After a recommendation from a friend I listened to a sermon from Matt Chandler on my pray and plan last week. Chandler talked about his interest in the “Civil Rights Movement”. He wondered how grow men could endure being called “boy” by white children? He wondered how you tell your daughter she can’t go to a public park because of her skin color? He wondered how you handle having to drive through the night because you cannot find a hotel that will allow you and your family to get some sleep? He wondered how you wake up every day tiptoe around because you don’t what might come through your window or how someone might feel lead to treat like less than nothing? This is what Chandler discovered:
About four or five months ago, we had Dr. Rick Rigsby come speak to our staff. Dr. Rick Rigsby was a long- time professor at Texas A&M University. In the end, I cornered Dr. Rigsby, because I needed to know the answer to this question because it really has haunted me all these years. I've never been able to figure out how they endured. He said, "There were multiple pieces, but let me give you the main one." What he pointed to as the main refuge, that thing that sustained the obedience of African Americans in the 60s during the Civil Rights Movement was how they approached God and how they worshiped with one another. I don't know if you've been a part of an African American church service. The way they do it is call and response. Do you understand what that means? That means in that service, there are no spectators but God, and everybody has come to play. There is interaction at every level of worship. It's not guys on stage and people in the crowd. It's we're all here to get after the Lord.
Theme: The liturgies of our worship safely guard us in the Gospel.
1.The Purpose of Liturgical Gatherings—Ezra 3.1-6.
Many people who read the Bible can get lost in all the details, so they ended missing the regular rhythms and themes of the Bible. Ezra 3 opens up with one of the regular rhythms of Israel—“When the seventh month came”. The reason this would have been so important to these Israelites is this was the most important month of their religion. During the seventh month the people would celebrate the “Day of Atonement” and the “Feast of Booths”. Both of these celebrations were designed to help the people remember what God had to done to rescue the nation of Israel from captivity. Therefore it makes sense that after the people have been rescued again from captivity by God, they wanted to reinstitute these rhythms of worship.
Why did they do this? The first reason I believe goes back to—READ Ezra 1.5. The Spirit of God is moving and people’s hearts are being stirred.
Second, when this happens God’s people want to know what to do. They want to be able to express their love toward God. But we cannot worship God anyway we want. There are boundaries to healthy worship. If we could worship whatever way we wanted then it would be chaos. Some my say, “Well, I worship by having sex with someone else’s spouse.” Others might say, “I worship when I get wasted.” “I worship by spending all your money on stuff I want.” Worship requires INSTRUCTION. This why it reinforces 3 times in 4 verses that is was according to what was instructed (Ezra 3.2, 4). Everything we see happening in Ezra 3.1-6 has happened before. Some of the things they are doing are in the Law of Moses and others in I Kings, II Chronicles and etc. There were mature people in the Word to instruct them, and the people responded in worshipful obedience.
What does this regular liturgical instruction do? Let me clarify what I mean by “regular liturgical instruction”. The “Feasts” God puts into the regular calendar of Israel were all meant to remind people of who God is, what He has done, and what He will continue to do. Just like Israel had regular liturgical instruction we also do here at Refuge. Every Sunday we structure our Gathering around the Grand Story of Scripture. It’s structure is around the Gospel. These liturgies are meant to instruct you on how to live. Let me give you an example, in Creation we see from God’s word that everything GOOD in the world comes down from God. Humanity is made in the image of God and meant to continue that ministry to the rest of Creation. So the reason we ask you to greet your neighbor every week is so you can practice meeting your neighbors, learning how to have casual conservations with people. When you go out and meet your neighbors now you have practiced that discipline. That is just one example, but hopefully you see that our liturgies are meant to help us remember who God is and what He wants us to be.
