This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Sermon prepared by Rev. Sid Couperus, Abbotsford, BC
Every now and then we need to take some time and ask how our lives are centered. What is it that we live for? Who are we most passionate about? What takes greatest priority in our life? How does what I do, reflect my love and devotion for what means most to me? And most of us who come to worship, would like to believe that God himself is whom we live for. There are those times in life when we simply need to pause and "renew our center," -- being focused on the Lord.
1. IN EACH OF US IS A "SEED OF RELIGION." There are many different religions around this world today. There are also many different things that people will place their faith in. One way to find out who you worship is by asking how do you spend your time. What is it that you are passionate about? Many people live for their jobs. Some people are passionate about making money, or being noticed. Others worship their family. There isn’t anything they would not do for their children.
The apostle Paul makes the claim that inside every human being is a knowledge of God and that we had better be careful with that knowledge, because we have been created to worship him; "The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities -- his eternal power and divine nature -- have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse" Rom. 1:19,20.
The Heidelberg Catechism, a reformed confession speaks to the heart, with its beginning question; "What is your only comfort in life and in death? There is another reformed confession from the Presbyterian Church, called the Westminster Confession and it begins with this question; "What is the chief end of man?" And the answer is; "That I may glorify God and enjoy him forever?" The soul purpose of every man, women and child is to glorify God and enjoy hm forever. We have been created to worship God and have him in the center of our lives. But sin has pushed us off our center.
2. SIN HAS RUINED OUR CREATED CENTER. We have been knocked off balance. One of my children has a hula-hoop, which she stands inside of, and is able to keep that hoop up in the air, traveling around her body for what seems like hours. I tried it and I can’t even keep it up for two full revolutions. Unlike the planets in outer space, I seem to have lost my ability to keep an orbit. I seem to have lost my sense of balance. And that’s what sin does to us. It chases God out of our center.
If you read the Bible, you’ll notice that story after story is about people who are ruined by sin and unable to totally and completely worship their God. Sin pushed Adam and Eve off their center. They took fruit from the tree of good and evil and they ate from it, knocking God out of their center. Cain was so annoyed at Abel’s worship that it kindled a jealousy and anger strong enough to kill. God was so disturbed with all of mankind, that he made a plan to set out and destroy everyone, except Noah and his family, along with the animals in the Ark. Abraham told his lies; Isaac had his problems and Jacob stole birthrights; Moses and Aaron had their wrestling matches with God as did the Israelites, and every time again people were being thrown from their center. The Apostle Paul quoted from Psalm 14 when he said; "There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one." Rom.3:10-12. But God did not give up. He invited Moses to visit with him on top of a mountain and there God proceeded to give him the ten commandments.
3. GOD’S LAW TRIED TO RESTORE OUR CENTER: And if you listen to each of the commandments, and especially the first four, you’ll notice God attempting to restore himself as man’s center. First: "You shall have no other gods before me." I often marveled at the thunderstorms described in Psalm 29. Have you ever been camping in a tent, when the weather was hot and hazy and humid, creating a pretty good atmosphere for thunderstorms? Most people welcome storms then because they are often followed by cooler air that cleans out the humidity. Imagine being in a tent where the thunder clouds decide to park right over top. The sounds of clashing thunder are deafening. And there is always the threat of lightening striking down branches and trees and landing who knows where. That could be a very frightening experience.
But the Psalmist who prayed Psalm 29 was saying much more. He was calling on all the angels in the heavens to ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. We have all been summoned to worship. Four times in the opening two verses, four times in the closing two verses and in each of the seven verses in between, "the voice of the Lord" is mentioned. The Psalmist was making a bold statement against the Canaanite god Baal, who was said to be in control of thunder and lightening, of fertility and rains. As well as Israel worshiping the God of history, they also worshiped the God of creation, of nature, of the rains and the thunder and lightening that came from within. The entire Psalm tried to bring Israel back to their center in responding to the first command. You shall have no other gods before me.
The second commandment is even more specific: "Do not make idols, for I am a jealous God." This has everything to do with keeping God at our center. When Moses came down from the mountain with the ten commandments in his hands, what did he find the people of Israel doing? What did Aaron do while Moses was receiving this second commandment? He made Israel a golden calf. What could some of our golden calves be today" I have a hunch that our televisions could serve as golden calves today, because we spend an awful lot of time bowing in front of our televisions. In the third commandment God says; "You shall not misuse my name!" God wants to be taken seriously, and that includes anyone who uses his name, and anyone who calls themselves a "Christian." And fourth: "Observe the Sabbath Day!" Again, this has everything to do with keeping God at our center. And God gave many instructions surrounding Sabbath rest. In hearing these four commandments, instead of restoring our center, what we quickly come to realize is how far we’ve been pushed off from center.
