So happy Mother’s Day to all of you Moms! “Mother’s Day” has an interesting history from which we might glean an important lesson that is applicable to our faith. First of all, the “creator” of Mother’s Day, Anna Jarvis, wanted the day to be a day of honoring one’s mother – not a day commemorating all the mothers of the world; so it should be the singular possessive, “Mother’s Day,” and not (as I always thought) the plural possessive, “Mothers’ Day.” It was designed, of course, to be a celebration for all mothers, but it was supposed to be a special day for each family to honor their own mom.
Prior to Anna Jarvis’ attempts to make Mother’s Day a national holiday, there had been sporadic, local celebrations, but the day had no national or even widespread status. To publicize her efforts to make Mother’s Day a national holiday, in 1908, Anna enlisted the financial help of well-known Philadelphia merchant, John Wanamaker. On May 08th, 1914, the U.S. Congress passed a law designating the second Sunday of May as Mother’s Day – a national holiday. Now here is the kicker: by 1943, Anna had become so upset with “Mother’s Day” that she circulated a petition to “un-holiday” the day! It was not that she was upset with her mother; rather, the gross commercialization of the day angered her. She said that Mother’s Day had become a “Hallmark Holiday,” adding these sentiments to her anger: “A printed card means nothing except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world. And candy! You take a box to Mother – and then eat most of it yourself. A pretty sentiment.” She also loathed the floral industry for “cashing in” on Mom...
Notwithstanding Anna’s angry regret and desire to rescind the holiday, Mother’s Day continues to be one of the biggest days for dining out, for the sale of flowers and greeting cards; and in the day of long-distance telephone calls, it was also tops!
The “lesson” for us as Christians is obvious: it is easy to lose the meaning and personal engagement with any “holy-day.” Sentiment, tradition, “stuff,” and even family gatherings can push “Christ” out of “Christmas;” the celebration of Christ’s resurrection can be replaced with chocolate bunnies, jelly-beans, and spring finery; and it is even easy to cut the “thanks” out of Thanksgiving! So let’s remember and make deliberate efforts to keep our Christian celebrations directed to the Lord, sincere and personal – and Mother’s Day, too!
Last month’s newsletter addressed the important and intriguing topic of worship. We saw that in worship, the whole being and person of the worshiper – conscience, mind, imagination, heart and will – responds appropriately to the whole Being and Person of God. True worship issues from one’s heart and it responds to the magnificence of God’s Being; to the beauty, glory and perfections of His character; and to the wonderful things that He has done.
Scenes of Worship
The Scriptures record for us several scenes of Heaven. When the curtain is drawn back for us to give us that glimpse, we observe magnificent, wondrous worship! For examples, you might want to look at these passages: Isaiah 6, and Revelation 4 and 5. My suspicion is that worship is the “normal response” of all who come into the presence of God. With that introduction, let’s look at Isaiah 6:1-8...
1| In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. 2| Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3| And one called out to another and said, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory.” 4| And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke. 5| Then I said, ‘Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.’ 6| Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar with tongs. 7He touched my mouth with it and said, ‘Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven.’ 8| Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?’ Then I said, ‘Here am I. Send me!’”
From this amazing passage, we may make several observations pertinent to worship:
1. “Seraphim” are referred to by name only in Isaiah. While we don’t know a lot about these angelic beings, we may ascertain that they are great in power, in glory and in privilege, for they are found in the immediate presence of God. However, note that even they cover their faces in God’s presence: evidently, even though they are not sinful beings, they cannot gaze upon the undiminished glory of the Lord. The fact that they also cover their feet suggests their humility in God’s presence. See, too, that in this instance, they are calling out to one another rather than addressing God directly: “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory!” We might imagine that as these speakers point to God with one hand, they are calling to the attention of the others the magnificence of the Lord. This is merely to say that true worship does not call attention to the worshiper: true worship is not a “performance;” rather, it points everyone present to the throne and Him who sits upon it. It is never, “Aren’t we beautiful?” or, “Don’t we sing well?” or anything “self-oriented.” It is always and only, “God is wonderful!” All attention is directed to Him.
2. We are given the impression that the worship being rendered to the Lord is given in a context of sheer awe: “The foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke” (reminiscent of Sinai!). Yet even in this mode of dumbstruck awe, the worship of God is not “mindless;” rather, God is being worshiped for Who He is: “God is Holy! God is Holy! God is Holy!” Our worship, likewise, should be more than an “existential shiver” (it may be that, but it should be more than that). Worship should be “intelligently targeted” – “Lord, I am worshiping You because you are the Creator, or because You are eternal, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, and so on. When one of the seraphs booms out that “the whole earth is full of His glory,” he is saying that there are manifestations of God’s presence and attributes throughout the whole earth (and all of creation). These manifestations bring glory to the Lord and point both men and angels to Him. We ought to, as a cognitive response, worship the Lord for Who He is and/or for what He has done.
This is taught in Psalm 150. Verse 2 says: “Praise Him for His mighty deeds (what He has done); Praise Him according to His excellent greatness (Who He is).
3. Isaiah is brought into this heavenly “worship service,” but it is worth noting that he is not able to participate in that worship until his sin problem is dealt with. He immediately realizes his own sinfulness, is overcome with a strong sense of “I don’t belong here!”, and cries out in despair. At that point, the prophet is symbolically cleansed (v.7). Prior to his being cleansed, Isaiah heard the voice of the seraphim who were worshiping the Lord God; after he was cleansed he heard the voice of God (v.8).
4. Having been cleansed and having heard the voice of God, Isaiah then enters into the worship in a different kind of way. I’m not sure that he doesn’t begin to shout out with the seraphim, “Holy! Holy! Holy!”, but we are told what he does do: he responded to the Lord’s query, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?”, by offering himself: “Here am I: send me!” That was an appropriate response of worship. Nearly 800 years later, the Apostle Paul wrote to the believers at Rome – and to us – “Present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice to God....which is your spiritual service of worship.” That is the worship that Isaiah offered, which takes us back to our definition of worship: the whole being and person of the worshiper – conscience, mind, imagination, heart and will – responds appropriately to the whole Being and Person of God. Isaiah offered himself a “living sacrifice” to the Lord, giving himself unconditionally to God for service.
The Result of Worship
We ended last month’s letter by indicating that the result of true worship was simply that God is put in His place and we are put in ours. That is true. There are, of course other “results of worship.” Many have observed that men and women, created by God in His image were “created to worship.” I believe that that is so. But mankind’s worship is often (meaning “usually”) misdirected. That not only violates the First Commandment, but it also deceives the worshiper. The psalmist, commenting on idolaters, observed that those who worship idols become like the idols they worship: “Those who make [idols] will become like them, everyone who trusts in them” (Psalm 115:8). My knowledge to comment on that is limited, but I would quite imagine that to be the case. Someone who is a hedonist will be consumed by the gods and goddesses of pleasure, and he or she will reflect that likeness in his/her life. One who worships mammon will grow to see everything in terms of dollars and cents. The flipside of this can be wonderful for the one who truly worships the Lord: if we worship Him “in spirit and in truth,” we will be changed into His wonderful image! The Apostle Paul gives us grounds for this hypothesis when he writes to the church at Corinth, “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord [worship], are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18). Indeed, let us pursue the worship of the Lord, and as we do, may He “stamp His own image deep on our hearts!”