This is the second sermon in a five-part series written by Pastor Coons titled, “Living God’s Priorities.”
Living God’s Priorities
“The Priority of Worship”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
March 16, 2014
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Our lives are full of priorities. Eating and drinking, taking care of our bodies with exercise. Going to school and to work. Paying our bills. Sports, hobbies, and leisure activities. This Lenten Season we are considering God’s priorities in our lives of faith and how we as Christians live those priorities.
The Lord’s number one priority for all people is that we believe in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior from sin, Satan, and death, and receive from Him the forgiveness and everlasting life the Savior won for us all with His death and resurrection. But how do we keep that saving faith strong in the face of temptation and trial? How do we keep faith strong against the assaults of the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh? That’s what the Lord’s priority of worship is about—keeping our faith in Christ strong and sustaining it.
God’s gift of faith in the heart that trusts in Jesus as Savior, the faith that receives from the sacrificial death of Jesus forgiveness, life, and salvation, is a faith that is constantly under attack. Think of saving faith in comparison to your physical body. What “attacks” does your body face day in and day out? Germs—bacteria and viruses; stress; physical, emotional, and mental exertion. What does your body need each day to protect itself against and strengthen itself to recover from these “attacks”? Our bodies need nutrition, vitamins and minerals. Our bodies need water. Relaxation is very important. And don’t forget sleep. Much of your body’s recovery from the day happens during sleep.
What happens to your body if you don’t eat regularly or don’t eat nutritional meals? If you don’t drink enough water? If your body doesn’t get a chance to relax or you are sleep deprived? What happens is that your body becomes weak and sick. You don’t function well physically, mentally, or emotionally. It’s hard to do the things required of you in a day. Of course, the ultimate fate of a body constantly under “attack” is that it will die.
And here’s the point of comparison. Even as your physical body is constantly under “attack”, so you are as a spiritual person always under assault. The enemies of faith are beating your faith up every day. Your faith is under constant barrage from the devil, the world, and your own sinful flesh.
Martin Luther writes in The Large Catechism about these attackers: “For we dwell in the flesh and carry the old Adam about our neck. He exerts himself and encourages us daily to unchastity, laziness, gluttony and drunkenness, greed and deception, to defraud our neighbor and to overcharge him [Galatians 5:19–21; Colossians 3:5–8]. In short, the old Adam encourages us to have all kinds of evil lusts, which cling to us by nature and to which we are moved by the society, the example, and what we hear and see of other people. They often wound and inflame even an innocent heart.
Next comes the world, which offends us in word and deed. It drives us to anger and impatience. In short, there is nothing but hatred and envy, hostility, violence and wrong, unfaithfulness, vengeance, cursing, . . . pride and haughtiness, with useless finery, honor, fame, and power. No one is willing to be the least. Everyone desires to sit at the head of the group and to be seen before all [Luke 14:7–11].
Then comes the devil, pushing and provoking in all directions. But he especially agitates matters that concern the conscience and spiritual affairs. He leads us to despise and disregard both God’s Word and works. He tears us away from faith, hope, and love [1 Corinthians 13:13], and he brings us into misbelief, false security, and stubbornness. Or, on the other hand, he leads us to despair, denial of God, blasphemy, and innumerable other shocking things. These are snares and nets [2 Timothy 2:26], indeed, real fiery darts that are shot like poison into the heart, not by flesh and blood, but by the devil [Ephesians 6:12, 16].
Great and grievous, indeed, are these dangers and temptations, which every Christian must bear. . . . So every hour that we are in this vile life, we are attacked on all sides [2 Corinthians 4:8], chased and hunted down. We are moved to cry out and to pray that God would not allow us to become weary and faint [Isaiah 40:31; Hebrews 12:3] and to fall again into sin, shame, and unbelief. For otherwise it is impossible to overcome even the least temptation.”
Left to ourselves, faith cannot stand these attacks over and over again without being strengthened and renewed. Our faith can fall. And if it falls, we fall with it—away from trust in Christ, away from receiving His gifts of forgiveness and eternal life. A fallen faith is a dead faith. A dead faith cannot save. If our faith should fall and crumble and die under the assaults of the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh, we are spiritually dead and condemned to eternal death.
That’s why our faith in Christ needs a place of refuge and strength from the batterings of the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh. The Psalmist writes, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” (Ps. 46:1 ESV) God is that place of refuge and restoration for our faith. God the Father gave His one-of-a-kind Son to be our Savior, to save us from the enemies that assail us. 1 John 3:8, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” (1John 3:8 ESV) With His death on the cross and resurrection from the tomb, Christ has completely defeated Satan. He can no longer accuse us of our sins. We can resist His temptations. Jesus also promises us, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 ESV) On the cross, our Lord Jesus took upon Himself our guilt and punishment for our sins. His death and the shedding of His blood freed us from the slavery of sins and won for us complete forgiveness, life, and salvation.
Through the gift of saving faith in Jesus who suffered, died, and rose again to save us from all sins, from Satan, and from the world, we are brought near to God our Father as His beloved sons and daughters. He invites us to come and meet with Him and to receive from Him forgiveness, everlasting life, and the strengthening of our faith so that we can stand firm under the attacks we face each day. Where does the Lord especially invite us to meet with Him to refuel and to be refreshed and strengthened in faith? In worship.
