Saturday, February 21, 2015

A Vist at Martha's House, part 21: Defending Piety and Zeal

But the Lord answered and said to her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her." (Luke 10:41-42 NASB)

Once again, I fully expected to move to Luke 11 today, but another point caught my attention, and I am compelled to stop here once more. As I read through Luke 10 today, I wondered if Matthew Henry (my favorite theologian) had found a treasure in this passage that I had missed. It turned out that he had. Read his words:

"However we may be censured and condemned by men for our piety and zeal, our Lord Jesus will take our part: But thou shalt answer, Lord, for me. Let us not then condemn the pious zeal of any, lest we set Christ against us; and let us never be discouraged if we be censured for our pious zeal, for we have Christ for us." (Matthew Henry)

I attended the community-wide Lenten Luncheon hosted at my church earlier this week and, as I glanced around the room I noticed people from a variety of faith traditions. There were Methodists, Baptists, Episcopalians, and Presbyterians seated together around the tables. I'm sure other groups were represented, too (at least I hope so). As I surveyed the room, I thought the gathering was the most representative of heaven of any church gathering I'd attended recently. We put aside our own traditions to celebrate the Savior who died for us all. For one hour on Thursday, we were the body of Christ, and it was beautiful. I hope Jesus was pleased.

Since then, I've been thinking about this business of denominations and traditions, the controversy about hymns versus praise songs, raising hands in prayer or not raising hands in worship, speaking in tongues or not speaking in tongues, prayers for healing, liturgy, and this general grumbling that goes on about the worship style of others. If the truth be told, we don't just grumble about worship styles, we sometimes judge others, as well as condemn them when their worship is a little different from our own. In fact, what is even worse, we don't limit our bad attitudes to those outside our own faith group. There is a tendency to disdain for anyone who worships in a way different from our own, and recently, I've been wondering how Jesus feels about it. One of the last things he prayed for us was that we would be one, even as God the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are one. He wanted unity for us, not division. I'm afraid our disharmony appalls Him.

The problem, as we can see, is not new. King David's wife condemned him for his public display of worship, and it cost her the love of her husband. Martha condemned Mary for her choice to worship rather than "make preparations" and it cost her a rebuke from Jesus. I wonder what our own snipping about worship styles costs us. If Jesus defended the one who was at His feet worshipping, and rebuked the one who condemned her, you can be sure that we do not go unnoticed when we do the same to those worshipping around us. 

Because I attend a church that is somewhat "stiff" during worship, I once asked a friend what prompted the different worship styles and what they meant. She explained this business of raising hands in worship in a way that made perfect sense to me. When a little child is sleepy and wants to snuggle, is hurt and needs consolation, or is tired and can't walk another step, what do they do? They reach up their arms to their parents and say, "Hold me, Mommy. Pick me up, Daddy!" In that same way, we raise our arms to our Heavenly Father asking Him to draw us near to Him, comfort us, carry us through a hard time. Holding our hands out, palms up, she said, is often done to symbolize that we come to Him with nothing of our own, willing to receive anything He sends our way. It is a symbol of humility and submission. 

Once I saw this business of uplifted arms and open hands in this way, I began to wonder, why don't we all raise our hands with desperation to draw closer to our Lord? Why don't we all hold out our empty hands before our God? I fear our lack of demonstrative action may be due to a lack of accompanying humility. (pride) After all, who wants to be the one raising hands in a room full of people who don't? We must ask, if we hold back in worship because of those around us, who then are we worshipping? 

How foolish we are to argue about worship! Why not get up in arms about sin, instead? Matthew Henry was absolutely right. Let us be sure that we do not condemn others for their piety and zeal "lest we set Christ against us". Our Lord wept and prayed for our unity as He was facing the cross. It was His heart's cry, and it should be our own. This weekend, as we prepare to attend worship services, join with me and try something radically new. Instead of condemning the worship style of others, let's give it a try. Embrace a fresh style of worship, whether it be raising hands in worship or kneeling in adoration. 

What matters, dear ones, is not the position of our body nor the location of our hands. What matters is the humility, ardor, and love in our hearts. What pleases Christ is unity among those who love Him. Let us love one another, let us welcome our differences, and let the worship begin!