Advent 2016 - The One We Worship message by guest speaker Jeff Louie. For more information, visit cornerstone-sf.org
It’s always good to be at Cornerstone. I don’t remember the last time I came for a Christmas sermon. I’m always very excited to be here, see old friends, and minister the Word of God. I like to introduce the message with things that have happened over the past few months since I’ve been here. I’m sporting some more jewelry. I have a new wedding ring. I get a new wedding ring every so often. It’s not the original one. I’ve had a few different ones. I spoke at a conference in Hawaii at the end of October. There’s a flea market at the Ohio university. I don’t know if people in Honolulu know where that place is. Get all your chocolate-covered nuts there. I bought my ring for $6. The next time we’ll speak, there will be a new one because this one broke, but for $6, you can’t beat it.
There’s a funny story about my wife and family. This Christmas is special for us. When we were raising our children when we were young, Christmas was always special because our family lived away. We had the family as the center of our Christmas celebration. My daughters, when they went to college and got married, they moved away. Christmas got a little lonely for us because you don’t want to see two old aging people celebrating Christmas. This Christmas is special because my daughter, who lives in LA switches time with us, and her in-laws, is celebrating Christmas with us this year and driving up. We have four grandchildren. They’re going to be staying over. They’re going to be running around and we want them to run around. The pressure is that we haven’t really decorated our home for Christmas in years. Which meant 48 hours ago, we had to go to Target. We thank God for Target. We give praise to Target. Especially if you have a thing called Cartwheel. They were having 30% off their Christmas trees. They’re not regular Christmas trees because the lights and bulbs are included.
Miracles do happen. We loaded up the basket. We bought the lights and tree. We’re going to have a wonderful time. I have to tell you, with all the excitement and joy about Christmas and what’s going on, this season is never a good time for me. You ask, “What’s going on?” After living in this body for 60 years, I’ve come to realize that I have another quirkiness. It is what they call SAD, seasonal affective disorder, which means when the days get shorter, in terms of light, you get sadder. There are a lot of people, about 10 to 20 percent of you, saying “Why am I crankier?” I need more sunlight. You need sunlight. It gets kind of cloudy. It’s hard to get going. It’s not feeling right.
There are things in the world that seem to compound it. I feel the world is very tense recently. I’ll tell you, I have election fatigue. It’s too much. Not only that, but I spent a lot of time keeping up with what’s happening in the Middle East. I have to say, the things that are happening in Syria, Mazel, and Aleppo, are breaking my heart for the innocent civilians and children who are dying in Mazel. It’s crazy. You can’t do anything because they’re bombing the whole place. It’s terrible. Friday night, there was a great fire in Oakland. They’re estimating, it will be the largest fatality in Oakland history in terms of fire. It could be upwards of 40 plus people that perished. They couldn’t even get to the bulk of the bodies because the whole thing was a fire trap. The whole thing caved in. They have to bring excavation gear because one floor collapsed on top of the other. It’s very sad to understand that people are grieving, and they don’t even know where they are.
Of course, there’s the quirkiness about me. It’s all about myself. It’s all about my life. I have a backache today. I’ve had a backache for three days. So when pastor Terry said, “Let’s welcome Pastor Jeff up,” that’s a moment of ache. So I suck it up and bite the bullet. Instead of taking one minute to get up, I just snapped the back. It’s because I want the pain to shoot right down. It lasts for half a second and it’s gone and I could walk. When I sit down, it’s the same thing. It’s bad. I don’t know if you’ve ever had a bad or chronic backache. It’s not fun. You can’t really move around; you move gingerly. Things like tying your shoes are really difficult. That’s why I’m wearing slip-ons today. Part slipper, part dress shoe. We thank God for Sketchers also. For what they bring to benefit mankind and world peace.
This Christmas season is a little conflicted for me. It’s always been that way because of my SAD, seasonal affective disorder, that comes upon me when we don’t have as much sunlight. I don’t think I’m the only one. The Christmas season is good if you are younger, a child, or have children. It’s a lot of joy, but I want to say, if you’re an empty nester, where you’re alone, it’s not as joyful. The troubles that befall you, the things that happened in your life, and the burdens of this world are very burdensome. Pray for this nation, the world, and this city. I want to tell you about the theme we’re going to talk about this morning. It is the theme of the Jesus who we worship. It is a theme that is so powerful and gripping that when you understand what is being taught, it can draw you up and change your spirit.
