Ritual’s connection to joy
In the first mention of joy in the Bible, we can learn some important lessons. These may cut against the grain of our cultural conditioning, but they are important if we want to experience the presence of God. When I talk about “presence,” I mean “a person or thing that is present but not seen.” [Oxford]
I. Ritual can reveal the glory of God.
“Then Moses said, "This is what the LORD has commanded you to do, so that the glory of the LORD may appear to you.” [Leviticus 9:6]
[Context: the ordination of Aaron and his sons... the beginning of sacrificial system.]
A. Ritual, routine, and religious exercise has a purpose.
1. Rick Warren’s “Purpose Driven Life” instructed people on how to find purpose in life.
2. Ritual, routine, and religious exercise is designed to make life easier and comfortable.
B. Most of life is ritual, routine, or religious exercise.
1. What do you do when you get out of bed every morning? Probably the same thing... You have a routine.
a. Breaking the routine can cause tension or throw everything off...
b. We even use the explanation for a bad day as “getting out of the wrong side of bed.”
c. Routine saves emotional energy; we don’t have to think about what to do next or where to find what.
2. What do you do when you get into your car to drive someplace? Probably the same thing... You have a ritual.
a. Breaking the ritual may mean that the seat or mirror is not adjusted properly.
b. Most “accidents” occur when we break our rituals... we become “careless” and miss something important (like not being in control of the car due to speed, distraction, or intoxication.
3. What do you do when you encounter something uncomfortable, unfortunate, or beyond understanding? Probably the same thing... You have a religious exercise.
a. Some people use vulgarity, minced oaths, taking the Lord’s name in vain. (Notice that in American society we don’t use other names, like Satan, Michael Moore, Buddha, Mohamed, etc...?)
b. Some people resort to prayer. (AFA reported that on a Simpson’s episode, Lisa notice Bart praying for a chance at a much needed passing grade and remarked, “Prayer the last refuge of the rascal.” The actual line, a sad commentary on Christians, was “Prayer, the last refuge of the desperate.”)
C. Typically when religious exercise and ritual are mentioned, we think “dull,” “mindless” or “boring.”
1. Thinking something is boring is actually a bad attitude.
a. We admit we are not intelligent enough to get something of worth out of what is happening.
b. Typically the feeling of “boring” is a criticism... generally of something we don’t like or want.
2. Reality check: We all have things that make life easier, simpler, and more comfortable... they are called ritual, routine, and religious exercise.
a. Do you have to think about were your tooth brush is or your car keys?
b. If you have to think about where your car keys are, you are probably stressed at the moment...
3. Moses tells the people that the glory of the God will “appear.”
a. The word “appear” in the Hebrew means “to see” and carries the idea of experience...
b. In other words, God can be seen in the ordinary or extraordinary religious ritual, expression, or exercise.
II. The earnest pursuit of God can reveal the presence of God.
A. When we do something by ritual we do them out of some sort of expectation.
1. Like we expect to know where the tooth brush is, or like we expect to enjoy a certain food... When we practice a religious ritual or religious exercise, we expect something to happen.
a. What you expect is usually what you see and experience.
b. If you prepared your self to expect God to speak to you through something that happens in church today, it will happen... subtly or strongly. (Or vice-versa)
2. When we participate in the ritual of communion (the Lord’s Supper) we expect some things to happen.
a. It gives us a chance to “truly and earnestly repent.” Which clears our conscience and makes us feel clean before God.
b. We expect God to “make us strong and faithful in all goodness.” Which acknowledges we are dependant on God to do and be...
c. We participate, knowing that our self-confidence, self-righteousness is unacceptable to God... It is only by His mercy that we participate in the new covenant we remember and celebrate.
B. Expectations tend to be emotional.
1. We tend to believe what we want to based on what we feel (or are trained).
a. Here is the issue of comfort. There are some practices in some churches that are uncomfortable to me.
1.) I don’t like a service that seems unstructured or casual. It comes across as not being serious about being in the presence of God.
