What if, every Sunday, we held a worship-leader-lottery at the start of worship? Draw a name out of a hat and you would come up here and kind of take over, right as we began – walk us through the liturgy, step by step. Sometimes we’d be chanting, so you’d have to sing. Other times there’d be soloists and singers, there’s also communion and prayers of intercession. That might not appeal to you. Some people just don’t like being in front of people – and they couldn’t do it. Maybe you feel you’d make a mess of it – we use the liturgy all the time but you’re always speaking and singing those “congregation” parts, not the “pastor” parts. It wouldn’t be orderly, would it – we train pastors to lead us in worship. You might even say, “That’s not acceptable!”
In a similar way, God had worship leaders for his Old Testament people Israel. They were the priests. And God prescribed very directly who those worship leaders were to be and just what they were to do. For instance, men from a certain tribe served and they wore special garments and followed special rules. But their worship was a little different than ours in this: it included sacrifices. Animals without blemish were sacrificed – thousands, millions over time – bloody sacrifices as substitutes for sinners. And depending on what sin or deed or joy prompted that sacrifice it had to be cut and burned or waved in a certain way. There were regulations and rules and procedures for offering sacrifices, all kinds of sacrifices – so that they might be acceptable to God.
But you know, people had been making sacrifices long before those priests were trained to slaughter animals in just the right way. Even back in the beginning, sun and stars still burning out infant light, Cain and Abel did it – sacrificed out in the fields. Abel kept flocks, Cain worked the soil – Abel brought fat portions of his flocks, Cain some of the fruits of the field – both sacrificed. “The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor (Gn 4:4,5).” Did Cain miss some of the rules; forget the right way to do it; not wear the right clothes? Abel was just better at sacrifice? One sacrifice acceptable…the other not.
That problem lives on. People are still making sacrifices today – every day, all over the place – some sacrifices acceptable, others not. And it really has to do with where you are. Some places just change things… Just think about your last dinner at Grandma’s, and I mean one of those Grandma’s with a formal dining room, the you don’t go in there except on Easter/Christmas hermetically sealed from everyday life dining room. If you eat there, you’re more well-mannered and deliberate, careful, slow-eater, polite. It’s not the same as corona-virus quarantine lunch with the kids… Well, in God’s Word, the apostle Peter says God is building a house – where everything is different: “you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house.” He’s been building this house as long as the world’s existed – and from the beginning its foundation has been on one sure cornerstone. The house started going up when God made the promise of a Savior from the sin that threatened to condemn the world. People were built in as they trusted in that Savior. He is the Living Stone people come to by faith. When Jesus finally arrived in human history he showed what kind of foundation he was – perfect. Kept every regulation and rule of God – never sinned or failed. And he offered the ultimate sacrifice for sins – himself. Because his sacrifice was perfect, God accepted it. He applied the forgiveness Jesus won to the whole world. You’re familiar with this house because you’re in it. You’re mortared into this house as spiritual stones because, through his Word, God attached you to perfect Jesus Christ by faith.That Living Stone lines you up in righteousness – perfection, holiness in God’s sight. You are now “a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
As you make the acceptable sacrifices of your lives, Peter says that where you are changes what you do. He says that God made you his priests, built you into his house so that you would proclaim “the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” But here’s the trouble with proclamation… I remember vividly my first chapel proclamation at the seminary. I remember because I was so nervous. I didn’t realize how nervous I really was until I stood up behind that slim lectern – and my right leg started to shake – and it wouldn’t stop – it kept shaking all the way to the end until I sat back down again seven minutes later.
Perhaps in these crazy days you feel a little shaky in your proclamation. We can feel shaky for a few reasons. By saying that our sacrifices are acceptable, we’re admitting that some others’ aren’t. That’s because there are many others who have chosen to live outside the house of which you are a part. They wanted to build something else on a different foundation – the house of “me” based on “my work” or “my feelings”; right now, one of the greatest temptations is probably the house of “we” that says, “Look at what great things we can accomplish if we just all band together and do or don’t do this or that against COVID – what a world we can make!” Those can be fine sentiments from you who believe. From those outside of God’s house, they’re damnable dependency on broken doing – unacceptable sacrifices. Many people have seen the Living Stone, Jesus Christ; they took a look, maybe even tried him out – and said, “Nope, that’s not for me – he’s not the way. That’s too rigid. He’s too demanding. Too 1st century. No thank you…” As Peter said, people have stumbled on salvation by the work of Jesus and rejected him – “they disobeyed the message.” Well, that’s the very message you live, the one you proclaim. Sometimes it can feel like serious sacrifice to proclaim to people who don’t want to hear, to people who’ve trusted other than Jesus, to people who are caught up in all the fear and the human solutions. And all those things, at times can’t compare with the fears that shake their way into your heart – that you won’t speak well, that you’ll look silly, that you’re not any kind of perfect person who should judge somebody else, that you just don’t want people stumbling over you because you represent Jesus.
You and I are called to proclaim as God’s priests – to lead the world into the worship of God. And we have good reasons not to feel shaky about it. The greatest reason is this: Jesus made you who you are – from out of darkness, forgiven of every fear and failure to proclaim – the guilt of your sins is paid. God owns us – and our lives, from simple action to complex proclamation are pleasing to him. Another reason to proclaim? What Jesus is, you are too… You’re living stones just like the Living Stone. You’re cut to be just like him. You’re locked into a house God is building – and he’s a good builder. He’s brought you here to be stacked up and supported by other stones. You rest on each other and, for as different as we are, we’re all held together by the mortar of God’s Word. You can proclaim the “excellencies” of God you find here – the fervor for the Gospel, the gifts of Baptism and Holy Communion, the release of forgiveness, the love of family, the comfort of his overwatching care. And you don’t have to do it alone. And the best reason to proclaim is that you do all of that with the confidence that Jesus does not, will not, can not ever let you down. He’s the best foundation – and you rest on him.
My second seminary sermon, my leg didn’t shake – just my hands. My hands shook three years later in my last sermon there too, but not as much. Sometimes they still shake today. Preaching into a camera with no people present – it was a daunting and nervous experience. The temptations and fears of sin will never go away – we may always be a little shaky as we proclaim. But by the power of his Word, that’s what God’s called us to do because the message is more important than me. It’s more important because there are still many people hacking out sacrifices in the dark, sacrifices that God doesn’t even see – they aren’t acceptable because they’re the product of sin. As God’s acceptable people we have praises about God to share and proclaim. Invite them to come inside this house, to be a part – the light of God shines bright and warm in here. Invite them to continue making sacrifices with you – sacrifices that God accepts – not because you follow all the rules, not because you wear the right garb, not because we’re different and better – but because we have forgiveness through Jesus the foundation of salvation.