4. GOD’S LAW REVEALS HOW FAR OFF WE ARE. In our day to day routine, we seem to have limited worship to what happens in the church on Sundays. It’s no wonder that the church has allowed worship wars to distract their attention from almighty God. Many grew up with a rhythm of going to church twice on Sundays but today many more believe that it’s enough to go to church even once a month. Denominational publishing houses are being careful how they structure their church school materials, realizing that teachers no longer commit themselves to being in church every Sunday for an entire season.
Go to a sports bar on any given Friday evening and listen to the conversations that are taking place with the people around the table next to you. What kind of language is being used? These are ordinary people in an ordinary place, more often than not, younger people and single young adults looking for a place to hang out. The language that they use or don’t use will tell you very quickly whether God is even in their lives let alone how much he is centered in their being. There are an overwhelming majority of people who simply do not see the need to worship God, let alone place him in the center of our lives.
"The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’ They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good." (Psalm 14:1) Today’s academic culture has placed self in the center. We are a self-centered culture that has pushed God outside of our circles, and placed him on the sidelines of life. Universities and schools have no place for God. Courts and judicial systems have no place for God. The business world is very tough to work and compete in and has an entire business ethic of its own. Television news specializes in broadcasting change and unrest and fear. Commercials breed dissatisfaction with what you have. And when we read God’s law against our present day to day life, it has a way of revealing just how far off center our culture has become. And that’s the very reason Jesus came into this world, to renovate our hearts.
5. JESUS CAME TO RENOVATE OUR HEARTS. He came to realign our orbit. He came to reintroduce us to our Father in heaven and reconcile with him. When asked what was the greatest commandment to man, this was the Lord’s response. "The most important one," answered Jesus is this: "Hear, 0 Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength." (Mark 12:30) What’s interesting is that Jesus did not talk about something that we needed to do externally. Nor did he talk about things that we had to make sure that we did not do. Instead, he focused on our insides, on our most basic structures and characteristics of humanity. He talked about the need to transform our insides. Jesus brought a message to our minds, and a mirror to our bodies, and a magnifying glass to our hearts, and a makeover to our souls.
There is a transformation that takes place when we invite Jesus into our hearts, and forgiveness is just the beginning of that journey. When we invite Jesus into our center, our hearts and souls and minds and strength begin to change. Worship spreads this makeover into all of life, as we become a new creation. Paul says; "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" 2 Corinthians 5:2. And this is where we need to follow Jesus. Following Jesus helps restore our center in two ways.
6. FOLLOWING JESUS MAKES WORD AND DEED RENEWED. That’s what many churches with furniture in front attempt to proclaim. Many churches have three pieces of furniture in front, which include a baptismal fount, marking our beginning in Christ’s righteousness. And it is only the beginning. It includes a pulpit which represents God’s word. But that word is not limited to preaching. It is now something that we can read, that many of us have studied, that many of us have shared and most of us have learned to live. And it includes the Lord’s Supper table as something that we remember, that we are reminded of and that we relive.
Some have Lord’s Supper every week, others once a month and still others every six weeks or four or five times a year. When the Lord’s Supper is remembered four times a year, it often focuses on the forgiveness of our sins, and rightfully so. When Jesus rose from the dead, he walked out of Jerusalem along the road to Emmaus, where he came up alongside two disciples. They were still grieving his death, but had heard rumors of his resurrection. They invited Jesus into their home to eat with them, and when Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, their eyes were opened. They saw Jesus as having risen from the dead and he explained all of scripture to them with such incredible insight.
There are times when we should celebrate communion to serve as reminders of the facts that we worship a risen Lord and that everything we do during each day of the week should be done in his name. Communion helps us have our centers restored, giving God the glory in everything we do. The Apostle Paul says; "And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus giving thanks to God the Father through him" Colossians 3:17. The focus of communion must also invite us to follow our risen Lord.
In both word and deed, God has invited us together to become realigned in our center, by following his Son, Jesus Christ. The invitation is there, as Jesus says; "Follow Me."
Suggested Order of Worship
Words of Welcome: Psalm 95:1,2,6,7
Greeting from the Lord: Philippians 1:2
Opening Hymn of Praise: #244:1,2,3 "God Himself is with Us"
Confession and Assurance:
Reading from Deuteronomy 5
Hymn of Response: #255:1,2,3. "God, Be Merciful to me"
Assurance of Pardon: Hebrews 10:19-25
Hymn of Response: #557:1,2,3,4 "My Jesus I Love Thee"
HEARING GOD’S WORD
Scripture Reading: Psalm 29; Mark 12:28-34
Sermon Title "Renewing Our Center"
Hymn of Response: #554:1,2,3,5 "In Sweet Communion, Lord, with You"
( Or, "Jesus, be the Center")
Benediction: Hebrews 13:20,21
Doxology: #634:1,2,3 "Father, We Love You"