Saturday, September 14, 2013

Sputtering into my tea cup

This people honors me with their lips,
    but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
    teaching as doctrines the commandments of men. Matthew 15:8-9

So yesterday I was asked, Who is a Pharisee?

And this is the question I am asking myself ever-so-often on this trip through the familiar words of Matthew, that I so dutifully memorized in King James verbiage many years ago in order to gain a position on the Tennessee State Bible Quiz Team.

Because there are a lot of Pharisees in Matthew, this Gospel written for the Jews, the People of the Law.

When I click on the footnotes on my online ESV Bible it automatically includes sermons from John Piper, and the word “worship” sent me to a 1981 sermon entitled “Worship is an End in Itself.”  And I settled in for a good read, because like so many of my ilk, middle-aged evangelicals, we all read and reread Desiring God, over and over, like a good cup of hot tea after a long cold day: Worship is not a door through which we pass to get anywhere. It is the end point, the goal. And I have some now developing theological disagreements with Mr. Piper now, as I read and reread the Scriptures, but I so very much hold him in honor in my heart as well, and a man of God who held open this door for me.

But as I was rolling along happily, I ran into a troubling statement, just as he wound up for the final pitch, the reiteration of today’s verse: This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.  

What makes a worship service authentic and genuine and pleasing to God is the quickening of our hearts with appropriate emotions. But this quickening does not happen in a vacuum. It is caused by true perceptions of God's manifold glories. And so there must be substantial theological content in the service: in the lyrics of our hymns, in the prayers, in the Scripture, the sermon.

And I had to sputter on my cup of tea. Because Jesus walks away from these Pharisees right into a region of absolutely no true perceptions and zippo substantial theological content, the district of Tyre and Sidon, the capital of Canaanite culture and religion. And he found a woman of great faith, licking at the crumbs that fell off of the Chosen People’s plates. And I am quite sure that her worship was heartfelt and authentic and pleasing to God, especially after Jesus healed her severely oppressed daughter instantly. Her vision was clear and her perceptions were true, and it had nothing to do with substantial theological content in the lyrics of the hymns.

I grew up immersed in these commandments of men. They weren’t exactly taught with me sitting in a desk with notebook and pen, but I breathed it in and knew it to be true. I knew the Pope was the antiChrist. I knew that Pentecostals were demon-possessed. I knew that Presbyterians didn’t believe in the Bible.  I memorized explicit colored timelines that charted the end times moment by moment with up and down arrows that have all come to naught. 

But it really doesn’t matter. Because I didn’t know better.  None of us do.  We all see through a glass darkly. And I think that when that Glorious Day comes, all of that stuff with be rooted up and burned up like the chaff that it is, and we will all see clearly, all of us, a great multitude that no one can number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, saying, "Amen, blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen."

But on the other hand it does matter. A lot. Because it stands in the path against the prayer of Jesus: May all of them to become one heart, just as you, Father, are in me and I in you, So they might be one heart and mind with us.

There is nothing wrong with depth and historical precedence and Greek verbs tenses or the lack thereof, and the Pharisees with the substantial theological content. Except that it is so easily leads us astray. Like wealth. Because it sure does nothing about being in one heart and mind. Not at all.  Or loving the LORD your God with all your heart, soul, and mind and likewise, your neighbor as yourself. Mostly it draws dark lines between me and my neighbor. And the old man on the metro with the big tattoo across his face. And the chick with the short shorts. Or is that a guy? And the laughing Muslim with a gold chain around his neck. With big words that aren’t even found in the Bible so we had to make them up. And it is so very, very easy to take it seriously. And write lots of books. And read lots of books. Which leads into taking myself seriously. And the instant that I do that, it becomes about me, and not about Him.  And I do not even see Him, standing right in front of me. Lifting the the Samaritan leper up from his knees. Taking a cup of water from that woman. Rolling up the bed of the cripple on a Sabbath. Speaking gently to the adulterer. Marveling over the heathen soldier. Chatting with the now-clothed demoniac. 

Quicken my heart. Give me ears to hear and eyes to perceive the manifold glories of God. That I may worship You.