- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 20, 2003

Excerpts of yesterday’s sermon by the Rev. Robert Norris at Fourth Presbyterian Church in Bethesda:

There is nothing more important for the Christian than true worship.

The nature of true worship is much more than simply attending a worship service. [The apostle] Paul makes the extraordinary statement: “When you come together it is not for the better, but for the worse.”

The church [at Corinth] was regular in its worship, but it was not “true worship.” Rather, their life was characterized by divisions and factions. Their worship service was self-serving: “When you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper that you eat, for in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal.”

It seems church members brought food to the worship service and did not share it.

God has set the pattern of worship, and what takes place in worship is not a matter of human preference. …

True worship comes when there is a light that bursts upon our souls and shows us God. There is a sense of the greatness of God, of both His holiness and His goodness. Previously, God may have been a part of our thinking, but in true worship we feel His entire centrality. …

We may have seen our sin as weakness or infirmity, but when we see God, then the true understanding of our own sin bursts upon our souls. Sin is not only impractical or dangerous, leading to undesirable consequences such as loss of reputation or addictive habits or broken relationships.

When we see God, the evil of sin is acknowledged, and the evil of the heart is felt. …

Many of us … have violated some rule of the road, some speed restriction. … But we do not see ourselves as great criminals. Without the sight of God, we think of our sin in the same way.

Then we see God. “This is my body broken for you. … This cup is the new covenant in my blood.”

The realization that Jesus lived and died for my sin suddenly changes the way I look at things. Paul shows this church Jesus and His broken body and His shed blood, and the sight of the suffering and sacrifice of the Son of God shows the terrible nature of their sin. They can no longer say, “But it is my food, I brought it, I can eat it and drink it.” … They learn that the “heart is deceitful and desperately wicked.”

They have been trusting their own righteousness and not the sacrifice of Christ. … The light of Christ exposes our self-righteousness and our idolatry and makes us weep.

Paul makes clear that worship must be centered on the great grace of God. …

Jesus is the grace of God that welcomes the sinner. Sin is punished, and death comes as a consequence to the one who bears the punishment that is rightfully ours. At the same time, mercy is clear in that we are declared righteous because Jesus, the Son of God, has borne the punishment in our place and fulfilled the righteous demands of the law for us. True worship sees the provision of the Gospel and trusts in it.

Many people come to worship to look for God, motivated by any number of different needs; some because of the fear of hell, some looking for deliverance from a particular problem, others to escape loneliness or seeking some “inner spiritual experience.” If these are the sort of motivations that draw you to worship God, you will inevitably find yourself looking for some way to engage in a round of moral and spiritual effort to obtain the favor of God. Instead of true worship, you will sink into a self-righteous form of godliness, destitute of power. …

Worship is the place of refreshing for the Christian. We long to find the reality of that presence, and we ask how. The world is ever-present and saps our energy and strength and causes doubts to form.

The Psalmist [in Psalm 73] knew the power of the world to shake faith.

“My feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped.”

The reason is that the sight of the world suggested that the power of injustice was triumphant:

“I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.”

It was not until he worshipped that perspective and power came:

“I went into the sanctuary of God, and then …”

Then he saw the judgment of God against the wicked:

“Truly You set them in slippery places, You make them fall to ruin.”

He saw himself and the real need of his life:

“I was brutish and ignorant; I was like beast towards You.”

Yet he found the great mercy of God:

“Whom have I in heaven but You? … I have made the Lord God my refuge.”

If you long for the reality of God’s presence this morning, worship Him, pray His Spirit bring you His light that you may see Him, that you might see yourself with your real need, and that you may see His welcome in Jesus Christ. This is true worship.

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