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As Long As I Live!
October 29, 1995

JOEL 2:23-27, LUKE 18:9-14

According to Psalm 146 which we read responsively this morning, what will the psalmist do as long as he lives? I will praise the Lord as long as I live! I will sing praises to my God all my life long. That's a long time! As long as I live... Jesus told a parable about two men who went to the temple. Why did they go? Each had different motivations. Each had completely different attitudes. One was in love with himself, the other was deeply conscious of his sin. Each approached God differently, one proudly, one humbly. Why do you come to church?

A pastor tried diligently to convince one of his members to come back to church. Finally, the man admitted that he felt embarrassed. He had no decent clothes to wear. So the pastor gave him some money from the Matthew VI fund and said, "Go buy yourself a new shirt, tie, suit, socks, and shoes--the works. And come to worship next Sunday." But, next Sunday, the man was still not there, so the pastor went to visit him. The man explained, "Pastor, I did what you said, and bought the new clothes. But, I looked so good, I went and joined the Presbyterian Church!" Why do you come to church?

The Psalmist answers, I will praise the Lord as long as I live. This psalm differs from other psalms. Most of the psalms used in temple worship praise the Lord because of God's majesty, splendor, dominion, power, and because of God's mighty deeds in nature, in the world, and in history. But, the author of Psalm 146 went to the temple to praise God for God's acts on behalf of the oppressed, the hungry, the friendless, the blind, the widow, and the orphan. Verses 7-9,

who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets the prisoners free; the Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow.

I will praise the Lord as long as I live.

Two men went to the temple. Why do you come to the temple--this sanctuary?

Do you, like the Pharisee, worship because you are impressed with yourself and want to show off your goodness and your nice clothes?

Do you, like the tax collector, worship because of your guilt and need to confess?

Do you worsip because God cares for the oppressed, the hungry, the blind, the widow and the orphan?

Do you worship because you are moved by God's mighty deeds in history and nature?

Do you worship because you are moved by the wonders of God's creation? Who can gaze on the beauty of Yosemite without at least a thought about the One who made it all?

Do you worship because your heart is full of the goodness of God, because you have been abundantly blessed, and you are grateful?

Do you worship because you love music, and like to listen and sing?

Do you worship because you want to hear a good word, because you want to learn something that can help you in the following week? The little old lady said, "Pastor Doug, has anyone ever told you you're a fascinating preacher?" I replied, "Why no, no one ever has." She said, "Then whatever gave you the idea?"

Do you worship because worship is a family experience, because you were trained in your childhood to worship, and you are continuing the tradition?

Do you worship because you need God? I visited with a couple who said it had been years since they had worshiped in church. They were neglecting God, but when a good friend was told he had terminal cancer, they were suddenly confronted with their need of God, and back to church they went.

Do you worship because you cannot contain your joy? The prophet, Joel, in the passage which was read this morning, told his people, Be glad and rejoice in the Lord your God...praise the name of the Lord your God, who has dealt wondrously with you.

There is something in each of us that cries out for God, a yearning, a longing. There is a longing in you that material things cannot satisfy. You were created by God to be in relationship with God. You were created to worship, and when you don't worship, your spirit suffers. It shrivels and cries out to be fed. Many people do not recognize what is missing in their lives. They know they are searching, but they are not sure what will satisfy them. Oh, if they knew that it is God for whom they long, they could rejoice with the psalmist, I will praise the Lord as long as I live.

When Ellie and I visited some of the former Communist countries in the eastern bloc, we were impressed with the commitment and fortitude of those who worshiped in spite of governments that openly criticized and persecuted them. Persecution of Christians is not just a biblical phenomenon. Christians we met in East Germany and former Czechoslovakia worshiped God not because it was easy, not because it was the social thing to do. They worshiped God because their spirits cried out, I will praise the Lord as long as I live! They worshiped in spite of social pressure to the contrary. They were taught in school that only the ignorant believe in God. Children were pressured to join communist youth groups. We were told of a third grade boy in East Berlin who was called to the principal's office once a week. Do you remember what it was like to be called to the principal's office? Once a week, he was called out of the class, with the eyes of all his classmates on him, to the principal's office where he was asked why he had not joined the socialist children's club. In Czechoslovakia, children of pastors were refused admission to universities. In the work place, Christians were bypassed when job promotions were made.

Yet, the Christians worshiped. I will praise the Lord as long as I live. Persecution culls out the half-hearted and the half-committed. The numbers who worship may be small, but they are sincere. Because of persecution, they know who they are, they know what they believe, they know their loyalties, and their worship is from the heart. There were no pew warmers. Would you worship if your promotion or your children's education were in jeopardy?

We are privileged to be able to worship in this country without persecution, without social pressure to the contrary. I wonder how faithful I would have been if I had lived in East Germany or Czechoslovakia. But, we are not tested. We are given the privilege of worshiping.

Worship is more than being a spectator, worship is being a participant. You do your own worshiping. We here in the chancel only lead the service. Whether you worship is your decision and your privilege. Worship is something you do, not something that is done to you, or for you. We were invited to dinner once when, after we sat down and the prayer was offered, the hostess waved her hand over the table and declared, "Now, make your meal." She had it right. She did the cooking. She prepared many dishes, but it was up to us to make our meal, to choose what we wanted to eat and how much. She didn't feed us. Dining is not something someone else does for you. You make your own meal.

Likewise, you do your own worshiping. We who are the worship leaders provide the opportunities. The choirs offer music. We lead in prayer, but you do your own praying. No one can do your praying for you. We sing hymns, but you do your own singing. No one can do your singing for you. We provide opportunities for you to praise God, confess and recognize your sins and shortcomings, and receive forgiveness. We read and preach the Word of God, but you have to listen, hear what is said, and appropriate, assimilate and apply. We provide an opportunity for you to respond to God's grace with your offering, but you make your own contribution. No one can do your ministry of stewardship for you. I invite you to commit your life to Jesus Christ, but you make your own commitment. No one can make your commitment for you.

When I visit other churches, I find it tempting to be critical, or interested to see how they do it, like a chef visiting another restaurant, or an architect visiting a new building. When I worship, it is tempting to become a spectator, inspector, or critic, rather than a worshiper. But, when I am open to the experience, do my praying, sing the hymns to the Lord rather than to the people sitting around me; when I allow honest introspection, and bring my concerns to the Lord in the company of fellow worshipers, then I worship, and I find myself nourished, uplifted, blessed. I learn how to praise the Lord as long as I live.

Worship is something you do, not something done for you. Worship is what your spirit cries out to do. You were created to worship God, to be in relationship with God as long as you live. Worship is a joy, a privilege, a blessing. You can sit back, be critical or cynical, or you can participate with your whole being, give yourself to the experience, hold nothing back, sing with gusto, (who cares whether you are in tune?) pray with sincerity, laugh with your stomach, cry with your eyes, give with generosity. Then you will worship and find yourself nourished, uplifted, and blessed. Then you will learn how to praise the Lord as long as you live.

© 1995 Douglas I. Norris