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Author:Rev. Jeremy Segstro
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Congregation:Cloverdale Canadian Reformed Church
 Surrey, BC
 cloverdalecanrc.org
 
Title:How Do you Walk (In)to Church?
Text:Ecclesiastes 5:1-7 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Worship
 
Added:2022-07-26
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Reading: Isaiah 8:11-22

Text: Ecclesiastes 5:1-7

 

HOW DO YOU WALK (IN)TO CHURCH?

  1. With Gravity

  2. With God

  3. With Gladness

 

  1. Psalm 66: 1, 2

  2. Psalm 66: 6, 7

  3. Psalm 122:1-3

  4. Hymn 2

  5. Hymn 49: 3, 4

  6. Hymn 9

 

Words to Listen For: tree, notes, shooting, coarse, tall

 

Questions for Understanding:

  1. What’s the other half of the equation when it comes to worship?

  2. What are “recess rules” ?  In what area(s) of life should they be applied?

  3. What is fearful about God?

  4. What can we do in our own strength?

  5. What are the two reasons we can be joyful and glad in worship?

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Jeremy Segstro, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ,

Not too long ago, I began a sermon with the question, “Are you GLAD to be here? Does it fill you with joy to come to this place for worship, to meet together with your fellow believers, to meet together as the church with your God?”

A good question.  Something that we should think about.  There SHOULD be joy in our hearts as we enter this place.  Not because of the building itself, but because of the PEOPLE and, more than that, because of the PURPOSE.

We should be joyful because we are meeting together with our brothers and sisters.  The people we will meet with and dwell with FOR ETERNITY ON THE NEW HEAVENS AND THE NEW EARTH.  Not just time spent here, but eternity spent there.  This we heard a little of  this morning.  Time and eternity.

And we are joyful, most of all, because of the PURPOSE.  Why are we here?  We are here to worship God!  To remember what He has done in history, what He has done in our lives, and what He promises to do!  We are joyful because we remember the cross, and because we look forward to the Heavenly city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven.

All of this is true.  But it’s also only one half of the equation.

Because JUST WHO IS this God we worship?  WHO IS THIS GOD that we are here to meet, to interact with?

He is our Father!

     Yes!  But He is our HEAVENLY FATHER.

He is LOVE!

     Yes!  But He is also HOLY HOLY HOLY.

He is the one who sent Jesus to die on the cross for us!

     Yes!  But He is also the one whose justice demanded such a punishment.

Though we are consistently COMFORTED by Him, we should not take this to mean that we can then be CASUAL before Him.  Him saying “do not fear” should not lead us to say, “then I don’t care.”

This is what the Preacher in Ecclesiastes learned, and this is what we will learn this afternoon in answer to the question:

HOW DO YOU WALK (IN)TO CHURCH?  First of all

  1. With Gravity, then

  2. With God, and finally

  3. With Gladness

 

How Do You Walk (In)to Church?  With Gravity.

Now, for the younger children among us, this wording might seem rather strange.  How do you walk?  With GRAVITY?  Well, of course!  Unless we are doing a space-walk, where we simply float, everywhere we walk, we walk…WITH GRAVITY.  That’s what keeps our feet on the ground.  That’s HOW we WALK.

But that’s not what I mean here with the use of the word “gravity.”

By “gravity” I mean something that is serious.  I mean something that is dignified.  I mean something that is calm.  Something that is thoughtful.

Because, when we come here, though we come here to REJOICE, Sunday mornings, and again Sunday afternoons aren’t HAPPY-FUN-TIME.  This isn’t like recess at school where you can scream at each other, where you can hoola-hoop, play sports, run and jump and do whatever you want to do for 15 minutes.

Instead, what does our text say?

Guard your steps when you go to the house of God.

Now the great thing about recess is that you can do basically WHATEVER YOU WANT.  You don’t have to think too deeply about it.  Scream and laugh and play around, do whatever you want, as long as you aren’t hurting someone else.  Don’t push someone down, don’t make fun of them…but those are really the only rules.

But the problem is that we apply “recess rules” to every area of our lives, including our worship of God.

  • If it feels good, as long as you’re not hurting other people, do it!

    • This is fine during the 15 minutes of recess.  Climb a tree, pick a flower, run in circles, lay in the grass - WHATEVER!

