For as long as I can remember, I have been going to the Lord's house to worship. I can remember standing up in the pew between my parents, looking at the people in the row behind us. I remember sitting in the pew when my feet didn't touch the ground and I could swing my legs back and forth. I remember always having a nickel or dime to put in the offering plate when it was passed. Until I was ten, we worshiped in the Methodist church. I am sure my favorite grandmother, a staunch Wisconsin synod Lutheran, was more than dismayed. We sang Holy, Holy, Holy as the opening song every Sunday. I still know it by heart. And as the pastor walked out of church at the end of the service, we sang the doxology. Every Sunday. I have no idea what we sang in between but those two songs are forever in my head.
Our Lutheran worship was traditional. First the red book and then the green. But there are many ways to worship. At seminary I worshiped in Swahili with the Tanzanians and in Amharic with the Ethiopians. At Christmas we sang silent night in German with the German students and I saw three ships with the Norwegians. There have been folk masses, polka masses and very contemporary services. Some of my favorite worship services have been at camp, listening to and watching kids lift their voices in praise to God as they ’let their light shine’. One of my most memorable worship experiences came on a Wednesday night during confirmation. Kenn Katona was our youth minister at the time and he was leading a song called Holy. As we began to sing the Holy Spirit filled the room. His presence was so thick you could have cut it with a knife. And when I opened my eyes to look around the room the eighth-grade boys were all on their knees, arms raised as high as they could go, praising God for all they were worth. It was one of the holiest moments of my life.
We see many in scripture who have worshiped the Lord in song. In Exodus 15 Moses led the Israelites in song and dance after God has gotten His people safely across the Red Sea. Here is a bit of the song. ”I will sing to the Lord for He has triumphed gloriously...The Lord is my strength and my might, and He has become my salvation. This is my God, and I will praise Him, my father's God and I will exalt Him.”
Sometimes we sing because we are joyful and we give God all the praise, honor and glory. Sometimes, as in the psalms the songs are laments because God's people are suffering or beaten down. King David sang and danced with all his might as they finally brought the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem. Because the Israelites believed God dwelt on the mercy seat...the top of the ark...they were celebrating God's presence finally coming to Jerusalem. It was a momentous occasion, one worth of a ginormous celebration.
Perhaps one of the most famous songs of praise to the Lord is found in Luke 1:46-55. It is called the Magnificat...Mary's song of praise to the Lord. You have heard the story. Mary, a young girl from Nazareth was minding her own business when an angel of the Lord named Gabriel visits her to tell her God has chosen her to be the one to bear His Son. Mary was engaged to Joseph and no doubt they had spent time talking about and planning their future. Raising the Son of God was not part of those conversations, until Gabriel arrived. It would have been easy to get angry, pitch a fit, refuse to serve...any number of things. Instead, Mary sang a song of praise. She worshiped The Lord even though He had just turned her world completely upside down. How many of us would be able to do that???
Listen to just a few of her words. ”My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has looked with favor on the lowliness of His servant.” Amazing words for someone so young and so downtrodden. Women were often uneducated. They were more possessions than anything else, having no value in society except for their ability to bear children. And even though her world would be forever changed, even though she knew Joseph would not understand, even though she lived in a small town and knew everyone would talk...Mary sang a song of praise.
Many of our brothers and sisters in Christ do not know the luxury of worshiping like we do. Early Christians met in homes and some in the catechomes, underground. Some of our brothers and sisters meet in ravines in the dead of night so they are not detected. In places where persecution is extremely severe some Christians have taken a Bible and given bits of it to the members to memorize. That way they will not be caught with a copy of scripture but when they gather, they still have the word. We just simply have no idea how much we have to be thankful for.
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. It is a day to give thanks for our many blessings. Tonight, we gather as a family to worship. We will lift our voices in praise. God’s ￼Word will be read and preached. And we will eat at a bountiful table, the most expensive meal ever. The most needed and necessary meal. The most important meal we will ever eat. And we will give thanks.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W