Our Praise?
Wednesday of Pentecost 5
12 July 2017
One of the most troubling confusions that has arisen in the life of the church is that her worship service is for God's benefit. The result of this confusion is that there has been a dumbing-down in worship forms, so that congregations are now singing "praise" music, in which the worshiper tells God that "I just lift Your name on high" just way too many times. Here I am not speaking especially of musical forms, but rather the reduction of meaning from liturgical and hymn texts. Such reductionism makes sense on the false presupposition that God is the one who benefits from our worship. If worship is our offering to God there is no need for a deeply or theologically complete expression of the faith for God's benefit. It would be telling God what He already knows far better than we do. Such expressions of faith would be akin to explaining in excruciating detail to a master chef a recipe that he himself has written. Instead, we would be inclined to express our admiration of the chef with prosaic praise, "You are a great chef!" So it is for worship generated to please God, "God, You are really great. No, really, really great!"
Worship is not for God's benefit. What is it that we humans could possibly offer to the holy God that He could need or desire to receive from us sinners? He does not desire sacrifice from us, for He desires mercy for us (Mt 9:13). Then what is worship for? Worship is for the worshipers. The Lutheran Confessions consistently say that worship is to teach the people what they need to know about Christ (AC 23, 9). The worship service is the delivery point at which God serves His people by offering Himself to them in the Word of God. He delivers Himself to them in the proclamation of the forgiveness of sins, through which they are absolved and thus set free from sin and death. He desires not our worship, but He desires with a passionate intensity that we hear what He is doing for us in the service; which is His to us, not ours to Him. He offers the food of His Word that we might eat and live (Is 55), not that we might tell Him what a great cook He is.
Since worship is for us, its theological adequacy and completeness are central to its usefulness. We are to learn of God's compassion and in learning of it to be set in its midst. The service must ever be the justifying God's to us, never ours to Him. If worship is God's service to us, the impact on worship texts and hymns is immediately apparent. They must be adequate expressions of the faith. They must be confessions of Christian truth in its fullness, sung by the church both for her edification and for the instruction of those who would not know this God without this confession. "Praise" choruses will never do this. God desires our worship for our justification in His presence. Our sacrifice of praise must be theologically adequate to God's desire to give Himself to us. God doesn't want our praise. He wants to justify us in His presence.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

Augustine of Hippo

"Putting aside for the present the other religious services with which God is worshiped, certainly no one would dare to say that sacrifice is due to any but God. Many parts, indeed, of divine worship are unduly used in showing honor to men, whether through an excessive humility or pernicious flattery. Yet, while this is done, those persons who are thus worshiped and venerated, or even adored, are reckoned no more than human. Whoever thought of sacrificing except to one whom he knew, supposed, or feigned to be a god? And how ancient a part of God's worship sacrifice is, those two brothers, Cain and Abel, sufficiently show, of whom God rejected the elder's sacrifice, and looked favorably on the younger's.
"Who would be so foolish as to suppose that the things offered to God are needed by Him for some uses of His own? Divine Scripture in many places explodes this idea. Not to be wearisome, suffice it to quote this brief saying from a psalm: 'I have said to the Lord, "You are my God. You need not my goodness"' (Ps 16:2 Lat.). We must believe, then, that God has no need, not only of cattle, or any other earthly and material thing, but even of man's righteousness. Whatever right worship is paid to God profits not Him, but man. For no one would say he did anything to benefit a fountain by drinking, or the light by seeing. The fact that the Old Testament church offered animal sacrifices, which the people of God today read about without imitating, proves nothing else than this, that those sacrifices signified the things which we do for the purpose of drawing near to God, and inducing our neighbor to do the same.
"A sacrifice, therefore, is the visible sacrament or sacred sign of an invisible sacrifice. Hence that penitent in the psalm, or it may be the Psalmist himself, entreating God to be merciful to his sins, says, 'For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.' (Ps 51:16-17). Observe how, in the very words in which he is expressing God's refusal of sacrifice, he shows that God requires sacrifice. He does not desire the sacrifice of a slaughtered beast, but He desires the sacrifice of a contrite heart. Thus, that sacrifice which he says God does not desire, is the symbol of the sacrifice which God does desire.
"God does not desire sacrifices in the sense in which foolish people think He desires them, namely, to gratify His own pleasure. For if He had not wished that the sacrifices He requires, as, for example, a heart contrite and humbled by penitent sorrow, should be symbolized by those sacrifices which He was thought to desire because they were pleasant to Himself, the old law would never have enjoined their presentation. They were destined to be merged when the proper opportunity arrived, in order that men might not suppose that the sacrifices themselves, rather than the things symbolized by them, were pleasing to God or acceptable in us.
"All the divine ordinances, therefore, which we read concerning the sacrifices in the service of the tabernacle or the temple, we are to refer to the love of God and our neighbor. For 'on these two commandments,' as it is written, 'depend all the law and the prophets' (Mt 22:40)."

Augustine, The City of God, 10.4-5
Psalm 51

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! 
For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.
Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you. Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; build up the walls of Jerusalem; then will you delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on your altar.  (ESV)
Lord Christ, You have told us that You desire not our sacrifices. Lead us to be emptied of ourselves in repentance and contrition that Your Word would dwell among us richly in songs and hymns and spiritual songs. Continue to give us Yourself through the Word, that we being justified by Your speaking, might ever more adequately say back to You what You have already said to us. Amen.
For Herbert C. Mueller, the first vice president of the LCMS, that the Lord Jesus would watch over him and guard him
For Jill Stoneburner, that she would be strengthened in body and soul
For Anwar Husain, that he would recover his good health
Art: Albrecht DURER,  The Adoration of the Trinity (1511)
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2017
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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