What the Liturgy Tells about a Church

2 Timothy 4:1-5

January 28, 2017

The past week, I gave three tours of our church sanctuary. One to the mother of a bride who was considering getting married here because her home sanctuary is too small to hold all of her guests, one to folks from Grace Church in Harmony as they are exploring the possibility of renovating their sanctuary and took a field trip to visit area churches, and one to our pastor-friend from Kenya whom many of you met last Tuesday night.

And, while it is not uncommon for me to give such tours, three in a week is. What’s interesting, though, is that almost always, the conversation turns toward the symbolism in the stained glass windows. And what I tell people, much as I told you when I did the sermon series on church architecture back in 2012, is that the symbolism is valuable only if you know how to read it. If you do, it tells the story of the life of Christ and of God’s redemptive story through the ages. But, if you don’t know how to read them then they are nothing more than decorations.

And, as I was thinking about that, and about liturgy, in this series about the worship of the church, it struck me that liturgy is much the same as the symbolism in the windows. Think about it, if the order of service is just “what we do,” then it doesn’t provide a lot of value, but if there is a purpose to it that can point to something greater, then we have done a valuable thing.

So, I want to talk a little about liturgy today, but I want to start off with our text this morning, because it is foundational for our liturgy itself….

Verse 1: Paul is writing to Timothy, offering words of wisdom to his young protege. He says,

“I charge you (or “I solemnly declare to you— I exhort you with authority regarding a manner of utmost importance)…”

If something is of the utmost importance to Paul, don’t you suppose that it ought to be of the utmost importance to us — that we should listen to what it is that he was saying…?

back when I was teaching, if there was something that was of critical importance to life, I used to say, “put your pens down, put your eyeballs and your ears on me.”

That is essentially what Paul is saying…these words I am telling you are really important, they are essential for you to put to memory and into practice.

“I declare to you” Paul continues…” in the presence of God (we might say, “in the sight of God”, and of Jesus Christ who is to judge the living and the dead…”(some of our Bibles translate it “will judge” or “shall judge” to emphasize that this is really going to take place, without exceptions…

And herein is a big part of the problem of unbelief in the church. If you really believed that Jesus was going to come back and judge you, would you live differently?

Back in the late 80’s and early 90’s, I spent several years as a manager for Domino’s Pizza. The man who trained me made a habit of popping into the store unannounced and at irregular intervals when I was running solo shifts.

And when he did, I was expected to be able to answer 4 questions:

1. What are the sales on your shift?

2. How many drivers are in the road and how many are in the back of the store?

3. Who should be the next driver back into the store?

and

4. How much money is in the store.

And understand, he expected me to know these off the top of my head, not looking at my books.

And, since I knew that my performance review was based on my ability to answer these questions, I kept close track of them.

If Christians really believed that Jesus would come at any moment, do you think that they would be living differently? Would you live differently? Jesus spoke often about being at the Father’s work until the Master comes back and about being found at work when he does return.

So, why harbor so much sin? Why live for self instead of living for the kingdom? Why store treasure up on earth and not in heaven? Think about it…

Now, verse 2 we looked out last week in the context of preaching…that’s God’s call for Timothy and by extension, for those of us called to preach the Gospel.

Yet, when it comes to verses 3&4, that makes it personal for the whole church.

“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions.”

Or perhaps, a little more literally…

“For a time is coming when correct teaching will not be tolerated, but according to their own cravings, they will collect teachers who will tickle their ears and they jul turn away from listening to the Truth and turn away to myths.”

The sad thing is that our culture has become so Biblically illiterate that they largely can no longer recognize truth from error.

Look, if a business accepts bills as money that are counterfeit, and there are lots of them, the business is going to lose money…that’s why cashiers are given those pens and are taught to look at bills. But what if the cashiers are not equipped to tell the counterfeit ones from the real ones…or just don’t care? Then the company has a real problem, doesn’t it?

If a construction company builds a structure according to unsafe blueprints, that structure might stand for a while, bit it will eventually topple. That’s why builders usually go over their blueprints to ensure they are complete and good. But what if the builders don’t know the difference…or don’t care?

There are some medications that if taken together will have catastrophic effects on your health. So, typically your doctor and pharmacist check over your list of meds to make sure the combination won’t harm you.  But, what if the pharmacist cannot tell what the interactions will be? Or if he doesn’t care?

