Matthew 21.1-11 – Love for God in Worship

M Scott Peck, North American Psychologist, defines love as an act of the will concerned with the building up of self and others, physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.[1] This is a choosing to enter into that which is difficult, choosing to enter into conflict in order that resolution can be found.

To enter into conflict, choosing that which is difficult, is a significant aspect of our celebration of Palm Sunday.  We may speak well of the love of Jesus displayed in his death on the cross, but that love is more greatly displayed, I think, in his willingness to face the cross.  Palm Sunday is also called the Sunday of the Passion, because it Jesus’ entry into the Passion, setting your face to the conflict, knowing that you are going to endure the most unbelievable pain and suffering, physical, emotional, mental and spiritual, in order to bring about a resolution to a problem.

On the day we call Palm Sunday, Jesus sets his face toward Jerusalem, and by doing so on a donkey, he is deliberately provoking those who are in authority and those who will decide his fate.  He is bringing the issue to a head.

What follows the entry into Jerusalem, in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, is the cleansing of the temple.  John begins Jesus’ ministry with the cleansing of the temple.  It is the first thing he does after his first miracle at the wedding in Cana.  The other gospels have it at toward the end of Jesus’ ministry.

Perhaps John sees a call for right relationship with God as the process of bringing in the kingdom of God while the other gospels see reestablishment of right relationship with God as the result of Jesus’ ministry.  Whether at the beginning or the end, Jesus is ministry is concerned with confronting all that is getting in the way of a right relationship with God.  Jesus faces Jerusalem and confronts his enemies to clear the way for a right relationship with God, symbolised by the Temple.

There was nothing particularly bad regarding the sale of animals and birds for sacrifice and the exchanging of money.  Without someone supplying the animals and birds for sacrifice, then the prescribed temple worship would not have been able to take place.  The problem is not that it was bad, but something essentially good had become a distraction from the purpose of the temple, that is, the worship of God.

Jesus disgust concerning the temple commercial activity is not good versus bad, but right place and right time versus wrong place and wrong time – a good thing happening in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I think, in our day and age, we can also allow things, which are by themselves good, to get in the way of what we are supposed to be doing.  Good things can become bad things when they become distractions from the goal and purpose of other things.

I think ‘church’ is a really important and good thing.  By ‘church’, I mean that sense of being the people of God, looking after one another, meeting each other’s needs, building one another up and praying for each other.  But I find myself wondering whether this can be a distraction from, and harmful to, ‘worship’.  By ‘worship’, I mean, giving thanks and praise to God, the focus on God.  How can we give God our full attention when we are giving other human beings our attention at the same time?

The very fact that we describe what we do on a Friday or Sunday morning, or any other time we come into this building, as ‘coming to church’ for the purpose of worship, speaks of this confusion, or distraction.  I like the way that our Pentecostal brothers and sisters do not ask, “Where do you go to Church?” instead, they ask, “Where do you worship?”  It is one of those phrases I find helpful.  What we do on Friday and Sunday mornings, and whenever else we come to this place, is meant to be worship – loving God with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, and all our strength – but we get distracted into making it about us.

I suspect one of the reasons why people don’t feel cared for well enough when they “went to a particular church” is because they came expecting church and not worship.  For this reason, I suspect that that if we expect to do church on a Friday or Sunday morning in this building, then the congregations will never grow beyond a particular size.  Church cannot happen as a large group, people will always be forgotten, overlooked, missed out.  This is why, I think, really large, mega, churches do not expect each congregation member to be known by the Pastor or to know every other member of the congregation.  They certainly would not greet the peace with every other member of the congregation, they certainly wouldn’t be offended if they were missed out and they certainly wouldn’t feel guilty because they didn’t get to everyone. Church needs to happen at some other time than that set specifically aside for worship.

The model of church in the book of the Acts of the Apostles gives us is one where worship and church happen in different contexts. (Acts 2:43-47)  The temple, for us the church building, was specifically to worship; the temple was about God.  Church, however, took place as small gatherings in the homes of the believers.  They met one another’s needs, including financial, they ate together and they worshiped.  We know that when Paul wrote concerning women being silent in church.  (1 Cor 14:34)  By this he did not mean, as some would have it, that they could not preach or teach, but that they were spending time talking about what was going on in their lives.  They were doing church when worship was the purpose.

Although being church included worshiping together, worship was not distracted by doing church.  In this distinction and separation of purpose, we are told, the Lord added to their number, day by day, those who were being saved.

Like many other Parishes, there are a number of problems that we face here at St Stephens including, finances, tired membership, people feeling like they are not being pastorally cared for, children’s and youth ministry.  In my pastoral charge to the Annual Meeting of Parishioners I identified a key part of our Mission Action Plan to grow house groups as, if you like, house churches for the purpose of pastoral care of one another, praying for each other, bible study and reaching out to those around us.  Then we can clear the way for worship to be worship.

It is my hope that every member of the congregation will be a part of a house church.  If every one of these house churches is looking outwardly to invite others into them, then we are promised that day by day the Lord will add to our number those who are being saved.

[1] The Road Less Travelled

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