WHAT IS GOING ON HERE?

WHAT IS GOING ON HERE?
A sermon on Psalm 100
First Baptist Church of Lynchburg
November 22, 2020
By Paul Dakin
May the words of my mouth and the mediations of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord our Strength and our Redeemer. Amen.
Sometimes kids say the darndest things, don’t they?…
The story goes that, on one Sunday morning, the time had come for the conclusion of the children’s Sunday School class. As the teacher was getting ready to dismiss the class, she reminded them, “Please do not run in the hallways and make a lot of noise on your way to the sanctuary for the worship service.” And then she asked, “Does anyone know why we should be quiet in worship?” One little boy stuck up his hand and answered, “Because people are sleeping…”
Through the years, I’ve heard plenty of jokes that portray worship in a less than an exciting or vital light. (And I’ve heard lots of jokes about people sleeping in church…I am sure that you have too.) During our time together, I want us to focus our thoughts on one of the all-time most familiar and favorite psalms from the Bible, Psalm 100. And as we do so, we will briefly consider the nature and importance of worship in the life of the church and in our individual spiritual journeys.
Perhaps the best place to start would be to ask the question: Is worship really all that important? Over my years as a minister, I’ve heard people say things like, “Well, I can worship God just as well on Sunday morning fishing at the lake or on the golf course as I can at church.” While I suppose that is theoretically true, the elements of worship—reading the scriptures, singing the great songs of faith, spending time in prayer, contemplating what a particular passage of scripture is saying to us, and listening to the Holy Spirit—those are not things that I’ve witnessed much by the river bank or on the golf links. It seems to me that such things are much more likely to happen at church…
I think that it is also true that the true nature of worship has taken a back seat to other concerns of the church. Through the years, worship has been commandeered to fulfill a number of functions. These functions are important in the life of any church, and yet they do not constitute what worship is to be about. In the Southern Baptist churches in which I was raised, the main function of worship seemed to be evangelism. This was defined as “winning the lost to Christ.”
Consequently, every element of the worship service—and especially the sermon—was geared toward bringing those who did not know Christ to a time of decision. The point of the Sunday morning worship service was to encourage unsaved people to walk down the aisle during the final hymn, take the preacher’s hand, profess their faith in Christ and thereby join the church and be baptized. Anything which did not contribute to that goal was not considered to be very important.
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Because of that emphasis, only a few verses of the Bible would be read at any one service. Nor
was there much time dedicated to prayer, what prayers were offered seemed to be ill-prepared and
unfocused. The Lord’s Supper was observed infrequently—only once a quarter and usually only on
Sunday nights where it was tacked on at the end of the service. It seems to me that these things were
not considered important in worship because they did not contribute significantly to the evangelistic
effort. The thing is that I do not think that my experience in these churches was by any means unique. I
suspect that many of you who were a part of the Baptist churches of the ‘50’s and 60’s and 70’s could
say pretty much the same thing…
Or sometimes it seemed that the point of the worship service was to mobilize the church
membership to some reform movement or to go on record as being in opposition to some social ill that
needed addressing in the community. At these times, Sunday morning services did not resemble
worship services as much as they did political meetings or school pep rallies. Sin was invariably the
central topic of the meetings. The point of the worship service was to motivate the congregation to vote
against this or that in the next election or do what they could to eradicate the sin from their midst and
from their community.
Now I do not wish to be misunderstood at this point. I am certainly NOT against evangelism. Nor
am I against the church speaking with a prophetic voice about things in our community that need to
change. Such things are the marks of the Kingdom of God that the Lord is bringing into our midst. Indeed
the church MUST NOT forget the importance of those aspects of her mission. But neither of those things
are the main purpose of the church. The most important function of the church is worship.
W. T. Conner, a longtime professor of theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary,
expressed it like this: “The first business, then, of a church is not evangelism, nor missions, nor
benevolence: it is worship…The whole life and organization of the church should spring from worship,
center in worship, and end in worship.”1 Remarkable words coming from a Southern Baptist leader,
don’t you think? What’s just as remarkable is that Conner wrote those words seventy five years ago. I
would submit to you that they are just as true today as when he first wrote them…
Psalm 100 is a psalm that speaks of confident joy and of joyful confidence. That joy originates in
the fundamental acknowledgement the “the Lord, he is God. It is He who hath made us and not we
ourselves; we are His people and the sheep of his pasture.”Turning from Divine praise to human dignity,
the psalmist celebrates the good news that we are neither alone in this world nor are we autonomous.
He confesses that God fashioned every single person, and that therefore every human being enjoys an
inherent worth that can never be earned or even lost, and that therefore we enjoy His bountiful care.
Many people, of course, do NOT view the world or people in this way. And thus there is a great divide
between two very different ways of experiencing life itself.”2
1 W. T. Conner, The Gospel of Redemption (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1945), 277, 279.
2 I am indebted to Daniel B. Clendenin for the material in this paragraph.
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At the very center of Psalm 100, and at the very center of the worship of God, are praise and
thanksgiving for who God is and what he has done. Walter Brueggemann, one of the foremost Old
Testament scholars of this generation, has written, “Praise [and thanksgiving are] the duty and delight,
the ultimate vocation, of the human community; indeed it is the vocation of all of creation. Yes, all of life
is aimed toward God and finally exists for the sake of God. Praise [and thanksgiving] articulate and
embody our capacity to yield, to submit and to abandon ourselves in trust and gratitude to the One
whose we are.”3
All of this is to make this one observation about worship. This is the main takeaway from today’s
sermon: Worship, at its best, is a profoundly countercultural event in the life of the church and in the
life of the individual believer. When authentic worship takes place—regardless of the surroundings…or
the kind of music played…or the words that are spoken…or the techniques that are used—authentic
worship takes places takes place when the Spirit of God touches our human spirit, emanating in the twin
responses from our souls of praise and thanksgiving. And it is countercultural in what it says about who
we are and why we are here.
Why is it countercultural? Think with me for a moment. It is because worship goes against the
grain of the prevailing thoughts and values of our society.
For example, science does not believe that life is aimed toward God. Science does not
understand that everything exists at God’s pleasure. Instead, science would proclaim that we (and all of
creation) are nothing more than the result of happenstance. We are here—and things are the way that
they are—due to the consequence of billions of years of seemingly random events and chemical
reactions that have brought us to this place. God really has very little to do with it. Our society would tell
us that we owe nothing to a benevolent God who watches over and cares for his creation. Instead, we
are all on our own. The prevailing conviction is our society is that we are “the masters of our fate and
the captains of our souls.” Consequently, faith in God and trust in His providence are not very highly
regarded as the way to make one’s way in the world. The way to get on in the world is not to put your
trust in God. It is to push… to be aggressive…to look out for Number One…to grab and scratch for what
you want. The way to live life to the full is to be consumed by the itch to gather still more money…and to
be addicted to being comfortable…and to be devoted to keeping up appearances so that everyone will
respect us.
That is how the world judges human worth. And when someone does not measure up to those
standards, then they are considered to be of less value. They become replaceable…they are
unessential…they are not worth very much.
But worship puts the lie to that kind of thinking and to those kinds of attitudes. The truth is that
dependence upon God is the central truth of our existence. Worship shines a light on what our society
3 Adapted from a quote in www.thetimelesspslams.net/w_resources/rnchristking_a_2017 (Accessed November
17, 2020)
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considers to be important and exposes those values for the falsehoods that they embrace. That is why worship—at its best—is countercultural in its content and expression. Worship brings us to the understanding that people are no longer valued by what they have, or by what they own, or by what they have accomplished, or by what they can do or cannot do. Instead, all of us come to the knowledge that all are valued because all are created by God. And, to God, everyone is of infinite value and worth. We are not who we are because of what we have done or haven’t done. We are who we are because “It is He who has made us and not we ourselves.” There is no such thing as the “self-made man” in the presence of God Almighty. There is no “pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps” in the economy of the Kingdom. Everything thing that we are—and everything that we have—is nothing more (or less) than a gift from God’s gracious hand. All of us—from the most well-off to the most humble—are who we are due to the loving activity of the Creator and Sustainer of life. Worship is countercultural in reminding us we owe everything to the God “from whom all blessings flow”…and to no one, or nothing, else…