God’s word is your roadmap for life (here and eternally) and it is also the roadmap for the church. If you don’t know what it says, or you cannot tell the truth from error…or simply just don’t care, what will the state of your life? your soul? your church?

Folks, the Bible’s reliability is under attack in the mainstream culture. They say it is an old, outdated document that has little or no relevance to life. So, can you defend the Bible against this criticism? Can you defend that Jesus is the Messiah prophesied in the Old Testament…just by using the Old Testament?

You should be able to do so…every Christian should be. But I wager very few can.

Your senior manager (Your King!) will show up at a time you do not know, will your shop be in order? Will you be found laboring faithfully on that day? Will you be found doing what He commanded? Do you even know what he has commanded you?

Do I have your attention? It’s that important.

Remember the purpose that Paul writes that is behind prophets, apostles, evangelists, and pastors and teachers…it is to build up the body of Christ to do the work of ministry…until we attain a unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God and a maturity of the church.

Why is this?

So we are not “tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine” and so we can be built up in love (Ephesians 4:11-16).

Our problem is that we think we can love without sound doctrine…but we cannot, because doctrine teaches us what love really is. So, a thorough knowledge of doctrine from the scriptures establishes this doctrine.

So, do you want a loving church? Of course we do, that’s s no brainer. That loving church begins with the right teaching of God’s word.  And for a practical application, I can think of nothing more practical than that.

Verse 5: the first four verses have been largely for those who teach and for those who guide and lead the church…this verse belongs to us all…

“As for you, always be sober minded (self-controlled or orderly), endure suffering and do the work of an evangelist — fulfill your ministry (remember, you are all ministers in the Biblical sense!).”

It’s this word, “soberminded” that I want to focus on as we conclude this morning. Between the writings of Peter and Paul, the word is listed 6 times in the New Testament as a Christian virtue. But the term is not just applied to the imdividual, it belongs to the church body as well.

1 Thessalonians 5:6 reads: “So then, let us not sleep (the church being at work) as other so, but let us keep awake and be sober minded.”

As Paul continues he says that we must be this way to fulfill our witness in the world and to build up the body of Christ. And so, we, too, as a congregation must do things in an orderly and a sober minded way — including our liturgy. We must never do things just because we have always done them that way, just because other churches are doing them, just because it is expedient, or just because we like it.

Instead, we are to do things in an orderly, purposeful, sober minded fashion, which brings us back to our liturgy.

What does our liturgy say about our church? Or, perhaps, what does our bulletin communicate about our values?

Now, understand that the Bible does not give us a prescribed order of worship, although, as we mentioned before, it does prescribe some things for worship. So, there are many approaches to orders of worship and so long as they are sober-minded and intentional, they are not bad, they are just different. But what of ours?

1) As is printed on the back of most of our bulletins (an explanation to visitors and a reminder to members) our service is broken into three parts revolving around the three offices of Christ as our mediator. We begin with Christ as King, emphasizing law and God’s demands on our lives, we continue with Christ as our Prophet in the sermon, and we close with Christ as the High Priest as we prepare to be a priesthood of all believers when we enter the world.

2) There are seven passages of Scripture read during the service — frankly, the more the better…

— the scripture used for the call to worship and for the benediction are self explanatory

— The Elders read a passage called “The Way of Salvation” which is a reminder of the pathway on which the believer is to walk. Here we read connectively through books of the Bible and it is appropriate that the Elders read this section as they speak for the Church Council and have the authority to rebuke and chastise where it does so in the text.

— The Council as a whole shares in the reading for the offering

— Chuck normally reads the invocation, which while he is out I have been covering. This is a request to God for his presence in our midst and here again we read connectively through sections in the psalms.

— The Resurrection Words of Admonition are admonitions from Jesus’ own lips that prepare us for the pastoral prayer and personal repentance.

— and then there is the text of the Sermon.

3) About 50% of the service is the sermon where we sit under the teaching of God’s word in God’s schoolroom.

4) And then there are occasional sacraments which again are used as an illustration of the Word of God one more time.

What does our liturgy say about us? We prioritize the Word in Worship…my prayer for all of us is that we prioritize it in life.

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