Sunday School Lessons
Commentary by Walter Albritton
Genuine Worship is Always Exciting and Never Boring!
Ezra 3, 4
Key Verse: All the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid.
This week we could talk about the foundation and speculate about its size. We could talk about the offerings, how the people gave money to pay the stonemasons and carpenters.
We could discuss how much it must have meant to the Jews to have the opportunity once again to worship in their own temple, in their own holy city, after 50 years of forced captivity in another land.
We could talk about how the people came together in unity. The scripture makes us think of a crowd in a football stadium, with the people standing as one. Unity is indeed a beautiful gift of God, always to be admired.
We could speak of the praise band the Jews developed, with trumpets and cymbals, and perhaps other instruments. (It may help us to realize that a praise band for worship is not a modern idea!)
However, I have a better suggestion. Let us focus on true worship, what it means to worship genuinely the living God. Let us examine three powerful verses: Ezra 3:11-13.
Reading this passage makes me want to take off my shoes, get on my knees, and praise God for showing us what true worship is all about.
Look at it carefully. Observe what happened after the foundation of the temple had been laid.
The people sang. And did they sing! Their songs were not mournful ditties, but stirring songs of praise to God. It is obvious they did not drag through old songs no one was excited about singing. They sang with intensity, for they were thanking God for his mercy.
Their singing turned into shouting. The picture in my mind is of people so excited that they went from singing to shouting and clapping, much like the crowd at one of our modern concerts. Since it was “a great shout,” it may have lasted for several minutes as the people applauded the goodness of God.
Imagine for a moment what it must have felt like to stand among those glad worshipers that day!
But there is more. Some in that crowd had been present when the original foundation of the temple was laid. They had endured the heartbreak of its destruction. Their shattered hope had been reborn. God had spared them to see a new temple being built.
These seniors wept unashamedly. They “wept with a loud voice,” many of them shouting for joy. They were not embarrassed to raise their voices – and probably even their hands! Their souls were stirred to the depths and they worshiped with joyous enthusiasm. So loudly did they cry out that their voices could be heard a great distance away.
Those who heard the Jews worshiping could not distinguish shouts of weeping from shouts of joy. We have read about “Shouting Methodists;” these were “Shouting Jews”!
Indeed some Methodists would have horrified by the worship of those Jews. Too many of us have succumbed to the notion that worship should be restrained, calm, and proper. Nothing must happen that is not already printed in the bulletin! We work hard to “control” our order of worship, often denying the Spirit the freedom to move us out of our comfort zones.
I have come to believe this: any church with a future will find a way to offer contemporary worship to people. If your church is not dealing with this issue, that may be a sign that it is a stable and dying church.
Since I retired a year ago, I have been in some rather lifeless worship services. Once or twice, I found a church so cold that I wished I had brought some ice skates so I could skate down the aisles.
If we intend to reach people for Christ, and make disciples, in this culture, we must find ways to offer worship that is alive with enthusiasm and joy. It is a crime for worship to be dull and boring!
God, I believe, was pleased by the weeping and the shouting of those Jews in Ezra’s day. He will be pleased today to hear the sounds of joy and the sounds of weeping in our worship hours.
Perhaps it is time for us to stop arguing about styles of worship, and unite our hearts in new, and old, forms of worship that will bring us to tears and to shouts of joy as praise God for his goodness to us. + + + +