Oftentimes we think of worship as an event-driven activity. It is the circumstance or what surrounds us. When you understand biblical worship or worship that Jesus wants, it is not event-driven. Rather, it is a realization from within of what you have come to know Jesus to be. In that, we have three passages. I always say I like half-hour messages here. I like to live on the dangerous side, so I like a lot of passages. It puts a lot of pressure on me to get it through. I decided to use this topic of worship and trace it through the gospel of Matthew. Matthew is the first book of the New Testament, and believe it or not, the theme of worship is one of the major themes that unite the whole book. There’s a theme in chapter two, one in chapter 14, and in chapter 28. The whole thing only has 28 chapters. It’s a beginning, middle, and end.
It’s incredible. I’m going to read quickly because you have to get an understanding of where these situations of worship are occurring. Matthew 2:1-2, “Now, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the King, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem saying, ‘Where is He who has been born king of the Jews, for we saw His star in the east and we have come to worship Him.'” Matthew 14. “Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.'” Jesus walking on water at this time. “He said, ‘Come,’ and Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But seeing the wind, he became frightened and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me.’ Immediately. Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him and said to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ When they got into the boat, the wind stopped and those who were in the boat worshiped Him saying, ‘You are certainly God’s son.'”
The final episode of worship that unites and puts together this major theme in the Gospel of Matthew is in the last chapter. It’s after the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. It reads like this. “They left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy and ran to report it to His disciples. Behold, Jesus met them and greeted them, and they came up and took hold of His feet and worshiped Him.” We need to understand what this worship is and what’s the rationale for the worship. Jesus is worshiped for who He is throughout His life. It’s very important to understand it’s in chapter two, chapter 14, and chapter 28. It’s not as if Jesus gets worshiped somewhere at the end. No. In the beginning, at His birth, He is worthy of worship. In the end, He’s worthy of worship. It’s not that Jesus becomes God to be worshiped. He was always born Son of God to be worshiped. It is in His nature.
A few years ago, I was at a service in the peninsula. They had gathered people of different faiths to express how they think of Jesus. It was really interesting. It was a very respectful type of thing. There were six of them. I’m just going to share two or three of them. They had an atheist. He said, “You know, we don’t believe that Jesus is the Son of God, but we believe He was a very good man who taught very good moral principles. He’s a good guy, and had great teachings.” He was very, very respectful. Then they had someone who was a representative of the Muslim community; they had a woman. She said, “You know, we view Jesus as a prophet because, in the Quran, Muhammad recognizes Jesus as a prophet of God in a series of people who are gifted by God to lead His people at a certain time in life.” The atheist thought Jesus was a good guy, the Muslim is one up. He’s a good guy, plus, He’s very gifted and speaks the Word of God. They had a Hindu, and I have to tell you, it takes a little more time to explain the concept. When I heard it, I’d never understood it. This was the first time I heard it. The person said, “We hold Jesus to be an avatar.” I said, “Avatar?” I’m thinking of the movie. Tall blue people, good with the arrow. You don’t want to mess around with these things.
I’m thinking of the internet and the character that you choose to represent you as you are in dialogue with other friends. You could be a turtle, dinosaur, or glass of wine. It’s your avatar. It’s not you. But when they see it, they know it represents you. “Oh, there’s a turtle again. It’s Jeff. It’s the dinosaur. It’s Jeff.” Sometimes maybe I’m a kitten. It’s not me, but it represents me. That’s a Hindu understanding of what an avatar is. That is Jesus was a representation of God. Not the person of God, but a representation of God. Hindus are polytheistic. God sends representations to different religions, and they see Him the way your religion defines you. It is good moral teaching. What’s interesting is they’re all very, very respectful of Jesus. Good guy, with the Hindu reflection of Jesus as an avatar, good moral teaching.
