Mark 9:2-9 Why We Worship
Have you ever climbed a mountain? I couldn't think of one, but I have climbed a pyramid! It was a moment I never want to forget! Just the achievement of the climb – let alone the view and the historical significance of the pyramid.
In the story of the transfiguration Peter didn’t want to lose that moment either. Jesus took Peter, James, and John to a high mountain, and suddenly before their very eyes he is transformed! On top of that, the prophet Elijah and Moses the saviour of the Israelite nation appeared and spoke with Jesus. Peter, James, and John were terrified and did not know what to say.
But then Peter finally attempted to take charge of the moment. “Rabbi,” he said, “it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” Peter’s desire to build three dwellings was his effort to hang on to the mountaintop experience; he didn’t want to allow this grand event in their lives to pass away.
However, the story of the transfiguration suggests something more. Such grand and high moments are set in the context of other moments of suffering and pain. Mark gives us the context for the transfiguration of Jesus. In the previous verses, standing just before this passage, Mark records the first time Jesus spoke of suffering. When he predicted his death and suffering, Peter was shocked and scandalized. He refused to believe that this would happen to Jesus. Jesus got angry with Peter for his denial of Jesus' coming pain and death.
Six days later Jesus leads Peter, James and John up the mountain. And Peter sees a glimpse of heaven. But it seems as though we cannot maintain these mountain top experiences. We must return to the valley. But we take with us the “snapshots” - the emotions, the recollections, and the experiences, to sustain us. We experience that which is Holy about life – that which touches the spiritual part of each of us.
Peter says “Lord, it is good for us to be here; let us make three tents…” Though he suggested the dwellings as a way to keep Elijah, Moses and Jesus with them, he was aware that something extraordinary had happened, something of God – and he sought to preserve that experience by building the tents.
Peter was proposing worship. He must have experienced the need to acknowledge this moment in some way, to set aside the worries of the day and concentrate, meditate, immerse himself in this experience – to come into the presence of God with his whole self.
How many of us are able to do that on a Sunday morning? How often are you able to walk into this place of worship, ready to experience God, ready to set aside the cares and worries of the week and to have your spirit renewed?
Believe me – I know how hard it is to do. Too often my first thoughts in this place and in this space on Sunday morning has far more to do with the mundane than it does the spiritual. Where is Jenny Webster? What have I done with my notes? Is the projector working OK? And I am sure that similar thoughts go through my colleague’s heads – the stewards are watching the door, looking for hymn books, Our musician is checking the tunes and running over them in her head. I could go on – there is so much to do to prepare for a Sunday worship service. In many ways the very people who have the job of providing the context for a spirit filled worship experience are the worst ones to be doing so! Yet, if these things are not done correctly and not done well – everyone will notice. You may even leave here in anger or disgust.
Worship has become in many ways another consumer item, like shopping or going to a sporting event or a concert. You live in a buyer’s market and as the ones providing the attraction, it is we who lead who feel the pressure. And of course, that isn’t all bad. In days gone by when people just automatically came to church, the one their parents had brought them up in, they did not have an expectation that anything out of the ordinary or exceptional was going to happen. Now people in our consumer culture shop for a church. They demand quality and are willing to look around until they find it.
But far too often these demands are identified in the packaging of worship; enjoyable, toe tapping music and songs, easy parking, activities for the children. Often it is nothing to do with how worship occurs even, but what is a church's response to war, on issues around sexuality, on helping the poor and needy, on doctrine and theology? All of this isn’t to say that parking and theological issues isn’t important! It’s just that these are not the reasons we worship. The key issue in worship is – who is God and what is God in Christ about in your life this day?”
The chief reason for being here today isn’t even about you and your problems. My hope is that whatever cares, fears and worries you bring with you today that you will somehow be touched in worship. But you are not the reason that we worship today. God is. James Sanders, the great Hebrew scholar, says that scriptures always and everywhere speaks primarily of God and only secondarily about us. In worship we begin looking for God, before we look for us. Or rather, we affirm that God began, in Jesus Christ, looking for us before we ever looked for God.
Author Homer Rogers says that the word “holy” exists in every language and is common to every religion. Defining what is holy becomes a part of defining religion. And with that, he tells an interesting tale.
It seems that when the American and British whalers first made landfalls in the South Pacific, they brought back and introduced the word taboo. We commonly interpret that word to mean forbidden, but in truth, the word means holy!
The English sailors would land on some Polynesian island and flirt with all the native girls, and when some man would make a pass at a particular girl, they would all freeze up, become indignant, and say “no, no. Taboo.” The sailors would go exploring on the island and the people would show them around happily until they came to a particular mountain or cave and want to go up or in it. Then the natives would say “No, no. Taboo.”
The sailors came to think that the word meant forbidden, but what the natives were really saying was “That is holy”. That girl, that mountain, that place has been set aside for religious purposes – it is for God, not for us.
The primary meaning behind holy is the idea that something belongs to God for God’s exclusive use. That is what worship is meant to be. It is a time set aside by God for God’s exclusive use so that we might come into the presence of the Eternal with awe and fear and thanksgiving to receive the word, to share in the sacrament, to be forgiven, renewed and healed, to be transformed in our way of seeing and being. It is the way that we are empowered to go out to do what needs to be done. Worship gives us a snapshot, a foretaste of what is to come, and then sends us directly back into the world . Christ always came down from the mountain, back from the boat, off of the cross. Jesus makes clear to the disciples that the arena of their ministry lies around them, but that God is the source of that ministry.
Peter said, “it is good for us to be here”. I agree. It is good for us to be here today, in the presence of a living God who wants us to be here, to worship God with Joy and Thanksgiving.
Prayer: Lord God, we gather to worship you because you have been revealed to us as Lord of life, Prince of peace, Saviour of the world. We gather to worship because you have gathered us, called us forth to be present with you, that you might be present to us.
Lord, it is good that we are here! Our lives sometimes seem flat, conventional, or too filled up, too busy. Then you come to us and speak to us. You bless us with your presence.
Help us to worship you with a true heart and mind. It is good that we are here. Amen