Of David. A Psalm. 1 The earth is the LORD’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it; 2 for he has founded it on the seas, and established it on the rivers. 3 Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place? 4 Those who have clean hands and pure hearts, who do not lift up their souls to what is false, and do not swear deceitfully. 5 They will receive blessing from the LORD, and vindication from the God of their salvation. 6 Such is the company of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob. Selah 7 Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors! that the King of glory may come in. 8 Who is the King of glory? The LORD, strong and mighty, the LORD, mighty in battle. 9 Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors! that the King of glory may come in. 10 Who is this King of glory? The LORD of hosts, he is the King of glory. Selah (NRSV)
The Fullness Thereof
My kids aren’t here today, which means I can talk about them. My wife is visiting her sister in California, so my kids spent the night in Evansville last night. They’re with my parents because, for some reason, I doubted my ability to get myself and three children here by 7:00 a.m., at least with shoes on.
You probably haven’t gotten to know my children yet, since this is only my second Sunday here. They aren’t stubborn, but they are all very strong-willed kids. (There’s a difference between strong-willed and stubborn). And they’re really intelligent. It’ll serve them well as they grow older, but it makes parenting interesting at times.
They’re kids, so they naturally think life revolves around them. They think it’s all about what they want. Kids can have difficulty seeing beyond themselves because they’re still learning how to do that. They’re kids.
Earlier this week I had the kids by myself. And, as I was having them get ready for bed, my ten-year-old, Kara, was presenting an argument about why she should get to stay up later because she’s ten. And she was laying out this really excellent, convincing, argument about peer group bedtime trends, and educational advantages of being allowed to read more. I mean, she practically said, “Daddy, do you want me to be average or do you want me to excel? We can fix this with an extra hour of reading time. And, I’ll be learning about astronomy and the solar system.” I mean, she’s got her own educational plan in place! I think she must have spent hours on Google doing statistical analyses for this whole persuasive argument.
So, I mean, what could I do? I let the kid stay up and read. I made her brother and sister go to bed. They didn’t think it was fair, but I told them, “What? You guys didn’t do the argument thing that she did. Go to bed.”
Then, in the morning, Kara woke up grumpy. She spent the day grumpy. She was short with everyone. She clearly didn’t get enough sleep. So that night, she tried to present her arguments again, but I cut her off. I wasn’t having it. She needed to get some sleep. So she went to bed. Yeah, it was somewhat grudgingly, but she went to bed and fell asleep. She even gave me a hug and kiss and told me, “I love you, Daddy.” And you know what? She’s a lot more pleasant when she gets a good night of rest. She knows I’m taking care of her, and her response is love.
We do stuff like this all the time. We all do. We want our way, so we argue and rationalize. We want our way because we think things should be about us and, just like kids, sometimes we have difficulty seeing beyond our own wants.
And in a way, maybe it is about us. After all, look at what God has done for us. God made the planets and stars for us. We get to call this place, this earth, home. Then, when we messed up, God sent prophets, priests, God’s own Son, and the Holy Spirit all because God loves us. God’s Son died for us in order to save us from the power of sin. God has done a lot of amazing things for us. God has moved toward us in uncountable ways!
One question at hand is our response. It’s essentially the difference between cats and dogs. Dogs look at their owners and think, “Wow, they feed me, they give me water, they give me shelter, they love me and give me a home. They even clean up my poop in the yard so I can romp and play in a clean place. They must be gods!” Cats, on the other hand, think, “Wow, they feed me, they give me water, they give me shelter, the love me and give me a home. They even scoop my poop out of a litter box. I must be a god!”
Dogs will do anything to please their owners. They’re even repentant when they’ve done something wrong. If a cat does something wrong, there’s no repentance. They’ll look you in the eye and say, “Yeah, I did that. Clean it up so I can do it again.”
What is our response to the psalmist’s monumental declaration? The earth and everything in it belongs to God, the world and all of its inhabitants belong to the Lord. Psalm 24 speaks of the right relationship between creatures and creator. At its heart, the psalm is about God’s self-revelation, God’s grace-filled movement toward us, and our response to God. When we see and hear all that God has done for our poor souls, what is our response?
Perhaps a better question is, what is the proper response of creatures who recognize that their creator has done all of this for our good?
It’s worship. Our response is worship.
But Christians in this country have developed a strange idea about what worship is and what worship is about. Will Willimon was my worship professor in seminary. He later became a United Methodist bishop. He was Dean of Duke Chapel when I was in school, so he preached just about every Sunday. He once told our class about a time, after service one Sunday, when he was shaking hands with people as they exited the Chapel. One gentleman shook his head as he shook hands with Dr. Willimon. “You know, Pastor, I just didn’t get fed today. I didn’t get anything out of that sermon.”