    • But in life…No!  In life there are expectations, there are consequences for simply doing whatever you want.  No. Life is not like recess.

    • And in worship…no, worship is not like recess.

  • Do your own thing, be completely independent, who cares!

    • Great during recess!  Maybe a break from your friends is good, nobody is depending on you to do anything in particular, you do what you want to do.

    • But in life…no!  We live our lives together, as part of a community.  We have families, we have school, we have church, and we depend on each other.  No man is an island.

    • And in worship…though there is such a thing as private worship, that’s not what Sundays are about.  This is worshipping God TOGETHER WITH THE PEOPLE OF GOD.

Guard your steps when you go to the house of God.

One cannot simply appear before God without examining ourselves.  This we hear in the form for the Lord’s Supper, and so we examine ourselves once every two months before we go to the house of God.

We must consider our sins and accursedness before we come to the table, realizing the sobering and beautiful truth of the hymn: Nothing in my hands I bring, but simply to your cross I cling

We must have a believing heart that all our sins are forgiven us for the sake of the cross of Christ

And we must examine our conscience to see whether it is our sincere desire to show thankfulness to God and love to our brothers and sisters.

These three things…should we only do them every two months…or perhaps should we do them every week?  Or every time we read the Bible?  Or every time we bow our heads in prayer?

Think of our reading this afternoon…

Isaiah 8 - Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread.

Wonderful, comforting, even COMFORTABLE.

But it continues -  But the Lord of hosts, Him you shall honor as holy. Let Him be your fear, and let Him be your dread.

Don’t fear what the world fears…instead…fear God!

And yes, many of us have heard that fearing the Lord doesn’t mean trembling before Him, it means honoring Him.  And that’s sometimes true…but the word DREAD in Isaiah 8?  Let Him be your DREAD…literally means trembling.

This word is used elsewhere in Isaiah speaking of earthquakes, the shaking of the earth when the Lord comes on His great day.

It is a FEARFUL THING to fall into the hands of the living God.  Not just for sinners….which, by the way, we all are…but for saints as well…which, by the way, we are too.

It is a fearful thing, because we are so small and He is so great.

It is a fearful thing, because we are so sinful and He is so holy.

It is a fearful thing…because He is so loving and gracious and merciful.

 

What?  Really?  Isn’t that a COMFORTING thing?  The love, the grace, the mercy?

Well…yes and no.

Our God is so loving and gracious and merciful that we tremble.  We tremble at first because we don’t believe it.

We say: I’m a great sinner!

    But He says: I love you.

I’m an old sinner, sinning for 75 years!

    But I love you.

I’m a habitual sinner!

    But I love you.

And we tremble.  How can God be this loving and gracious and merciful?  There must be a catch somewhere.  Something I’m not understanding.

And then, if we come to the point where we accept this…then we tremble once more.  Why would someone like HIM have any interest in someone like me?  I’ve gotten to the point where I BELIEVE He loves me…but I don’t UNDERSTAND it.  Not one bit!  And I think this is something we will always wonder about that.  We will always be in awe of this.

Is this the kind of God we can be CASUAL BEFORE?  Is this the kind of God that we think “oh WHO CARES! He doesn’t care if I don’t pay attention too much, He doesn’t care about my outward appearance so I can wear whatever, He doesn’t care if I commit little sins, He doesn’t care if I harbor hatred in my heart.

But He DOES!

  • Even though you don’t earn His love by paying attention and writing the best notes

  • Even though you don’t earn His love by dressing up.

  • Event though you don’t EVEN earn His love by resisting sin.

It’s all grace.  It’s all mercy.  It’s all the cross of Christ.  He died for the sin of not paying attention, He died for the sin of being disrespectful, He died for the sin of…well…sinning.

But JUST BECAUSE JESUS DIED FOR THESE SINS…don’t think that this means they don’t matter.  Shall we continue in sin so that grace may increase?  BY NO MEANS!

Our God is a consuming fire!  Him you should fear.  Him you should dread!  His wrath against sin was so great that He had to punish it in His beloved Son.

So…WHO CARES?  YOU SHOULD!  YOU MUST!

But the Lord of hosts, Him you shall honor as holy. Let Him be your fear, and let Him be your dread.  And He will become…a sanctuary.

What happens when, instead of running from this God, instead of ignoring this God, instead of treating Him like your buddy…you run towards Him.  You bow down before His holy throne, and when He lifts up the sceptre of grace, the sceptre of acceptance, you join Him on His throne, you rest in His embrace.