Worship is something that God does for His people of faith in giving us the refreshment of forgiveness and eternal life while strengthening our Christian faith to stand up under attack. Worship, then, using the German word, is really “Gottesdienst,” God’s Service or Divine Service. The Divine Service, worship, is an encounter with the blessings God has given His people for the very purpose of forgiving sins and strengthening faith for the daily assaults that we face. Luther in The Large Catechism again writes, “We [keep holy days] so that people will have time and opportunity on such days of rest, which otherwise would not be available, to attend worship services, that is, so that they may assemble to hear and discuss God’s Word and then to offer praise, song, and prayer to God.” (LC: Ten Commandments, 84) In the Divine Service, “Our Lord speaks and we listen. His Word bestows what it says. . . . The rhythm of worship is from Him to us, and them from us back to Him. He gives His gifts, and together we receive and extol them.” (Introduction to Lutheran Worship)
The Divine Service, then, is God’s gifting place to His people. Here He gives us His Word that assures us that for the repentant sinner, for the sake of Christ, God forgives sins. And so we receive from the Lord through the pastor Holy Absolution—“I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” Forgiveness of sins, right here, for you!
The Lord then gives His Word in Holy Scripture that shows us our sins (the Law) and shows us our Savior (the Gospel). Through the read and preached Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Lord gives us faith, strengthens faith, and gives forgiveness and eternal life. More forgiveness! More strength from the Lord to resist temptation and to live the priority of faith! Comfort for our weary souls! Assurance of His presence with us always through the Holy Spirit! Guarantee of victory over sin, death, and the devil. Peace, joy, perseverance in hope! All here—all for you from your Heavenly Father through His Word!
Having heard the Word, our Lord Jesus Himself with His own testament invites us to His holy Supper. At the Lord’s Table Christ gives us His real Body and Blood to eat and to drink with the bread and the wine—given and shed for YOU for the forgiveness of sins. Yes, more forgiveness from the Lord! And where there is forgiveness, you also receive eternal life and salvation. In the eating and drinking of the Supper of Christ, your faith is also strengthened to withstand the assaults of the devil, the world, and your own sinful flesh.
Every single Christian needs what God gives freely in worship. We adults know we need what Christ suffered and died to win for us because we have experienced the temptations and the struggles and the pains of life first hand. Here the Lord offers refreshment and renewal to face them with His Word and the life and strength that Word gives us. But I also want to stress today the importance of worship for children. Children also need what Christ suffered and died to win for all sinners—forgiveness, life, and the strengthening of their faith. They need spiritual refreshment and strength because they too are under the assaults of the devil, the world, and the flesh.
On Ash Wednesday we heard in the reading from the prophet Joel calling the people of Israel to repentance and worship, “Consecrate the congregation; assemble the elders; gather the children, even nursing infants.” (Joel 2:16 ESV) In Mark 10, we read, “They were bringing children [literally, infants!] to [Jesus] that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. . . . And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them. (Mark 10:13-16 ESV)
Worship is a place for children—infants, toddlers, youngsters, pre-teens, teens, young adults. This is God’s gifting place for them through His Word. This is where they learn the Church’s liturgy and prayers, hymns and songs that become a part of their life of faith throughout their years. This is their place of refuge and strength. This is the family of saints who support children in their baptismal faith with learning and prayer, love and care.
God’s priority of worship is for all of us, young and old. The Divine Service is here for you to come to at the Lord’s invitation to hear His Word, receive His gifts, and be strengthened and sustained in your most holy faith for the week ahead. Since Lent is an appropriate time to examine our lives and ask ourselves if the Lord’s priorities for our lives are indeed our priorities, we should do so with the Lord’s priority of worship.
Of course I realize that, to some degree, I’m preaching to the choir this morning. Yes, we all need to hear this message about the Lord’s priority of worship. We all need to call to mind again how our Savior provided our spiritual need for refreshment and strength in this place through Word and Sacrament. But perhaps you are here in God’s Service week in and week out. To you I say, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Keep it up! Continue to live the priority of worship.” Perhaps you are sitting here this morning realizing that you haven’t been as regular in your worship attendance. You realize that it’s a priority that the Lord has that has slipped from your priority list. I encourage you to ask the Holy Spirit to change your priorities since you have heard the Lord’s Word today and been reminded how important it is to be here and to hear His Word and receive His Sacrament and so receive forgiveness and strength in faith to face daily spiritual attacks.
Now this is where I need your help, for those who are not here much at all, those who aren’t here this morning, especially those folks you and I know that have been negligent in worship for weeks and months. As pastor, I have a number of people in mind who I want to hear this message from God. I bet you do too. So I’m asking you to share God’s message with them. Take a copy of this sermon from the back and ask them to read it. Or direct them to our website where they can view it online. But more than that, please, pray that the Holy Spirit would re-prioritize the lives of His people as they read and hear and take this message to heart so that the priority of worship would be their priority in life.
Priorities. We all have them. The Lord does also. By His grace through the power of the Holy Spirit we live out the priority of faith in Jesus Christ, trusting in Him alone as our Lord and Savior. By the power of the same Spirit, we also live the priority of worship. At the Lord’s invitation, we come to this place to hear His Word and partake of the Sacrament of Holy Communion. Here God Himself bestows on us the gifts of Christ’s cross and resurrection—forgiveness, eternal life, and a faith made stronger, a faith renewed, so that in the Spirit’s power we might resist the devil, overcome the troubles of the world, and avoid the temptations of the flesh. Amen.
 Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 420–421.