Today is our first step towards our project of unpacking and reflecting on the nine vision statements of our church. Before we begin reflecting on the first Vision Statement in light of this passage in Acts, let me outline a map of what is all going to happen in this series. (Slide 1) As I mentioned last week, many years ago our congregation developed a broad over-arching mission statement that says we are about worshipping God, growing together as disciples, and making Christ known. The congregation then fleshed out each one into three more specific vision statements. (Slide 2) In regards to worshipping God, we have said that we value worship that honours God and fully engages all God’s people. We value biblical, reformed, Christ-centered preaching that transforms us. We value being a praying church. We will dedicate a Sunday to reflecting on each one of these statements. We’ve paired each mission statement with a passage from the Book of Acts, to see how the early church can teach us about living our mission statement. Each Sunday, we will also provide a handout for each of us to take home and personally reflect on each statement. And then the following week, we’ll each bring our completed handout, which will be anonymous, and we’ll post into on the wall. After three Sundays of this, we’ll have a time where we’ll meet in small groups and we will reflect together about how grow in living out our vision statements. I’ve said a lot, but we’ll walk through it step by step as we go from here.
(Slide 3) But for now, let’s move on to the task at hand. We value worship that Honours God and engages all God’s people. To begin with, we need to put this statement in perspective. At first glance, a person could be fooled into thinking that its all up to us to worship God in a way that honours Him and engages all His people. But this certainly is not the story of Scripture. Of course we can play a big role in fostering worship that honours God and engages His people, but throughout Scripture, worship is always a response to who God is and what He’s doing. That’s why at the beginning of Acts, Jesus just tells His disciples to wait. He says, (Slide 4) “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.” Their job isn’t to engage all God’s people with worship that honours God. Their job is to wait. What are they to wait for? “In a few days,” Jesus says, “You will be baptized with the Holy Spirit”. The result of the coming of the Holy Spirit is people fully engaged in worshipping and honouring God.
Worship is a response. All worship is a response to who God is and what He he has done. This is no less true today than it was on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was first given to His people. (Slide 5) As we live into this vision statement, we must consider the place of waiting and responding. What would it look like for us to wait on the Lord to overwhelm this place with His Holy Spirit. Our worship is always a response. Every time we gather to worship God, we grew aware of the way that God has already been at work? The whole book of Acts is about people responding to the Holy Spirit.
Let’s look at what they respond to on the Day of Pentecost. They were all together in one place, when suddenly the sound of a gale force wind comes direct from heaven, came rushing into the house. They see with their eyes what looks like a flaming tongue, and it rests on the top of each one’s head. Then the Holy Spirit fills each one of them, and they begin to speak in other languages. They begin praising God in a language foreign to them, a language that we would have to learn in high school language class.
But not them. The Holy Spirit compels them out of the house and into the streets, speaking languages that they didn’t learn. Picture the streets of Jerusalem packed with people, because its the time of Pentecost. Pentecost was a feast implemented in the Exodus to celebrate the harvest. Its that time of year, and Jerusalem has been flooded with pilgrims so that they can celebrate the Festival of Pentecost in the Temple. Imagine being a pilgrim who has travelled miles and miles. Imagine begin far, far away from your native land. You’ve traveled weeks to arrive at the Temple, and you’re almost there when your ears perk up. Your ears perk up because you just imagined hearing someone speaking in your mother tongue. But that’s silly. You grew up speaking a forgotten dialect that no one outside of your village speaks anymore. But someone is speaking your dialect. And what do you hear? Something you never expected. Something about the mighty deeds of God manifest in Jesus the Messiah. Jesus, who died, but has conquered death. Jesus, who has forgiven our debts. Jesus, who is Lord over all. Jesus, who has made it possible to be adopted as a child of God. And God has sent someone to say this to you in your very own language. The language your mother spoke to you. The language you first learned to say “Mamma,” or “Dadda.” God is speaking to you in this intimate language, and he’s inviting you to call Him Daddy, in your mother tongue. He wants to be that close to you. Those in the streets can only say, “We hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own language!”
God is adopting all people to be His children. When you read Paul, you get the sense that he can’t get over this. Jesus died on the cross to erase the distinctions that cause us to fight with each other. (Slide 6) Paul says, “You are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus, For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”. What is saying that all are welcome into God’s family. So the Holy Spirit sends the disciples out into the street to speak your language and invite you into God’s family. (Slide 7)
People can spend a lot of money on counselling in order to get help getting along with their family members. The reason why we’ll spend money to get along with each other is because we’re stuck with our family. My brother is going to be my brother for the rest of my life, so its worth my while to try and get along with him. Well, when I call someone a brother or sister in Christ, what I don’t often realize is that I’m stuck with them for eternity. That means it might also be smart to try and get along with each other here and now. It’ll prepare us for eternity. At Pentecost the Holy Spirit was bringing into the family a lot of people who were really different from each other. This picture is painted again and again throughout the book of Revelation. (Slide 8) John says he “looked and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and people and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white with palm branches in their hands.” They’re all worshipping together! How in the world is God going to manage a family so many different worship styles and preferences?
