This past week you sent a number of us to the National Conference on Worship, Music & the Arts which took place on the shore of Lake Michigan at Carthage College in Kenosha. Again, thank you, because it was really wonderful. I want, for just a few moments, to tell you about some of the wonderful things… This week, I learned that super-hero pipe-organs are so complex that it can take three people to really play them…and, for those moments when worship gets really epic, some have a golden star-thingy that spins around and rings tinkly bells in the background – and it’s called a zimbelstern. Twirly pipe-organ star-thingys were the least of it, though… There were excellent breakout sessions by talented people about conducting music or organizing a hymnology curriculum and graphic design for outreach to your community or thinking about how to communicate the gospel in this tumultuous 21st century. There were organ and vocal recitals and opportunities for community artwork and all of it came together in eight worship services and concerts that were so edifying. Six times we heard encouraging sermons. We heard children and pastors, teachers and church members use their voices under the direction of talented men and women; pastors chanted readings in one service and lit incense while everyone held candle-light in the dark in another; jazzy saxophone made mello music with guitar and piano in another service and there was even a gospel-style Nicene Creed – swaying, soloists, hand-claps and all. It was really, truly excellent – all around.
It’s good to think about the best way to do things and to try to do things in an excellent way. You do this in your work lives, presumably… If your vocation holds people’s lives in your hands – nurses, doctors, anesthesia, police, fire – you take care to work well for people’s very lives. If you teach, you do things to inspire and instruct adults and kids – all kinds of learning styles, all sorts of concerns, many different methods. If you handle people’s money, you don’t carelessly deal but with concern to keep it and grow it for them or to give them their money’s worth by your work. But more than that, there’s an advancement-quotient in there too, isn’t there? You do your best and you receive reward, you advance, you gain more responsibility, more security, more money, more respect. It’s just wise to do like this. It’s like a good foundation – a firm footing from which you can expect good things.
So, by nature and experience we find Jesus’ words in Matthew 7 (in truth, in chapters 5-7) to be really hard. I mean, in them the Light of the World is flipping on the divine light-switch so we can see what the God-blessed life is like, in specifics. Turn the other cheek, don’t hate, don’t lust, trust… And Jesus says, “Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is [wise]…”; and that to enter his kingdom, that’s only for the one who “does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” So, do what Jesus says – and then, heaven. Except, did you see the group to whom Jesus said, “Away from me…I never knew you!” They prophesied in his name and they drove out demons and they did miracles…three things I’ve never done – have you done those things? Presumably those are among the most excellent of things. Presumably then, the most excellent of things could be horrible things on which to build your life.
So, I just sat through seven worship services last week which, on the earning-by-way-of-worship-time chart puts me way ahead of y’all… But it probably wouldn’t even be meritorious – they were amazing! In some of them I cried (as a man, happy to be sitting in the dark spot under the balcony where the lights didn’t work)…it was so good! Jerusalem the Golden with full orchestra and children and high school students and maybe 1000 people singing…the huge drum-beating 20ft. ahead of me – I’m almost positive reset my heart rhythm – worship physically altered me… And I might get to heaven’s gates and say, “Jesus, NCWMA 2017!” And he might say, “Away from me!” And you… You resolved that you would not be like some of your college mates – you would not give your sexuality away like some credit card transaction…no, you would be chaste and others certainly didn’t respect that. You have built your business on honesty and integrity and lost for it sometimes… You have looked at God’s Word and said, “I will not fill my mouth with filthy language,” or “I will speak God’s Word to every random stranger I meet…” You have worshiped and memorized hymns and the commandments. You have preserved your marriage even when it was just work… You have done so many excellent things and you might stand with them before Jesus one day and hear him say, “I never knew you…”?
And we’d be tempted to say, “Lord! Lord!… look at…” but we should be silent. Because in many of the things we do this is what’s happening. I attended worship eight times but not everything was great. This week I listened to six sermons – at least in some of them – you know what I was thinking? I was thinking, “Oooooh…I wouldn’t have said it that way…” “Sssssss…think he forgot a sentence in there – illustration’s probably not going to work as well now…” I wouldn’t have done that… Not me… And it could be that in the pursuit of wholesome sexuality or good business or motherhood you say, “Lord, look at this…this is very, very good – solid.” Just like those Jesus dismissed – did you see it? I don’t think the issue is that they didn’t do the right stuff. I don’t think we should just think of these “false prophets” like weirdo cult-leaders with a commune in the desert. They probably knew the words of God’s will and did them. But what do they say? “Lord, Lord! Look at me! – my things, these things – you said / I did…
It’s like showing up before the gates of heaven with one of those t-shirts that says, “I’m kind of a big deal…” If you want to make your own transaction with God… If you find a preacher who tells you that your life of holiness is what will make God accept you… That’s false prophet-speak. If you find a message that in any way panders to your own satisfaction with self – because you struggle with your sexuality or your marriage is hard or your friends aren’t great – and that message calls you to sin, to be selfish, to focus on you – and that God will love that… Jesus calls the most excellent of any who do like that evildoers. People whose doings are wicked or covered in sin because they come with themselves to stand holy before God.
The truly God-blessed life does not come about by what you do or how well you keep God’s commandments. My own doing is like building a house on sand. And that kind of foundation you’d run from. Instead, Jesus is calling us to Build with Wisdom. The way of life built on a sure foundation is hearing Jesus’ words and putting them into practice or doing the will of Jesus’ Father in heaven. And what is that will? You might be tempted to walk back through chapters 5-7, this Sermon on the Mount – to find and do all the things – and you’d be close to God’s will, but still wrong. Rather, Jesus expresses it well in John 6: “For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life (Jn 6:40).” As Romans marked it out this morning. By works of the law is no one saved. Rather we know a righteousness from God, where we put our faith in Jesus who, in our place has done all God required, perfectly; who has endured punishment for the evil will of mankind and died for sins; who bent back the prison bars of death and rescued us. He forgave our every sin to the finish and he left death behind, and brought us with himself alive. Such authority to say these things! With such authority he spoke unlike anyone has…ever. Jesus doesn’t teach us what to do like other teachers in this world; he teaches us what he has done. And on that foundation, our boast is not in us – we boast in Christ crucified and in him is our faith – and so we can be confident he will not send us away; No, our dear Father in heaven knows us as his own and we will hear him say, “Come to me…”
I can’t remember which service it was… The children’s choir had just finished singing and I think I leaned over to a friend and said, “Awesome!” And she said, “It’s like angels singing…” I haven’t heard angels, so I don’t know for sure, but in one way they absolutely did. Angels sing because their entire existence is adoration of God – total service to him. That’s why those children sang – the entirety of their lives belongs to Christ who has made them to be holy before God, his saints, and as servants of God they sang. Not because they were so amazing, but because God is a big deal…especially in this thing he has done for us called salvation – this work that provides thefoundation for everything we will do so that it can be wholesome and pleasing to God – good fruit.
My friends, go not to the wisdom of the world, the thorns and thistles, but go back again and again to this wisdom right from God’s Word – the one that tells you the unshakable work of your faithful Savior Jesus Christ, on whom your faith is founded. Build on that wisdom – bind it to your wrists and to your hearts; keep it in your mouths and your minds; tell it to your children and take it to work – and you will find fruit. Your lives will sing out “Lord, Lord!” in thanks for his excellent work and in search of all the excellent things he says in his Word so that you find every excellent way to praise his holy name. Blessed and wise are you whose foundation in Christ allows you so to build. Amen.