2. We Need Healthy Liturgical Instruction—Ezra 3.7-11.
The worshipful obedience of Israel does not end there, but when God’s people are truly stirred by the Word of God they go beyond what the Word requires—READ Ezra 3.5, 7. The people even gave to unbelieving non-Israelites! Once again they went above and beyond what was required of them. We are talking about radical generosity. They did not have to provide “freewill offerings” and they did not have to provide for these non-Israelites. This radical generosity became another act of Worship.
Now let’s not forget that Ezra is set in the context of the “Writings” which means that is closely related to Wisdom literature. Solomon in II Chronicles 2 offered to send to the king of Tyre some wheat, barely, oil, and wine as a gift. He did not have to pay them anymore for the materials they would receive from them, but he gave out of an overflow of joy.
Any good business relationship requires some wisdom. One of the ways you can keep your relationship good is going beyond what is required. When I was a waiter I had times when I or the kitchen messed a customers order. Now I had customers who were not upset at all. But just to make sure they had a good experience I would go out of my way to get them some free dessert or find a way to get a portion of their meal take off their bill. I did NOT have to do those things, but there was an element of wisdom there.
So while there is an overflow of joy to bless others there is also some wisdom God is using through the leaders and people to keep healthy relationships. Heartfelt worship will allow for these types of freedom.
Once again healthy instruction in God’s Word helps us gain this type of wisdom. We see phrases like—“They appointed the Levites...to supervise the work” (Ezra 3.8). Then once again in Ezra 3.10 we see the phrase, “according to the directions of David king of Israel.” When we remember the Story we are in it helps us remember we have been given a new identity. For instance, if you believe you are a child of Abraham then you believe you are blessed to be a blessing (Gen 12.3).
So how do you become a child of Abraham? It comes through the better David. The TRUE and BETTER Israel. Therefore, God is good to us. His steadfast love endures forever toward because of Christ!
3. Liturgy Opens the Floodgates of Our Hearts—Ezra 3.11b-13.
Some of you may know this, but I grew up with VERY charismatic parents. They had strong convictions about the spiritual gifts and the role of the Spirit of God in the life of the Christian. I think for a long time I was afraid of orderly worship or spiritual disciplines because I thought it would take away from the emotional experiences I was having with God. But as I have matured in my faith I found that is not the case. In fact when I was younger I lived more in doubt and fears because I had nothing to govern my emotions. Now I believe the liturgies of my life help keep me consistent, steady, and faithful. When I get away from my spiritual disciplines or liturgical lifestyle I more prone to wonder, prone to leave the God I love.
I think the end of this chapter reinforces this idea—READ Ezra 3.11b-13. I mean 5 times it used the word “shout”. 11 times we see the author use words that describe VERY strong emotions. This is what happens when we stay within the Story. When we live in the real world—God’s story we have deeper experiences then living in our own. This does not mean that all of our emotions will be praise and thinking about how awesome God is. No, some of them will be deep emotions of sorrow. It says in Ezra 3.12 that the older people see the foundations of the Temple and began weeping LOUDLY. Why is that? There are different theories, but the most likely to me is that the these older saints saw the former Temple and saw this was not nearly as great. They are remembering that their sin was what caused the destruction of the former Temple. When was the last time you were so broken over your sin that you began weeping LOUDLY? Worship is not always about some happy experience, on, many times it is about sanctification. It is about God revealing to us our weaknesses so we can experience TRUE joy being conformed into the image of God’s Son. True growth will ALWAYS hurt friends.
But the other part to keep in mind is that these older saints might also know the words of the prophet in Ezekiel 40 and beyond. In the book of Ezekiel we read about a MASSIVE Temple that would larger than the entire United States. It is describing the NEW heavens and NEW earth. It is describing when God will live among His people again. So while God has restored them to the Promised Land He is still not fully dwelling among His people. This is where we can relate to them. We know our sin is what caused the destruction of Christ the True Temple. We still live in a world FULL of sin. So when we see our sin, or even the sin of others it should cause our HEARTS to WEEP and long for something better. So we are a people full joy and sorrow. Joy because we promised something better, but sorrow because it is not here yet.