet and cheering for her wildly, giving thanks to her for her offering in song. And then the host, Terry Crews, asks the judges what they think of Charlotte’s performance. The camera cuts to Charlotte to show the look of eager hopefulness on her face, and then cuts to Simon Cowell. He’s not smiling. And he says, “Charlotte, I think your song choice was terrible, terrible, terrible.”
Charlotte is crushed. She’s laid her heart out and he’s stomped on it.
Maybe we’re afraid that the same thing is going to happen to us if we truly open our hearts up to God. But God’s not Simon Cowell, thankfully. Simon Cowell has the power to make or break someone’s career, so it’s not surprising that the contestants on America’s Got Talent are so worried about pleasing him. His favor brings fame and fortune.
What the story of the cosmic battle in Revelation reminds us, what the story of the Bible reminds us, is that there are greater things at work, and greater things at stake. Fame and fortune will come and go in an instant, but the love of God goes on forever. God loves us so much that God gave everything for us to know him and to be able to trust God’s love completely.
Maybe we’re afraid of not being acceptable to God, but Jesus died on a cross to make us all acceptable to God. We cannot be good enough, no matter how hard we try, so Jesus makes us good enough. When we trust God with our hearts, we are trusting in that good news of what Jesus has already done.
Why worship? Because giving God our hearts is how we give thanks to God for his amazing gift.
Printable page for writing and drawing: Give thanks
 for the second time (the first was in chapter 19)
 Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth, 20th Anniversary Edition (New York: HarperCollins, 1998), p. 173.
 Rory Noland, “Transformational Worship: Encountering God in Ways that Change Us,” https://transformingcenter.org/2006/07/transformational-worship-encountering-god-in-ways-that-change-us/
 America’s Got Talent, Season 14, Episode 12, Quarterfinals 2, aired Tuesday, August 20, 2019. https://www.goldderby.com/article/2019/simon-cowell-americas-got-talent-charlotte-summers-diamonds-are-forever-agt/