Deuteronomy 26:1-11 Why Bother with Worship? Introduction Here we are in church this morning – worshipping God. Why?

Why bother? Quite frankly, we could all be having a lie-in. After a busy week, why not chill out at home instead of getting up early to come here? What is the point of our worship? Why bother with worship? Well, there are many different responses to that question and we can’t address them all this morning. But the reading we had from Deuteronomy 26 does give us some insight into the value of worship in the Judeo-Christian tradition and what it is that we are actually doing when we come to worship God. OK, this passage is about Harvest Festival and we’ve only just got into Lent: so we don’t want to be thinking about Harvest just yet!! But the principles that underpinned Harvest for the Israelites are the same principles that underpinned all their worship. And, as Christians, we are children of Abraham and part of the spiritual bloodline of the people of Israel and so the principles and values of their worship as the Covenant People of God have been incorporated into the Christian Church since we too are part of that Covenant People by adoption. As a result, this passage teaches us some good principles about what is going on when we worship God and why we should bother with worship at all. There’s 3 points I want to draw out of this passage about what is happening when we worship God. First, our worship is an act of Thanksgiving Perhaps some of you remember when Pope John Paul II came to England in May 1982. It was big news. The media followed him everywhere and it was an important time for the national Church right across the denominations. Perhaps you remember him landing in England. He came down the steps of the plane, knelt on the tarmac and kissed the ground. And there was something deeply symbolic in that action because, in kissing the tarmac, he was making a statement about his personal relationship with Britain and the people who live here. In this passage from Deuteronomy, we see a similar symbolic action; an action that was performed as a symbol of the relationship between the people of Israel and the land they had inherited. Verses 2 and 4 say this: “Take some of the firstfruits of all that you produce from the soil of the land that the LORD your God is giving you and put them in a basket. Then go to the place that the LORD your God will choose as a dwelling for his Name…The priest shall take the basket from your hands and set it down in front of the altar of the LORD your God.” The Harvest Festival for the people of Israel was an act of Thanksgiving for their crops. And Thanksgiving is at the heart of our worship, for three reasons… Firstly, we recognise that our provision comes from God. It is striking that, in these 11 verses, there are no less than 8 mentions that God is the provider. “The Lord God gives the land” – verse 1. “The Lord God gives the harvest” – verse 2. “The Lord God brings us out of affliction” – verse 7 and so on…At the heart of our worship is the fact that God is our provider. He is not just the provider of our food but the provider of everything we need and have. He provides for us physically, spiritually and emotionally. We are his children and he looks after us with a love that cannot be rivalled. In Matthew 7, Jesus says, “Is there any among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish will give him a snake?..How much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” God is our Provider. We owe our very existence to him and that is a focal point of our worship. It was Vincent de Paul in the 16th-century who said that, “We should

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spend as much time in thanking God for His benefits as we do in asking for them.” Secondly, our Thanksgiving must be the best we can offer. In verse 2, Moses instructs the people to bring the first-fruits of the crop to the altar of the Lord. Isn’t it the case that we are often so busy in our lives that, when we come to worship God, we only have the dregs left to give him? We come at the end of a busy day, or the end of a busy week, and we are often too tired to do any justice to him in worship. But the attitude spoken of in Deuteronomy was very different. The Israelites didn’t take the best of the crops for themselves and then give the rest over to God. They gave him the first-fruits and took the leftovers for themselves. And I think there is a challenge in this passage for us to give to God the best of what we have to offer in grateful recognition of what he has first given us. Someone once said to me, “It’s funny how £5 can look so big when we take it to church – but so small when we take it to the supermarket.” There is a lesson in that about grateful giving being part of worship – both financial and otherwise. Thirdly, our Thanksgiving is both corporate and individual. I always get a bit put off when the preacher quotes Hebrew and Greek in the sermon so forgive me for raising it here. But it’s an interesting feature of this passage that when Moses says “You must do this” and “You must do that”, the word “You” changes between singular and plural throughout. And I think the point of that is that our Thanksgiving must be both an individual act but also a corporate act of the church. We come to worship God as individuals and we reflect on the way in which God works in our lives on a daily basis. But we also come as the Church – the Body of Christ – and our Thanksgiving must reflect that. First, then, our worship is an act of Thanksgiving: hallmarked by our acknowledgement of God as our Provider, hallmarked by our giving of the best we have to offer, hallmarked by our individuality and corporate praise. Second, our worship is an act of Remembrance The testimony of Scripture is that God is intimately involved with the history of the world. That is most clearly seen in the Old Testament. The Old Testament tells the story of the people of Israel and that history cannot be separated from their relationship with God. And the worship of the people of Israel reflected that fact. As well as being acts of Thanksgiving, they were acts of remembrance of what God had done for them. This is clearly shown in verses 5-9. In these verses, the history of the people of Israel is recalled and intertwined throughout that history is the story of the marvellous acts of God. God made the Israelites into a great nation – verse 5. God brought them out of Egypt – verse 8. God brought them into the Promised Land – verse 9. No part of their history could be recounted without acknowledging the hand of God upon them and their Harvest worship was an act of remembrance of that fact. There is a wonderful French proverb that simply states, “Gratitude is the heart’s memory.” So we approach our worship as grateful people, remembering the love of God that has been revealed to us. First, then, worship is an act of Thanksgiving. Second, worship is an act of Remembrance. Third, our worship is an act of Celebration Celebration is at the heart of the Christian life. C.S. Lewis called joy “the serious business of heaven”. As Christians, we are called to celebrate daily the Good News of the Gospel of Christ and that celebration is at the heart of our worship: a celebration of the good things that God gives to us and has done for us. And verses 10 and 11 in Deuteronomy 26 show two aspects to the nature of Christian celebration. It is celebration that is Godward and it is celebration that is shared with others around us. The Godward celebration is revealed in verse 10: “You shall set [your offering]

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down before the Lord your God and bow down before the Lord your God.” Our first response in celebrating the Gospel is to worship God; to put everything that we have, everything that we are, before his altar as a living sacrifice to him and to bow down before him in worship and adoration, recognising that God is worthy to receive glory and honour and praise. Secondly, Christian celebration is outward looking to those around us, verse 11: “Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and your house.” The Israelites were told to celebrate their gifts with strangers in their midst and, if our worship is to be pleasing to God, we must become actively engaged in sharing with others from Monday to Saturday. True worship is as much about engagement with community issues and social justice issues as it is about singing hymns on a Sunday. In conclusion… So, why bother with worship? What is it all about, anyway? This passage from Deuteronomy gives us some insight… It is an act of Thanksgiving to the God who provides, with the best we can offer as individuals and as a church. It is an act of Remembrance of the good things that God has done for us through the years. It is an act of Celebration. We celebrate here in this building and we celebrate by engaging with those in our community and the wider world by serving them in whatever way we possibly can. This Lent time, a time of self-reflection, our prayer is that God would develop in us hearts of worship that will transform us, transform our church and transform our community. Amen.

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