February 14, 2021
Lord’s Day Worship
The sermon starts around 16:55 in the audio file.
Or, Worship That Takes Root Downward and Bears Fruit Upward
Series: Our Worship #7
There is a great phrase that occurs a couple times in the Old Testament related to God’s intentions to regrow His people (2 Kings 19:30; Isaiah 37:31). He promises that they will “take root downward and bear fruit upward.” The Lord says He will provide them with stability, as with deep roots, and with productivity, as they see extending branches of fruits. Another way to say this is that God intends to bless them.
Blessing is a one of those religious words that is frequently used and regularly undefined, like a cloud, visible in the sky but far away and with vague edges. To be blessed has the idea of to be given something good, to be blessed has the idea of receiving someone’s favor, to be blessed has the idea of being made happy, or joyful, as some Christians like having a distinction. I think we can make a case for an agricultural analogy that blessing is roots and fruit, and I make that connection from Psalm 1.
The first word in the inspired songbook of Israel is “blessed.” The one who is blessed doesn’t listen to the liberal media and propaganda machine trying to tear everything down in their misery. The blessed man instead loves the law of the Lord and meditates on it day and night. The psalmist then explains that that man will be “like a tree planted,” with roots deep and fed by “streams of water,” such that he is unlike the wicked man who is blown around like chaff. The blessed man with is also like a tree “that yields it fruit in its season,” “in all that he does, he prospers.” To be blessed by the Lord is to take root downward and bear fruit upward.
This life of Word-delight and Word-deliberation leading to blessing obviously isn’t limited to a church service on Sunday; the meditation is “day and night,” all day and all the days. But there is something about God’s assembly re-membering, with all the parts back together, rejecting the counsel of the wicked and the cynicism of the scoffers, rejoicing in the fear of the Lord that makes wise and makes fixed and steadfast and anchored as well as fruitful and productive and prosperous. This is a living and active process, a three-dimensional process. It is also a cooperative process, and ”sinners (will not stand) in the congregation of the righteous” (Psalm 1:5).
This morning as we finish this round of refreshed consideration of our Lord’s Day corporate liturgy I want to remind you that as we bless (declare our praise to) God He blesses (shows His favor to) us. Here is the end of the series, with an emphasis on the end of our service.
There are a few clarifications to make about things I have said in this series, and a few considerations about things I haven’t really touched on yet, and then we’ll get to the final blessing of liturgy.
A couple weeks ago we considered our worship in song, and while I don’t really expect that you will hear every qualification, some of the qualifications are actually important. I think it is surprising how much modern effort is put into defining worship as singing, and how much time and budget is spent toward the music ministry, while there is no New Testament command to sing. There is no command to the church to sing. But, there are numerous commands in the Old Testament to sing, and it is a necessary consequence of our Word-filled, Spirit-filled hearts.
> Sing praises to the LORD, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name. (Psalm 30:4)
> Sing praises to God, sing praises! Sing praises to our King, sing praises! For God is the King of all the earth; sing praises with a psalm! (Psalm 47:6-7)
As an assembled church we sing, as a good and necessary way to bless God, and to bless one another.
Last week I reminded us about the generational perspective, and generational patience we should have as we train up the noisy little worshippers in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. We want the Lord’s blessing on our children, and blessing comes to those who fear Him, who call on His name, who learn the obedience of faith to all He’s commanded. As the Father shows generous kindness and long-suffering toward us, so parents ought not to teach their kids that worshiping God is about silent glares and second sermons on the car-ride-home about how displeasing the kids were. But, to be clear, we are after not just attention, but affections for the Lord. This is not delight-directed Montessori liturgy, it is liturgy that we pray God will use to direct our delights. I am not arguing for a child-centered approach to worship, I am saying children should see that they are welcome, and even obligated, to participate in God-centered worship.
It should also be said again that this series has been about the liturgy we follow during our corporate worship, which is not the same thing as saying that the only thing that matters in your Christian life is corporate worship. God is glad to bless His people as they worship Him while fulfilling their callings at home and at work and among their neighbors. What we’ve been talking about could be called worship proper, but this is only part of your life of worship as a living sacrifice (see Romans 12:1). Sunday is not the only time we worship, but this series has tried to emphasize that corporate worship is not just a group personal quiet time.
I have addressed the five Cs in a number of ways, the main headings of the pattern, but there are some particulars that warrant a few comments.
After the announcements (which is strategic in it’s own way, not just for utilitarian information giving purposes, but for showing that we have a lot of opportunities for living life together), there is what is called the votum, a sort of verbal contract that it is time to begin our worship together. We take ours from Psalm 124:8. As it says on the bulletin, the minister says the first half, “Our help is in the name of the LORD,” and the assembly responds: “who made heaven and earth.” I suppose that visitors, even those who look at the bulletin/order of service before we start, are regularly surprised.
Is this necessary to start? No, but neither is swearing to tell the truth before giving testimony in the witness chair, nor playing the national anthem before a baseball game. Does it bring an opportunity for blessing? I believe it does, just as there are other solemn ways of beginning various meetings or events. The call and response is the signal that it’s time to grab your handle on the battering ram.