You must FEAR before you FEAR.

You must tremble before you approach Him in awe and adoration.

You must worship with GRAVITY before you can truly worship with God.  Our second point.

Worship WITH God?  Surely that’s a typo.  We worship God.  No preposition there.  Not in, on, among, beside, with.  We worship God.  We are the actors, worship is our action, God is the recipient.  Right?  Wrong!

The beginning and the end of the Bible are all about worship (worship in the Garden of God, worship in the City of God), it’s all about worship, beginning, end, and everything in between.  And at the very end of the Bible, in Revelation 22, we read this “the Spirit and the Bride say ‘come.’”  Come Lord Jesus.

A pretty simple, straight-forward verse.  The Spirit, and the Bride (the church) are pleading with Christ to return.  Pleading for the end of this age, and the beginning of the eternal age to come.  When time gives way into eternity.

And the question rises up - why is it both the Spirit and the Bride?  Why is it both the Spirit and the Bride?

Well…simply put…the Spirit and the Bride say “come” because the Bride wouldn’t say it alone.  The Bride COULDN’T say it alone.  We need the Spirit among us and in us.

And that’s true for our text as well.  When we come to worship God, we need to worship WITH GOD.

In our text, there are four instructions for how we should come to worship, and each one of them is impossible on our own.  Impossible in our own strength.

We are told to

  • Guard our steps

  • Watch our Mouth

  • Keep our Vows and to

  • Stand in Awe

So let me ask you…which one of these can we ACTUALLY do in our own strength?

What about guarding our steps?  We examined a little of what this looks like in our first point, though it was mostly about the last instruction, standing in awe.

Guarding our steps is about more than our feet.  Guarding our steps is really about guarding, about keeping our heart.

Guarding our hearts against distraction, keeping our hearts focused on what they should be focused on.

Let me make this very practical for you.

When you come into church, assuming that you are sitting in the pew 5 or 10 minutes before the service starts, how do you spend that time? 

Shooting the breeze with the people around you?  Talking about your favorite sports team, talking about the weather?  Or are you preparing to meet with God?

Just the other week, I had the pleasure of officiating a wedding.  And as you may know, the groom, the groomsmen, the bridesmaids, they are all at the front of the church waiting for the bride to walk in.

Now, I didn’t specifically ask the groom this, but I think it’s a pretty safe assumption that when he was standing up there, his mind wasn’t on sports.  His mind wasn’t on food.  His mind wasn’t on ANYTHING ELSE but SEEING HIS BRIDE.  He was willing her down the aisle.  He was wanting her to walk up to him, and put her hand in his.  He was waiting, with those few minutes feeling like hours.

And so are we that groom when we are here in church?  Willing, wanting, waiting for our union with God?

If you find it hard to focus your mind, do one thing that we do all the time in church - PRAY.  When you’re waiting for the service to start, pray.  Pray for me, that I may be given the words to speak.  Pray for the elders, that they may guard the pulpit.  Pray for yourself that you may not be distracted from what it happening.

Pray!  Pray, even though you prayed with breakfast, pray,  even though you prayed with lunch, pray even though, a few minutes after you pray in the pew, I will pray from the pulpit.  Pray, to get your heart ready for what is about to happen.

Because what is happening for this hour, on the first day of the week is drastically different than what happens every other hour in the week.

But THIS HOUR, THIS HOUR is different than all other times.  Where there is birth, there will death.  Where there is peace, there will be war.  But not here.  Not now.  This hour CAN’T be cancelled out.  This hour is special.  This hour is unique, because we are where God has chosen to dwell.  Yes, He has chosen to dwell in our hearts, this is true.  This church building is not the same as the temple that the Preacher is speaking of.  But when God, who dwells in your heart and in my heart, when our hearts are together, unified in our purpose, one in our praise…you can’t tell me that this is just the same as any other day, any other hour.

Guard your steps as you approach, prepare your heart for what is about to happen.

Guard your steps, and watch your mouth!

This is the next instruction in our text.

Verse 2 - Do not be rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth.  Therefore let your words be few.

Let your words be few in church…rather ironic coming from the pastor.  But this is what it says.

So what does this mean?

It means that not only must we prepare our heart, but we must guard the outpouring of our heart - our words.  Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks, and you will have to give account for every careless word you speak.