2.) I don’t like a service that has lots of symbolism. I don’t know the symbols so I don’t know what’s happening.
b. We tend to feel what we believe... (self-explanatory)
2. The problem is that emotions happen to us and we do not subject emotions to examination.
a. So ritual, routine, and religious exercise can become meaningless.
b. Meaningless happens when we miss the presence of God.
III. Joy and worship is the response to the presence of God.
A. There is a spiritual movement that occurs when we encounter God.
1. The initial reaction is RESISTANCE.
a. We are made uncomfortable by truth.
1.) We may have to deal with sin in our lives.
2.) We may have to admit our inadequacy.
b. Our intentional movement through life, (ritual, routine, and religious exercise) becomes disturbed when we encounter the one we earnestly seek.
1.) If our ritual, routine, and religious exercise is designed to help us encounter God, why would be resist that encounter?
2.) It happens when our ritual, routine, and religious exercise becomes and end in itself to keep us comfortable.
2. A choice is made to REPENT.
a. Repent does NOT just mean we change our minds. (Changing our minds is an important part of repentance, but it is not the full picture.)
1.) Four frogs are sitting on a log. Two decide (want to, feel like, change their mind about being on the log) to jump off. How many frogs are on the log? ANSWER: Four. Deciding, want to, feeling like, changing the mind is not the same as jumping off the log.
2.) Some people think that right thinking (teaching) leads to right living. [Ever do something you KNEW was wrong? You thought right but you lived wrong.]
b. The Biblical model of repent includes “to turn.”
1.) When we repent we TURN AWAY from something, in this case it is sin. This is “godly sorrow.”
2.) When we repent we TURN TOWARD God. This is joy.
c. We enter into an exchange.
1.) We exchange our sin (guilt, consequences, pain, problems) for Christ’s righteousness (forgiveness, salvation, joy)
2.) We replace the bad with the good... (Greed is replaced by generosity. Lust is replaced by unconditional love. Bitterness is replaced by the freedom of forgiveness. Complaining is replace by encouragement.... etc...)
3. We begin to REORIENT our behavior and attitudes.
a. The key word is “obedience.”
“What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, `Son, go and work today in the vineyard.' `I will not,' he answered, but later he changed his mind and went. "Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, `I will, sir,' but he did not go. "Which of the two did what his father wanted?" "The first," they answered. Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.” [Matthew 21:28 – 31]
b. We are transformed.
“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will.” [Romans 12:2]
4. The RESULT is the presence of God.
5. The RESPONSE is joy and worship.
B. The question is where are you in this line of movement?
IV. Realizing that God is always present comes from the discipline of joy.
A. We have to deal with obstacles.
1. “It is easier to let God’s law convict than to let God’s gospel set you free.” [Mike Mason]
a. We are conditioned to be “guilt collectors.”
b. (Ill.) One of my earlier churches insisted that I had not preached unless I had offended and humiliated someone. They called it “stepping on someone’s toes” and “meddling” as terms of endearment.
2. What are the obstacles?
a. The GUILT of your own sins. [Mike Mason] (“Admit it. Quit it.” Bury it.)
b. The GRUDGE you hold against someone else. [Mike Mason] (Forgive it. Quit it. Bury it.)
B. Develop the discipline of joy.
1. “But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest3427 the praises8416 of Israel.” [Psalm 22:3 KJV]
a. Literally, “who sits the praises of Israel.” Which could mean “dwells” in the praises... as the KJV translates it.
b. As we praise God (combination of joy and worship) we see, experience, know God’s presence.
2. “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” [Philippians 4:4]
a. It is required, as a discipline... like reading the Bible and praying.
b. It may be one of the things you do that can create the “feeling.”
“Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise--the fruit of lips that confess his name.” [Hebrews 13:15]
We have the opportunity to see ourselves and God in a fresh light as we once again remember and celebrate the new covenant in Jesus’ blood.
[# 759 The sacrament of the Lord’s Supper]
For more on joy, see Mike Mason, "Champagne for the Soul: Rediscovering God's Gift of Joy," Regen College Publishing, Vancover, B.C. 2003.
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