The Spirit of Lent: Spirit of Worship

Spirit of Lent copy
Click here for the audio version of this sermon.

There are moments in history that change everything. In 1963-1964, an unexpected phenomenon changed the course of western culture and defined many aspects for years to come. One description in the New York Times from December of 1963 was,

They are fighting all over Britain. Rarely a night passes without an outbreak in some town or other. Sometimes it is a mere skirmish involving a few hundred police, but more often there is a pitched battle, with broken legs, cracked ribs, and bloody noses. The police do their best, but it is well known they are secretly in sympathy with the battlers…A sample of the battle reports for the first ten days of November shows that in Carlisle, 400 schoolgirls fought the police for four hours…in Dublin, young limbs snapped like twigs in a tremendous free-for-all… [1]

The excitement was viewed from a variety of perspectives and not all of them positive. Consider these comments both in favor of and against the phenomenon.

From the youth of America: Great… original… novel… talented… sincere… natural… honest… sweet… not conceited… good singers… “the most”… great personalities… real good guys… They create unity among teenagers… They never put another group down… They take our mind off things and put a little fun in the world.

From their parents: They have the gimmick, all right, but not the talent to back it up…We respectfully suggest that Congress immediately pass a special “noise tax.” We suggest the rate be substantial, say about 150 percent of income. This high rate would keep such disturbers of the public tranquility back in England…One number during a recent performance suggested that at least one of them could actually sing, but four others challenged that theory…Actually the group has little to offer musically, but a fad is a fad…Along come these guys with a minimum of musical talent (they probably think an arpeggio is something in an antipasti).

And the hair: Zany haircuts… outrageous hairstyles… sheep-dog haircuts… dishmop hairdos… mop-haired English rock ‘n’ rollers… Mop-Heads… the barber-shy quartet… odd-coiffed quartet… homegrown fright wigs… the cocky girl-haired young man [John]… The haircuts look like some drunken barber had at them with a soup bowl and a pair of tinsmith’s shears.[2]

Those of you who were around at the time or simply have a knack for cultural history will recognize that the story and comments are all in relation to Beatlemania, or as a young news reporter named Walter Cronkite called it, The British Invasion.[3]  The first trip, a whirlwind of tour dates and appearances over a two-week period in February of 1964, changed the landscape of music and culture and set the tone for societal redefinition in the 1960’s.

But as we see from the newspaper clippings above, not everyone enjoyed this phrenetic, hip musical expression. Many of these people, some parents of Beatlemaniacs, preferred more established American artists.

Mitzi Gaynor outshines the Beatles [on the Ed Sullivan show]… How anyone could prefer the rantings and ravings of a bunch of idiots to the deep and dreamy sounds of a mature, sophisticated man like Robert Goulet is beyond my comprehension…In 22 years (1986 A.D.), the Beatles won’t be as big as Frank Sinatra is today, 22 years after he first hit. They won’t be nearly as big as Frank Sinatra – the all-time king.[4]

The old adage, “to each his own,” comes to mind, but such cultural transitions are normal through time and to refuse to acknowledge them is usually to the detriment of the person doing so. I think the bigger picture here is the response of the people who embraced the music and caused the mayhem. Why such a response? Why did people fight, riot, scream, cry, emotionally fall apart, and generally lose their minds over four lads from Liverpool?

One opinion, and I think there is some merit to it, is,

In the early 1960s, they came at a perfect time to distract Americans from all of the cultural turmoil: the assassination of President Kennedy, threat of war with Vietnam looming, racial tensions rising, the list goes on. Come the late 1960s, the Beatles used their music to both entertain and draw attention to social issues with songs such as “Revolution” and “Blackbird.” These catchy tunes and meaningful lyrics allowed the Beatles to have an immense influence on social and cultural aspects of American life, leaving a mark that has endured through generations.[5]

To me, the key phrase in this is “perfect time.” The timing for any major shift in culture must be perfect or the whole thing falls apart.

Getting to our scripture for the day, we find a moment in time that was so necessary, so impactful, that all four of the gospel writers recorded it, albeit from differing perspectives. It is a moment that marks a point of no turning back in the life and ministry of Jesus: The Jerusalem Procession. This was no ordinary procession, however, no simple walk into town with friends for a religious ceremony. For some scholars, this was a counter-demonstration of the Roman, imperial machine, a defiant expression of the one true God over the false gods of Rome.[6]  For others, it is the presentation of the Messianic King of Israel who has come to liberate his people, with varying ideas of what liberate, might mean.[7]  One thing is for certain: the people walking with Jesus and along the roadside came to worship Him.

There is a phrase, however, that connects each version of this story from the Gospels: “Hosanna! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!”[8] This phrase is actually an echo from the Psalms, “The one who enters in the LORD’s name is blessed; we bless all of you from the LORD’s house.”[9]

But this experience, for any who were there, was an act of worship and brings to mind a very important question: What is worship? What is this thing that the people—both then and now—speak of, experience, become enraptured by? I believe worship has both internal and external components that are at work in us whenever we engage God through the Spirit. There is a sense in which we privately—meaning within our heart, in the depths of our personal being—worship God. Such worship, I believe, exists through many of the means of grace that we experience from God. Worship is nothing more or less than the recognition of who are as created beings, the recognition of who God is as Creator, and our response to those two things.