Another unprinted but weekly practice is kneeling during the prayer of confession. Do you know that people feel strongly about this? Do you know that there are physical limitations, both in terms of old knees and in terms of narrow space between the pews? Do you know that there is no New Testament command to kneel with the church? Do you know that you can go full-prostrate and still be proud in your heart?
I mean, if you didn’t know, you certainly could have surmised the answers to all of those questions without much effort. But our posture before God is a real thing as He looks at our hearts. Our kids can’t see our hearts directly, that can see that we bend our knees in humility before the One who is worthy and holy. Also, one day every knee will bow (Philippians 2:10), and it won’t just be an invitation.
The offering is something I talk about briefly each week, though I’ve never preached an entire sermon on giving. Because of how many of you give, as well as the generous nature of your giving, now would be the perfect time for a sermon on it. Grabby sermons from greedy pastors are always a put off. We did just recently enable online giving in the church app, but that’s because it saved us money not because we were trying to get more money. Even during the almost two-months of lockdown, when we didn’t have the online giving available, you all found ways.
The offering is positioned as the final piece of our consecration. As you’ve seen if you’ve been here for a while, we bring up one bucket, we present that to the Lord, and it represents not just our thanks but our corporate thanks.
And we have wine for communion, along with day-of-baked bread. Some may wonder about the propriety of having alcohol when so many sin with alcohol. We live in hyper-sexualized society, where sinners abuse God’s gift of sex around the clock. We live in a drunken society, not where everyone is drunk, but where sinners abuse God’s gift of wine, or know sinners who do. But God Himself said that He Himself gives “wine to gladden the heart of man” (Psalm 104:15). Jesus made “good wine” for a wedding (John 2:10), and gave thanks to His Father for wine when He instituted the meal.
I’ve said more about this before, but Dr. Welch popularized his grape-juice for Christians out of fear not out of thanks. That is exactly how many Christians have been coming to the Lord’s Table as well, anxious about messing up rather than rejoicing that Jesus is risen from the dead and so that they can drink their wine in joy new life. We understand that some have made commitments to abstain, and we offer juice to tender consciences. What we want is for the assembly to taste and see that the Lord is good.
Which leads me to the final emphasis, the end of our liturgy. I have tried to say it various ways, but, beloved, we assemble to bless God and be blessed by God. God gets to decide what all those blessings look like, and it does take the eyes of faith to see some of them. He has shown His blessings to us over the last year of global trials as He has caused us to take root downward and bear fruit upward. He blesses His people who worship Him.
This is why the last part of our service is a reminder, even more, it is a conduit of God’s blessing to us through the benediction.
“Benediction” means the utterance or bestowing of a blessing, the formal invocation of blessedness, and it comes from the Latin words bene meaning “well” and dicere “to say.” There are a number of benedictions in Scripture, and they are representatives who declare God’s blessing to God’s people. Perhaps the most well known is in Numbers 6.
> The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them, > > The LORD bless you and keep you; > the LORD make his face to shine upon you > and be gracious to you; > the LORD lift up his countenance upon you > and give you peace. > > “So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.” (Numbers 6:22–27 ESV)
The LORD commissions the priests to speak on His behalf. To bless is to fill with strength, to make full. To keep is to watch and protect. In the next two phrases both involve His face or countenance. His attention is toward us, and it is a favorable and generous attention. The blessing is grace and peace, help and shalom, wellness of soul and lack of anxiousness.
In Leviticus 9—and you may remember when we looked at Leviticus 9 as the passage with the sin, the burnt, and the peace offering—the final part was a blessing.
> Then Aaron lifted up his hands toward the people and blessed them, and he came down from offering the sin offering and the burnt offering and the peace offerings. (Leviticus 9:22) > Aaron lifted up his hands toward the people, a physical symbol of corporate connection and covering. The laying on of hands is a personal connection, but limited to how many hands a man has. The lifting of hands represents here a larger aegis (think of the aegis or shield in the Iliad) or umbrella, like a cloud of shade on a hot day or a cloud of rain to thirsty ground.
That is one example of the ordained priests blessing the people, but there is another. It was Jesus’ last act before ascending into heaven.
> And he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, (Luke 24:50–52)
Jesus lifting up his hands he blessed them. I’ve been thinking about it for a few years, and it seems to fit with our move away from worship as mostly good thoughts. I love to speak the good words of God’s favor, stimulating your faith. Our service drives not toward a gauntlet of introspective examination but toward a Table of peace and word of strength. If I use spontaneous gestures during the sermon to help make a point, why not use a symbolic gesture on purpose to embody and express God’s giving us what we need to take root downward and bear fruit upward.
Our service is one of blessing God, and being blessed by Him.
Call to worship: “Blessed is the one you choose and bring near, to dwell in your courts!” (Psalm 65:4)
Confession and forgiveness: “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. (Psalm 32:1–2)
Consecration: “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.” (Revelation 1:3) And “But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.” (James 1:25)
Communion: “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” (1 Corinthians 10:16)
Commission: “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, Selah that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations.” (Psalm 67:1–2)
Beloved, the Lord knows the plans He has for you, for those who fear Him, who trust Him, who love Him, who worship Him.
> The LORD bless you and keep you; > the LORD make his face to shine upon you > and be gracious to you; > the LORD lift up his countenance upon you > and give you peace. > (Numbers 6:24–26, ESV)