We are going to close this service in a little different way than we usually do. We are going to close with an anthem that is an arrangement of the hymn “All People that on Earth Do Dwell.”4 And what’s more, everybody here gets to be a part of the choir! I invite you to turn to number 20 in your hymn book as we prepare to sing…
This anthem “The Old Hundredth Psalm tune” is arrangement written by the great 20th Century British composer Ralph Vaughan-Williams. It is considered by many to be a classic interpretation of the hymn. “All People that on Earth Do Dwell,” written in 1561, is the oldest hymn text written in English that is still in general use today. As we sing the hymn, notice that the first four stanzas of the hymn closely follow Psalm 100 in its call to praise and thanksgiving for the people of God. The final stanza is not original to the hymn. It is a doxology of praise to God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit that was added shortly after the hymn first appeared in print. It is a great way to end the hymn—and a great way to end our service as well.
The anthem will begin with a brief instrumental fanfare. We will then sing through the first four stanzas of the hymn as we normally do. Then there will be a short instrumental interlude before we sing the final stanza. There will be another few measures of music before we sing together the final “Amen” at the end. I’ll be conducting you just as if you were a choir this morning. Follow me and we will all start and end together! Let us stand and sing our concluding hymn, “All People that on Earth Do Dwell.”
All people that on earth do dwell,
Sing to the Lord with cheerful voice;
Him serve with fear, His praise forth tell,
Come ye before Him and rejoice.
4 “The Old Hundredth Psalm Tune,” Oxford University Press Catalogue No. 42 P 953. A note on the title page of the anthem reads “Composed for the Coronation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in Westminster Abbey on Thursday, 2 June 1953.”
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The Lord, ye know, is God indeed;
Without our aid he did us make;
We are his folk, He doth us feed,
And for His sheep He doth us take.
O enter then His gates with praise,
Approach with joy His courts unto;
Praise, laud, and bless His name always,
For it is seemly so to do.
For why? The Lord our God is good,
His mercy is forever sure;
His truth at all times firmly stood,
And shall from age to age endure.
To Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
The God whom heaven and earth adore,
Form earth and from the angle host
Be praise and glory evermore.
And to God alone be the glory! Amen.

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