Review: Worship is "because of." That is to say that worship is our response to what God has done/is doing/will do. Not only do we respond to what God does, we respond to who he is. Our Response to God involves three elements. On the one hand we have the substance of worship. On the other hand, there is the experience of the worshipper and the worshipping church. When the substance of worship and the experience of the worshipper combine, worth is ascribed to God. Combined, these elements represent our way of participating together in our worshipful response to God. For simplicity we will call these the content of worship, the structure of worship, and the context (or style) of worship.

Preparation for worship is to prepare us as a collective group to participate. We are not always good at coming together. We have different opinions and different ideas, different tastes and preferences (which we often project on God assuming that he likes what we like). But our response is not simply individual. (If this were the case, then we could all "home church" and be done with assembly). God, however, intends for all of us to come to his banquet table. We experience his presence and activity among us not only as persons, but as a people.

The content, structure, and context of worship are layers of worship. Content is the most essential layer – the core or kernel. The content of worship is the gospel – we enact it. The structure of worship embodies the gospel we enact (or participate in), and the context is the level or layer at which we engage the specifics of our culture and context. This involves language, style, time, seasons, etc. (One of the amazing characteristics of the gospel is that it engages any culture, not without challenges, but the gospel is an "incarnated" witness and message from God. It can be translated into any language; it can speak hope and promises in any culture. It challenges all earthly powers and institutions. It is not bound by temporal or regional limitations.)

Content: Enacting the Gospel. In worship, everything we do "enacts" the gospel. By that we mean that everything participates in and communicates the gospel event. Baptism is connected to the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. The Lord’s Supper is a proclamation of the death, burial and resurrection. Preaching affirms the gospel event and gives testimony to how that gospel power is worked out in our lives. Likewise, prayer and praise proclaim the gospel and affirm it. They assume it! We also re-experience the gospel that saves us and we are challenged to continue living it out so that we become better people.

When we enact the gospel in worship we participate in the same gospel that is at the heart of God’s missions. We encounter the risen Christ whom the gospel proclaims. Read Luke 24.

Notice what happened as the gospel is enacted in this Journey to Emmaus: They encountered the risen Jesus. Before they recognize him are sad and downcast (v. 17). Their hope is expressed in the past tense (v. 21). There troubled and disturbed by the news of resurrection, they are not able to hear it as good news (v. 22 – 24); they are confused. The women saw him raised but our companions did not. What’s going on? They wonder.

  1. Jesus teaches them, he opens the Scriptures to them. Through this teaching the news that Cleopas and his friends assume everyone knows is transformed into "good" news. Later they will remember that this encouraged them and their hearts were burning within them.
  2. Jesus fellowships with them. It takes place in the context of hospitality and an invitation for continued company. He takes the bread, he blesses it, he breaks it, and he gives it to them. These are the same verbs used in describing what Jesus did with the apostles at the Last Supper. ("Do this in remembrance of me!") And they do remember him; it is at this point that they recognize him as Lord and Messiah.
  3. Everything comes together in these events: meeting Jesus, teaching from the Scripture that explains their experience, the substance of the meal and the remembrance of Jesus. The action of God, in the gospel is at the center of this event. The presence of God in Jesus Christ is real. God’s action determines whether or not these disciples can see Jesus as Lord and Messiah. Just as the Holy Spirit empowers the hearing of the word, so the Spirit of God empowers the "seeing" of Jesus in worship.
  4. The disciples ascribe worth to God and respond to what God has done. They are filled with faith and hope – consider how different they are now after encountering Jesus than how they were before. They are sent out to tell the good news that they not only believe, but that they themselves have experienced in worship. Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?" It is a gospel moment!

We respond to the gospel that is enacted in our worship. Who enacts it? God enacts it and we participate in it just as Cleopas and his friend did. Why do we get obsessed on what others are doing in worship? Do we ever consider what God is doing? Consider how we are surrounded by the gospel in our worship: We remember what God has done. We anticipate what he will do.
We may journey to worship downcast or confused. But the encounter with God and our re-experience of the gospel has a way of changing us and changing how we feel, what we do, but most importantly who we are!

Why Content is Important ... (So What?)
Encounter with Christ.
We often try to respond to human needs with the gospel, but the gospel – what God has done and is doing – has a way of drawing out needs we didn’t know we had. (Just as it did with Cleopas and friend). If the gospel is the content of worship, then all needs will be met by God and just left up to us! When we invite each other to prayer and baptism and confession, we invite people to get right with God and we invite people to be ministered to by God and the Spirit of Christ. Worship isn’t our time to take care of "church business."

The gospel content affirms what God has done, is doing and will do. Our worship will be a response to God’s action rather than an experience of our self-interests. The gospel meets us in our culture and in our context, but it also challenges our context and culture also. When we come together in worship, the living Christ meets us on a journey as he did the Emmaus travelers, and we may find that our hearts are burning within us as the Lord opens the gospel to us!

Discussion Guide
  1. Why is it important that we respond to God as a collective people? Why can't we all just worship individually? Does it make any difference? How concerned is God with our relationships with one another?
  2. Last week, Dr. Phil gave a feuding family advice on how to get along. His last piece of advice was that they should try to worship together. Is that good advice? Why or why not? How does participating in worship with one another change the way we treat one another? Does it have anything at all to do with the presence of God among us?
  3. Why is the content of worship so essential? What happens if we have the "correct" structure but no content or bad content?
  4. How does enacting the gospel in worship give us new hope and call us to live different and holy lives? How does it enable us to serve one another? How does it draw us closer to God?
  5. Do you think the gospel is just for beginners? Does Paul think the gospel is just for beginners in 1 Corinthians 1?
  6. Read Luke 24:13-35. Describe Cleopas and his friend before they meet Jesus. Describe them after Jesus vanishes from their sight. Why are they different?
  7. Jesus taught Cleopas and the other disciple from Scripture. Can we accept that Jesus still teaches us? If He is dead, then we can only learn about Him; but if He is alive then we can learn from Him. Do you agree? (See Luke T. Johnson's book, Living Jesus).
  8. Have you ever come to worship with a set of needs only to find that the gospel confronted you with your real needs?

Chris Benjamin

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 6 March 2005

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