************ Sermon on Psalm 15 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on November 1, 2009
"Getting Ready for the Lord's Supper"
A study was done on excommunication practices in the sixteenth century Genevan Church of John Calvin:
Quarreling with your spouse 302;
Quarreling with others 258;
Rebellion against parents 151;
Quarrels with close relatives 126;
Business fraud 42;
To the modern mind, the Genevan Church seems so narrow, stiff, and unbending.
Very few churches today are like this. Most churches today are so delighted to see a person attend worship that they wouldn't ever think of attaching any conditions or qualifications to worship or membership or the Lord's Supper or baptism. Anyone and everyone is free to attend and join and participate.
I have always found it strange that Christians don't want to do what even the pagans are willing to do. For instance, only members are allowed into a Masonic Lodge. And, only Muslims are allowed into Mecca in order to worship Allah. The same thing is true of a Hindu or Sikh temple.
The Lord willing, we hope to celebrate the Lord's Supper next week. But before you come to the Lord's Supper or even for worship you need to get ready, you need to prepare yourself. So, this morning, as we look at Psalm 15, we find out what needs to be done so we can attend next week.
I The Pilgrims' Questions
A Psalm 15 imagines a crowd of people walking up to Mount Zion. When these pilgrims arrive at the Temple gates, a priest steps out of the shadows and stands in front of the pilgrims. Before proceeding any further, the crowd repeats the words of the psalmist:
(Ps 15:1) LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill?The priest, in the name of the Lord, answers with the rest of Psalm 15.
The pilgrims' questions tells us two things about God. First, God is the Host: the pilgrims want to be God's guests on God's holy hill; they want to dwell in His sanctuary. In the Middle East, at the time of the psalmist, one of the most basic rules of human contact concerned hospitality: hospitality must always be shown to anyone who peacefully comes to you; the host has the responsibility to protect, feed, and care for his guests; he is to ensure their peace and comfort. The pilgrims of our psalm want to be God's guests; they want Him to protect, feed, and care for them; they come to God for peace and comfort.
The second thing we are told about God is that He wants the worship, praise, thanks, and sacrifice of His people. He wants a people who live in His sanctuary and on His holy hill. But, His people need to be qualified, they need to be properly prepared.
B "LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill?" (Ps 15:1).
These questions also presuppose two things. First, these questions presuppose that not everyone can do this. These questions presuppose that not just anyone and everyone can worship God. These questions presuppose that not just anyone can take the Lord's Supper or present their child for baptism. Only those can participate who are fit, who meet the qualifications.
Second, these questions presuppose that worship is a privilege and not a right. My brothers and sisters, your presence here this morning is not a favor that you grant God but, rather, a favor that God grants you. It is important that we never forget this.
I need to emphasize this last point. Worship is a privilege and not a right. Why do I say that? All too often today, people think they are doing the almighty and majestic God a favor by showing up for church. The attitude of these people is that God ought to be happy they are showing some interest in Him; after all, God doesn't get attention from all that many people these days; He no longer fills churches to the rafters like in the old days – especially in the second service. My brothers and sisters, we don't do God a favor by showing up for church. God can get along perfectly fine without us. Worship is not a favor that you grant God but, rather, a favor that God grants you.
C "LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill?" (Ps 15:1).
As I already said, most churches don't have qualifications for worship or participation in the Lord's Supper or baptism. The concept of getting ready for worship is foreign to most Christians today – maybe this includes some here. Yet, Psalm 15 talks very specifically about requirements for entering into the presence of God. One must be fit for worship. One must have the necessary qualifications to be in God's presence.
When you think about it, isn't this normal for the rest of life? For instance, when I was at Calvin College the Vice-President of the United States came for a visit. Those students who had contact with him were expected to prepare themselves. Many got a hair cut, took a shower, and dressed neatly. I cannot help but observe that most people get really dressed up for a wedding. And, when people go visiting, there are always certain house rules that must be observed. We drill it into our children to say "please" and "thank you." We tell them there is to be no jumping on the furniture or throwing of toys. We tell them not to talk with their mouth full. We tell them they cannot start dessert until the host or hostess sits down.
On this preparatory Sunday, congregation, the pilgrims' question should also be your question:
(Ps 15:1) LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill?Or, to make it more personal, "LORD, may I dwell in your sanctuary? May I live on your holy hill?" Are you fit for worship? Do you meet the qualifications to take the Lord's Supper or present your child for baptism?
II The Priest's Answer
A "LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill?" (Ps 15:1). How does the priest answer? What must a person do to get ready to meet with God? What are the qualifications for worship or participation in the sacraments?