For those gathered along the road to Jerusalem, this event was a highlight of their lives, one of those that they looked back on and remembered where they were when Jesus entered Jerusalem for the final time as a human being. One theologian wrote, “Palm Sunday, then, was a day of ‘wild rapture of enthusiasm;’ and ‘the delirium of eager welcome,’…”[10]  The writer of Hebrews may have described such a situation when they wrote, “Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name.”[11] This was a roadside party made up of the disciples of Jesus and those pilgrims traveling toward Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover. But was it worship? What does true worship look like? When the early church father Saint Augustine spoke of the issue of true worship, he said, “God is to be worshiped with faith, hope, and love.”[12]  I like this as a starting point sort of definition, and I think we can sort of extrapolate things from there.

“Faith is worship’s beginning point…Faith is not a stopping point, not a place at which one arrives, but a departure point from which one engages in worship.”[13] In other words, our worship of God, as with most other things that relate to God, begins with our having faith in God. It would be silly or absurd to worship or praise something you didn’t really believe in. It would be an empty expression, devoid of any spiritual depth or meaning. The initial belief and growth in that faith is the beginning of worship and from that worship can become a way of life and being.

The second of these expressions of true worship is hope. Augustine makes the distinction between them by saying, “faith believes, hope and love pray,”[14] a way of saying, I believe, that hope is the result of having lived into faith. Hope is something, then, that looks toward what may be, but by focusing only on that which is good.[15] It reminds me of Christmas lists that children write out every year before the holidays. There is something of anticipation and wonder at the idea that these things that children are looking at and writing down and thinking about may one day be theirs. In the same way, the things of faith that we aspire to, wish to live into, wish to experience, are all matters of a hope that we may one day find ourselves knowing in a real, meaningful way.” Far from being a passive anticipation, hope gives action to the sound understanding provided by faith as it awaits its bright future.”[16]

The final of these expressions posited by Augustine is that of love. God’s very nature is love, and because of this, it is the end game or ultimate intention of faith and hope, bringing together every aspect of Christian living: the inner devotional life and outer moral life through loving obedience to God’s commands.[17] Augustine said of love, “Now what shall I say of love? Without it, faith profits nothing; and in its absence, hope cannot exist.”[18] Love is that quality of emotional expression that says, “I see in you something, someone that I want to give to, someone that I value more than I value my own life and being.” It is transcendent in a way that practically defies words and must be experienced more than defined. It is the expression of God toward man through the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus and the expression of man toward God when we truly worship, give of ourselves sacrificially by faith and hope, in spirit and in truth.

So, worship then, at least by one definition, is the expression of our faith in God, our hope in God, and our love for God, poured out as an offering by the life we live. I believe that is the final piece of this puzzle, that worship takes the faith, hope, and love that Saint Augustine describes and points it toward God as an act of sacrificial lifestyle, living into, mimicking that life and ministry of Jesus. It is, I believe, best understood as Paul wrote to the Corinthians,

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.[19]

Let us go throughout our lives and worship in this way.


References

Borg, Marcus J., and John Dominic Crossan. The Last Week. New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2006.

Dinkler, Michal Beth. “Reading the potentials of Jesus’ ‘triumphal entry’ (Luke 19:28-40).” Edited by Mark E. Biddle. Review and Expositor (Sage Journals) 112, no. 4 (2015): 525-541.

Guenter, Kenneth E. “”Blessed Is He Who Comes”: Psalm 118 and Jesus’s Triumphal Entry.” Bibliotheca Sacra 173, no. 692 (2016): 425-447.

Johnson, S. Lewis. “Triumphal Entry of Christ.” Bibliotheca Sacra 124, no. 495 (1967): 218-229.

Jones, Jon. “Worship as the Christian Life: The Theological Virtues in Augustine’s Enchiridion.” Worship 91 (2017): 450-463.

Lewis, Frederick. “Britons Succumb to ‘Beatlemania’.” New York Times (1923-Current File), Dec. 01, 1963: 124-126.

Wright, N.T. Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense. New York: HarperOne Publishing, 2006.


[1] (Lewis 1963)

[2] The quotes are taken from various sources but listed on the following website: http://www.donaldsauter.com/beatles-newspaper-clippings.htm

[3] https://www.history.com/news/beatlemania-sweeps-the-united-states-50-years-ago

[4] http://www.donaldsauter.com/beatles-newspaper-clippings.htm

[5] http://mindovermetronome.web.unc.edu/2014/04/25/415/

[6] (Borg and Crossan 2006, p. 3-5)

[7] (Johnson 1967, p. 219-220, 223-224)

[8] Matthew 21:9, Mark 11:9, Luke 19:38, and John 12:13

[9] Psalm 118:26

[10] (Johnson 1967, p. 219-220)

[11] Hebrews 13:15

[12] (Jones 2017, p. 453)

[13] (Jones 2017, p. 454)

[14] (Jones 2017, p. 455)

[15] ibid

[16] (Jones 2017, p. 457)

[17] (Jones 2017, p. 457)

[18] ibid

[19] 1 Corinthians 13

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