Freedom in Worship
April 3rd 2022 – Hardraw and Hawes – Is.43:16-21, Phil.3:4b-14, Jn.12:1-8
Freedom in Worship
The contemporary Christian songwriter Matt Papa writes: “If the world could see a snapshot of our worship today, would they perceive that we believe our God is worthy of praise?” It’s a challenging question.
The Bible is full of examples of different ways of worship. Singing, shouting, dancing, kneeling, lying on the floor, hands up, hands down, prayer, silence etc With such a myriad of responses what might hold them all together? Jesus provides the answer: when we worship we must worship ‘in spirit and in truth’ Jn4:24 John Bunyan paraphrases: ‘it is better to have a heart without words than words without a heart.”
An underlying theme in our scriptures today is that of worship. Isaiah speaks of creation worshipping God, the psalmist speaks of hope through worship, Paul worships as he speaks of the power of Jesus Christ and John tells us of three different responses to the worship of God through Lazarus, Martha and Mary.
Nowhere in the Bible do we hear of any words that Lazarus ever spoke yet his life is an incredibly powerful witness to and worship of God. V9 which is missing from our reading states ‘a large crowd of Jews was there and came not only because of Jesus but to see Lazarus whom Jesus had raised from the dead’. His life was such a testimony that the Pharisees planned to kill him along with Jesus. His being there at all, gave worship to God. The transforming life and power and love of Jesus Christ shines out of him – he is a witness by the very nature of who he is in Christ. Just like Lazarus, when our heart is set right our lives can speak the same. Who we are in Christ is worship in itself.
Martha who previously had been distracted and irritated by her sister Mary’s lack of help in the home Lk10:38ff now appears to be serving Jesus and their guests in a most contented manner. She worships through her action and service. When our heart is set right what we do for Christ in helping others is worship in itself.
And then there is Mary. Her expression of worship is lavish. It’s costly. It creates comment. 300 Denarii was worth about a year’s wages. Last year in the UK, the average wage stood at £25k – that’s a bold and extravagant gesture. What might we have thought and said had we been there? Amazement and wonder at her act or tutted with disdain at her action – ‘more money than sense’. The key thing here is that she wasn’t bothered about what others thought about her – what mattered was her act of worship. She’s not doing it for others to see and marvel at her action, she’s doing it out of worship and love for Jesus. Mary is content to be at the feet of Jesus. Spending time with him and expressing her love of him and she does it in a way that is costly. King David understood the association between worship and costly sacrifice. He refused to offer a sacrifice that had cost him ‘nothing’2Sam24:24 We too are asked to do the same. It might not be a year’s wages but finances come into it,. When we give financially we’re giving away something which someone else gave us anyway – No; we are asked to give something far more precious – ourselves. Paul speaks of our lives being a living sacrifice Rom12:1
To give ourselves in worship is costly. To give ourselves wholeheartedly in worship ‘in spirit and in truth’ is costly. Yet we should do it without a thought about what others think. How many times I wonder have you wanted to express your worship in a particular way but didn’t because of ‘what people might think’?
I have known of people who for years had wanted to worship like King David in dance but didn’t because they feared what ‘people might think’. I have known of people who for years had wanted to worship by raising their voice in song but didn’t because they feared what ‘people might think’ or to raise their hands in worship as in the Old Testament or to create a banner or a sculpture or a song or to speak out their praise and thanksgiving in a service or to clap in joy but didn’t … because they feared what ‘people might think’.
Mary did not bother about what people thought – she was focussed on her worship and in that we can take encouragement. As church we need to be so careful that we never say or do anything that might inhibit someone else’s expression of worship. I know from personal experience how harmful, destructive and inhibitive that can be and how long it can take you to recover from such a comment. We should always be encouraging one another to worship freely and without inhibition. That is when we worship in ‘spirit and in truth’.
For my part, I long to see more freedom of expression and less inhibition in our worship. But less inhibition does not necessarily equate with more noise or movement – it’s to feel free to express yourself towards God as you want to without fear of negative comment or reaction from those around you.
The world is doing its level best at stifling our worship so let’s ensure that we as church do nothing to assist them in that process! Mary’s act of worship filled the house with its fragrance bringing joy to Jesus and lasting witness to those around her. Let’s pray that ours might do the same.