Before going any further, let me tell you what I am NOT talking about. When I was growing up, most boys wore suits to church – this looks nice, but this is not a requirement for church. Every Saturday, most kids had to polish their Sunday shoes – again, this looks nice, but this is not a requirement for worship. My mom used to peel potatoes on Saturday so she wouldn't have to do this on Sunday – this makes Sunday less hectic, but this is not a requirement to meet with God either. I don't ever want to give the impression that you are not welcome here if you don't wear a three-piece suit or the latest in designer clothing.
B What, then, must a person do to get ready to meet with God? What are the house rules? What are the qualifications for entrance into the Temple?
The priest provides just 11 points on his checklist. By way of contrast, the Jewish Talmud says the five books of Moses have 613 requirements for worship, Isaiah has 6 (Is 1:15-17), Micah has 3 (Micah 6:6-8), and Amos and Habakkuk have 1 (Amos 5:4; Hab 2:4).
If you had to draw up a list of requirements for worship, what would you come up with? Our list might read something like this: faith, read the Bible, pray, give generously, support Christian education, attend a Bible study, dress neatly, meditate.
In that time and place, one would expect the priest to mention ritual requirements for worship: tithes and first-fruit offerings, ceremonial cleanliness, fasting, observance of feast days, participation in the Passover.
C "LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill?" (Ps 15:1). How does the priest answer?
Look at the list of requirements: blameless walk, does what is righteous, speaks the truth, no slander, does his neighbor no wrong, no slur on his fellowman, despises a vile man, honors those who fear the LORD, keeps his oath, lends money without usury, does not accept a bribe. What do they have in common? The priest's list concerns every day of the week and not just Sunday. In other words, we don't live one way on Sunday and another way the rest of the week. In other words, God wants consistency and unity in all of life. In other words, we are not to be SUNDAY ONLY Christians! In other words, we need a certain WAY OF LIFE. To attend worship, to be in God's presence, the priest says you need a certain WAY OF LIFE.
The requirements for worship and sacraments are simple and straight forward. But they are not easy:
-"He whose walk is blameless" quite literally means "never does anything wrong." Does anyone here dare to claim that about themselves – that they never do anything wrong?
-"Who does what is righteous" literally means always does what is right." Does anyone here dare to claim that about themselves – that they always do what is right?
-How many here can say they always speak the truth?
-How many here can say they never ever gossip or slander a neighbor?
III Jesus Makes Us Worthy
A "LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill?" (Ps 15:1). Am I fit for worship? Do I meet the qualifications to take the Lord's Supper? Am I qualified to present my child for baptism? If every person here is honest with themselves, they have to say, "NO! NO! A thousand times NO!" I am NOT fit for worship. I am NOT qualified to take the Lord's Supper. I am NOT qualified to present my child for baptism.
Like the disciples of Jesus, we might be tempted to ask, "Who then can be saved?" (Mt 19:25). Not even Abraham, called by Scripture "a righteous man," met such stiff demands.
B There is only One Who is blameless and always right. There is only One Who is worthy of being in the presence of God. There is only One Who qualifies. And, that One is Jesus (Is 53:9; Lk 4:2; Jn 8:46; 2 Cor 5:21; 1 Pet 2:22; Heb 4:15; 5:7; 7:26; 1 Jn 3:5).
We do not meet the requirements for worship. I am not qualified to participate in the sacraments. Yet, today, we are in God's house. Today, we have witnessed a baptism. And, next week, we can expect to attend worship again as well as partake of the Lord's Supper. How do we explain this?
By the blood. The blood of Jesus. That is the only way I can enter into God's presence. Listen to how Hebrews puts this:
(Heb 10:19-22) Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, (20) by a new and living way opened for us ... (22) let us draw near ... in full assurance ...Not only can I draw near to God in worship, not only can I participate in the sacraments, but I can do so in "full assurance." I don't have to approach in fear and trembling. I don't have to be a hesitant worshiper. I don't have to come to the Lord's Table forever crossing myself. I can come with confidence because of Jesus Who was perfect in my place and Who suffered and died in my place.
I can worship with confidence. I can participate in the sacraments with confidence. Did you catch how Psalm 15 puts this? "He who does these things will never be shaken" (Ps 15:5). In the Old Testament, the threat of insecurity is expressed by the word "shaken." Those whom Jesus makes fits for worship will never be shaken, they will never be moved. They are safe in the arms of the Good Shepherd.
"LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill?" (Ps 15:1). Who can come to church? Who can come and worship? Who can participate in the sacraments? All those who believe in Jesus. Because, for those who believe, Jesus has met the requirements they can not meet. These are the people who can come to church. These are the people who can participate in the Lord's Supper and baptism.
I urge you, then, believe in Jesus. And come. Come and worship.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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