We hear this and we fear.  Because so many of us JUST SAY THINGS.  We JUST SAY THINGS and we think nothing of it.

We speak our minds when we would be better off minding our tongue.  And this is not just folksy wisdom, “watch your mouth” but the word of God tells us this.

The apostle James says that no human being can tame the tongue, it is a restless evil full of deadly poison.

My brothers and sisters, this should not be!  Our souls were created to worship, our hearts created to love, and our tongues created to praise.

When we are together in the very presence of God, when we are together with our brothers and sisters in Christ we must not allow coarse joking, we must not allow foolish comments.  And of course, this is true WHEREVER WE ARE, but especially in this place.  Not because of the physical location of it, as though God is MORE in this building than in the house next door.  This physical building is not more holy than the house next door.  But it is especially here that we must watch our mouth, guard our tongue, because of what HAPPENS HERE.  We are MEETING WITH GOD.  Our prayers and our songs go up like incense before Him!

So let our words be few!

Now that’s not to say that sermons should be short and songs should only have 1 stanza…because these are not OUR WORDS.  Sermon are not MY WORDS, but GOD’S WORDS.  I prayerfully ask for this throughout the week, and in the first prayer of the service.

MY WORDS on the other hand must be few, because MY WORDS are foolish.  Because MY WORDS come from a human tongue, full of deadly poison.

But GOD’S WORDS are pure.  GOD’S WORDS are silver 7 times refined.

Let OUR WORDS be limited to YES and AMEN to His Words, as well as fervent, reverent prayer.

And this also we do WITH GOD.

Romans 8 declares, comfortingly, that the Spirit helps us in our weaknesses, for we do not know what to pray for as we ought.

The Holy Spirit comes alongside of us as we pray, in foolishness, in weakness, and in sin, and as the words are going up, the Spirit PERFECTS these prayers.  The Spirit SANCTIFIES these prayers that our words may be wise.  So that our words may be accepted by God.

We cannot guard our steps, watch our mouth, or keep our vows without the help of the Holy Spirit.

Because the instructions go on to speak about VOWS.

We do not typically make many vows anymore, not as the Preacher did in the days when Ecclesiastes was written, because most of those vows had to do with animal sacrifices, and we know that Jesus Christ fulfilled those sacrifices for us.  But there are still some vows that we still do make.

We make marriage vows, vows that used to be made in a worship service, but are still made in a church, before God.  Marriage vows are serious things, and not easily broken.  A marriage is a cord of 3 strands - husband, wife, and God.  Do not foolishly utter this vow.  Better to never make the vow than to make it foolishly or rashly.

We make vows at baptism, as part of a worship service.  Parents vow to raise their children in the fear of the Lord.  This is not a light vow.  It is your responsibility to teach your children about God, about His love, about His covenant - its promises and obligations.

We make vows as office-bearers.  Pastors, elders, deacons, to fulfill our office, and to adorn our office with a godly life.  These are not light vows.  These are serious, and leaders will be judged more harshly because of our responsibilities.

And none of these vows: marriage, baptism, ordination vows…we cannot fulfill any of them in our own strength.  Behind every “I do” must be the phrase “God helping me” - said with at least your heart, if not your mouth.  “I do, God helping me.”

Because no husband can fulfill his vows in his own strength, no mother in her own strength, no pastor in his own strength.

     For we are WEAK.

     We are SINFUL.

     We are UNFAITHFUL.

And this is why, when we worship, when we do what should be our most natural Christian duty, we need to do it in the strength that the Spirit gives…because it has become so UNNATURAL.

And yet…despite the gravity of worship, despite our total inability to worship in our own strength, we do yet, worship with gladness.  Our final point.

This final point seems, at best, unlikely, and at worst, impossible.

HOW can we worship with GLADNESS when we are told how serious worship is?

HOW can we worship with GLADNESS when we are told that it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God?

HOW can we worship with GLADNESS when we are told that, despite our best efforts, we’re doing it wrong?

 

Well, simply put…we can worship with GLADNESS because worship is the only thing that is REALLY REAL.  Worship is the only thing that is LASTING.  Worship is the only thing that is MEANINGFUL.

This is how this sermon, which might seem out of place in a series called Meaningless fits.  That’s how this passage in a book all about meaningless fits.