The family diversity that began at Pentecost was just a glimpse of what God’s blended family will look like in the future. Our worship services need to prepare us for that reality. God is not simply about saving a bunch of people who are similar to each other. He’s bringing together people from every tribe, tongue and nation. Having a worship service that reflects this reality is an incredibly tall order. After all, not everyone worships the way we do. So, will there be worship war’s in heaven? Which part of the family tree would win? The free flowing, spontaneous form of the Pentecostals? Will it be the high-church liturgy of Catholics and Anglicans? Will it be the quiet popcorn prayers of the Quakers? Maybe the Celts will win. Their worship made them tough, they stood naked in icy rivers and shouted the Psalms. The Koreans have hardcore worship too, they pray to God at the break of day by shouting to Him. Maybe the Evangelicals will win by embracing technology to enhance the worship service. The volume will be so loud it will just drown everyone else out. But then the Mennonites and Amish will register protest, because they’ll still be avoiding modern technology in every aspect of their lives. Maybe our kids will be so many that they’ll win out, and we’ll sing mainly children’s songs. But maybe the’ll be kept in line by the elders. But in reality we don’t need to worry about disorder in heaven. Our Reformed Brethren will keep everyone in line. Having the assurance that they were chosen before the foundations of the earth will give them the confidence to make sure that everything is done with good, proper order. Not even those heavenly creatures who praise without ceasing will be tempted to speak out of turn… Or maybe God will divide the New Creation into different sections, so that we can just worship with people like us. But I thought Earth was supposed to be like heaven instead of the other way around.
(Slide 9) Our worship is to grow more and more toward resembling the heavenly worship that we look forward to. That’s why we need to be serious about valuing worship that engages all God’s people! The way we worship now, prepares us for eternity.
But did you notice how the Pentecost passage ends? Not everyone joins in the praise. Some were amazed, and a bit confused and wanted to find out more. But that wasn’t the result for everyone. (Slide 10) Some sneered, saying “they’re filled with new wine”. This is what dismissing this vision statement looks like. Its easy to say we value worship that honours God and engages all His people. But often what we can mean is, “we value worship that honours God by engaging me. But if we limit ourselves to what we’re comfortable with, we could miss out. This is a theme that occurs throughout the book of Acts. The most profound of the Holy Spirit Power, don’t always lead to Faith. Instead, some respond to the movement of the Holy with skepticism, and even rejection.
For many of us, worshipping God in ways that seems unusual can actually feel like heresy. We create a list of things that are important and necessary when it comes to worshipping God. When something deviates from that list our alarm bells go off and we become critical. Let me go further still, when we encounter a worship experience that feels out of bounds, we can even get hostile. That’s why they call them worship wars. Families and friendships have been severed when people don’t think that worship has sufficiently honoured God or been personally engaging. And so we can develop a host of criticism when worship doesn’t measure up: it was too dry, too emotional, too intellectual, too spontaneous, too scripted. We can criticize worship services for leaving behind the Old Testament, for not embracing the vision of the New Testament, for abandoning the guidance of Church History. There are unlimited ways of being critical. Have you ever broken fellowship with someone over matters of worship? Its far too easy to do. Its far more difficult to grow as a church in honouring God through worship engages all His people. Its easy to be like the dissenters at Pentecost and dismiss the people we disagree with and just say, “maybe they’re drunk.”
(Slide 11) But its crucial we learn to value and grow in worship that honours God and fully engages all God’s people. In doing so, we are preparing for eternity. We are continuing in the Spirit’s work that began at Pentecost, when we learn to speak the worship language of others. The content doesn’t change. We still worship Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We have one faith, but many expressions of that faith. By growing in this way, we counteract the consumerism of church culture which says, “its all about me and meeting my needs.” Instead we say, “By learning to love people who are different, together we will learn to Honour and Praise the living God.” This is our future. This is our calling. Its not an easy one at that, but it will prepare us for eternity. And maybe our first step is to wait on the Holy Spirit. Maybe our first step is to wait for the Holy Spirit to come and teach us a language that is not our own. Maybe our first step is to wait for the Holy Spirit teach us new songs and to pray in ways that might feel awkward. Maybe our first step is to wait for the Holy Spirit to come and fill us, and empower us to embrace our brother and our sister who is so different from us and say, “Come, teach me how to worship in Spirit and in Truth.” Everything else is secondary.