Now, mind you, Will Willimon is well-known as an excellent preacher. In fact, his name is on a Baylor University study that names the twelve most effective preachers in the English-speaking world. Willimon stands alongside people like Barbara Brown Taylor, Fred Craddock, Gardner C. Taylor, Thomas Long, and Billy Graham. Ever heard of them? But this poor guy walked out of the service lamenting that he didn’t get anything out of worship. To which Professor Willimon responded, somewhat heatedly, “Well, what did you put into it?”
I think it was the best response that could have been given. You see, worship isn’t all about us. Worship isn’t something we attend only so we can get something out of it. While it is a means of grace for us, the grace we receive in worship doesn’t always manifest itself as some tangible feeling that wells up inside of us. Sometimes the grace we receive in worship is quiet. Sometimes it’s so soft that we don’t know God has filled us to the brim with the presence of the Spirit.
If we’re only here so we can get something out of it—a feeling, or a nugget to chew on—then I would venture to suggest we aren’t worshipping as we ought. How often are we like the man leaving Duke Chapel who complained to Will Willimon? How often do we come to worship, not with God in mind, but the week we’ve had? How many times have we left worship worried, not if we have given God the worship God deserves, but if we have been spiritually fed? How often have we made worship about us; about what we’ve been able to get out of it instead of what we’ve given?
Worship isn’t all about us. Worship is something we, as the creature, give to God who is the creator. Worship is our response to God’s goodness toward us, and our response simply because of who God is. We give God our worship, not because God needs us to give it, but because we need to give it. We need to worship God. Worship is the single most important thing we do as Christian people.
Yes, mission and service are important. We’re called to feed, clothe, and shelter people. We’re called to provide safety, education, and healthcare. We’re called to share our resources with others. We need to do these things. But it is worship that shapes us as people. It’s worship that molds us into the kind of people who are drawn to offer food, clothing, shelter, education, and healthcare. It’s worship that forms us into people who are able to love others as Jesus loves, and that means loving even enemies.
Psalm 24’s words remind us of our creatureliness. We are wholly dependent upon God’s gifts to us. Everything we have in our possession, every molecule of oxygen we breathe is a gift to us from the One God who founded the earth on the seas and established it on the rivers. Everything belongs to God, even the stuff we claim to own.
Leviticus 25:23 puts forth a very different idea from our Western land laws. God says, “The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine: with me you are but aliens and tenants.” We are stewards, not owners. This could easily be a stewardship sermon. I say that because our giving—our giving of our tithes and offerings is also a response of worship. Are we giving to God what we ought to give? There’s more to right worship than singing the hymns with gusto. Worship requires something of us.
The psalmist asks the question, “Who can ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who can stand in his holy sanctuary?” And the answer the psalmist gives is a little intimidating at first glance. “Those who have clean hands and pure hearts, who do not lift their souls to what is false, and do not swear deceitfully.”
(I’ve always wanted to ask the psalmist if it’s okay to swear honestly. Ah, it’s a different kind of swearing there).
But this is liturgical, it’s something that would have been used in a communal worship setting like this. So it has more to do with the faithfulness of the community than with individual or private matters. Yet, we should still examine ourselves and how we have lived our lives to this moment of worship. A little self-examination is something we ought to do as we come into the presence of God to offer our worship.
Jesus suggested it rather strongly in the Sermon on the Mount when he said, “So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.” (Mt. 5:23-24). If you look at the order of Word and Table 1 or 2 on page 8 or page 12 in the hymnal, this is why we confess our sins, then pass the peace before the offering in our United Methodist worship liturgy. We examine ourselves and confess, then we’re given the opportunity to offer peace to those who may have something against us.
The final verses of Psalm 24 reaffirm that worship ought to be about God. The phrase “King of Glory” is used five times here, and it’s only found in this psalm. It’s actually somewhat subversive. If this psalm was used in a worship procession to bring the Ark of the Covenant into the city of Jerusalem, as some scholars believe, then the identification of the Lord as the King of Glory means that it isn’t David, or Solomon, or Jeroboam, or Uzziah, or Josiah, or Ahaz, or any other king of Israel or Judah. It is the Lord who rules all that is. It is the Lord who is worthy of our praise, our worship, our trust, and our loyalty. It is in worship, when we direct our heart, mind, and soul toward the God who rules all-in-all, that we find our place and our right-relationship with God and neighbor. This is where we find blessing from the Lord, and vindication from the God of our salvation.
Worship isn’t all about us. It’s a response to God’s movement toward us. It’s about what we give back to God, and how we respond to the God of the Universe, the King of Glory, the Ruler of all creation.
Yeah, we can get something out of it. I’m certain we always get more out of worship than we realize. That’s just how generous God is. But before we think about what we’re getting out of it, Psalm 24 reminds us to think about what we’re putting in.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen!
(Scripture quotation are from the New Revised Standard Version [NRSV] unless otherwise noted).