As we heard this morning, everything happens.  There is a time to be born, and a time to die.  No matter your political affiliations, whether you are male or female, whether you are tall or short, whether you believe in God or not…you will die.  Everyone here, unless Christ returns first, WILL DIE.  However you spend your life, it has an expiration date.  In a sense, it doesn’t matter.  But in another sense, it matters most.  It matters FOR ETERNITY.

Pastor John Piper said it best as he recalls a plaque that hung in his kitchen growing up.  A plaque with a few short phrases on it that stuck with him his entire life.

Only one life,

‘twill soon be past;

Only what’s done

for Christ will last.

Only the things that last are REALLY REAL.  And though it may not seem like it, since Sunday worship services can feel like that never-ending cycle of monotony, week in week out, we come to church, we sing, we pray, we read the Bible, we hear the gospel preached, we sing, we pay, we pray, we go…the worship service is the most real thing that we do.

Because, properly used, coming to the worship service with the church - and please get this right, we ARE the church, what we DO is come for worship - coming to the worship service with the church taps us into a level of reality to which we have no right, but a reality into which we are nonetheless welcomed by the love of God in Christ.

So, no matter what the worship service looks like…IT IS REAL.  REALLY REAL.  In a world of meaninglessness, this has meaning.  This is real.

And we are welcomed in.  We are told that we belong here.

As our reading said - Let Him be your fear…and He will become a sanctuary.

Is it not enough for us to rejoice, to worship with gladness because it is REAL?  No matter the reality we are thrust into, TRUTH is better than LIES, right?

Yes!  Absolutely it is!

What a gift we have been given to live in reality.  God has stepped into our world of meaninglessness and extended a hand saying “I can show you what’s real.”

God has cleared away the clouds, the fog, the lies of this world, that it has meaning in itself, that it can provide true and lasting joy in itself, and He says to us…“it might be hard to hear at first…but all of this…all of this, your treasures and your pleasures…they are NOTHING.  They are EMPTY.  They are MEANINGLESS.  That’s the bad news.  But the good news is that there IS SOMETHING out there.  There is fullness.  There is meaning.  Let me introduce you to it.”

But it’s so much more than just opening us up to the TRUTH.  God extending a hand to us through His Word and Spirit isn’t stripping away a beautiful and comforting illusion and revealing a harsh, dull and horrible reality behind it.  THE TRUTH…isn’t BAD.  THE TRUTH is beautiful and comforting, and joyous!

Because a reality where we have to take God seriously isn’t a BAD reality…instead this points to us having a GREAT GOD!  A God who is so great and glorious and perfect and beautiful that we can’t help but pause.  We can’t help but fall down in worship when we see Him clearly. 

A reality where WE NEED GOD because we aren’t equal to Him is an AMAZING and truly AWE-INSPIRING reality, because it means that God is so far beyond us.  Would a god that we can fully comprehend, a god who is on our level, a god who makes mistakes as we do, a god who is foolish and weak…would such a god be worthy of worship?  BY NO MEANS!  And so the fact that we don’t measure up means that we SERVE A GREAT GOD!

And so, truly seeing, truly recognizing what worship is, that it isn’t something we can do casually, it isn’t something we can do in our own strength…that doesn’t DIMINISH worship, it elevates it.  And so too, it shouldn’t DIMINISH our joy, our gladness, but it should elevate it.

God says to us - “here is this wonderful, serious, real thing…and I want you to experience it.  I want you to be with me.  Just…be with me here.

This is what is real, this is what is good, this is what ultimately has meaning!

And so, when our text ends with the words - God is the one you must fear - we should not grumble.  We should not complain that worship isn’t more like recess, that worship isn’t more free and casual, where we can be observers, where we can be an audience to what is happening, sitting in judgement, either appreciating or criticizing what is happening, but being an active, reverent, dependent, and joyful participant.

So let me add to the question “Are you GLAD to be here?”  Let me add this other aspect.  “Are you GLAD to be here, AND are your eyes open to what is TRULY HAPPENING here?

  • That our God is our Heavenly Father?

  • That our God is holy and loving?

  • That our God welcomes us with open arms, asking us to truly see Him?

Then our steps, as we draw near the house of God, will be marked with both true and awesome reverence, as well as true and lasting joy.

AMEN.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Jeremy Segstro, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright, Rev. Jeremy Segstro

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