I thank God that they’re respectful of Jesus. However, the concept of Jesus is far greater than He’s a good guy and teacher. In scripture, the concept of Jesus is that He is one to be worshiped. When you bring up the concept of worship, you need to understand it’s higher than, “I respect you.” It’s higher than, “I honor you.” It’s higher than, “Wow, there’s some holy aura around you, so I venerate you.” You are talking about worship, which is on the highest rung, to realize that there in front of you is God, the Supreme being and creator of this universe before you. Oftentimes, worship in the modern-day sense has taken a tone of an event to be involved in. Corporate worship revolves around a gathering or event. The type of worship we are talking about in scripture is not found in corporate events. It is found in personal realization. You can have a group of people who attend a corporate event and worship God. In a technical sense, we are worshiping God.
How many of us are worshiping God in a personal sense, from the heart? It is a very, very different type of worship. These three episodes all reflect, something in the gut, that you recognize Jesus to be greater than anyone you have ever seen before. In the knee-jerk respect and reaction, you give to such a being, that what unites almost all the episodes of worship in the Bible is a natural tendency to bow down and fall to your knees. Not because God’s saying, “Kiss my ring, you unworthy fool. Even though it’s a $6 ring, still kiss it. Tells you how great I am if you kiss a $6 ring.” Now that’s me talking. No, it’s a knee-jerk reaction because you’re overcome by the greatness of God. You’ve come to realize that is what worship is, in a very plain sort of illustration. The realization of who Jesus is. He’s God. He’s more than a good guy. He’s more than a good teacher.
Do you have a heart understanding of Christ and heart worship? Jesus is worshiped by all kinds of people. What’s interesting is if you have these three episodes, in the last two, it’s Jewish followers of Jesus. In the first one, the people that worship Jesus are what we call magi from the east. What in the world are magi from the east? The translators partly translate magi because we don’t really know what they are or who they are. The Greek term is often and most commonly translated in the Book of Acts as magicians. Magicians aren’t people like in Vegas, David Copperfield, or something like that. Magicians are these religious fake-type people. It doesn’t have the entertainment nuance as it has today. We don’t really know. Were they magicians or astrologers? They say, “We see the star from the east,” so what are these people? Horoscope people? Are they trying to figure out when Jesus comes? Whatever it is, it is not a biblical thing. It’s when people outside of the faith community try to find the will of God. They say, “What did the stars say?” It’s not really biblical. It’s not how you want to find the will of God, but that’s the background of these people. It says they’re from the east. Where are they from the east? Are they from China? I don’t think they’re from China. They’re not from Fremont either, though most of you think east means Fremont, or Nevada, or something like that. No, it’s probably from the middle east.
Magicians, astrologers from a group in an area that is not part of the traditional lineage of the people of God. This is a very odd group of people who are the first represented as the worshipers of Christ. It underscores that point I just showed because they worship Jesus. We worship Jesus because we have the liberty and privilege to do so and to realize who Jesus is, regardless of where we came from. No matter what your background or ethnic ethnicity we can worship Jesus. We’re all ethnic people. The beauty of Christianity is that there should be a unity amongst us that’s transcendent because we are not united by kind or culture. We are united by Christ regardless of where we came from or your culture, ethnicity, religious background, or what kind of skeletons you have in your closet because we are all odd. In Christ, we’ll accept everyone because there is no spiritual pedigree that God is looking for.
He does not operate this way. I give thanks for that. Christ came to the Louis family line after thousands of years of Louis. I wonder what the Louis’s looked like a thousand years ago. In 1960, the first Louis became a believer in Christ, in addition to my brother and sister. We had two of them. That’s the weirdest thing because we were living in Chinatown. My family was ancestor worshipers. We brought sacrifices or food to gravesites. It sounds odd. It’s not offered to Christ. That’s how it goes. The whole aspect of worshiping Christ is that He can accept anyone from any background with any past. It’s wonderful. Some of you may be thinking that you are unworthy. In a sense, we’re all unworthy. Join the crowd. That’s the whole aspect of worship. The third point is that Jesus is worshiped for what He did for us. What He did, and I should change it to, “What He does for us.’ I want to focus on the second passage, Matthew 14. It is Peter trying to walk on water. When the circumstances of the wind and waves get to him, he flounders and asks Jesus to save him, and Jesus does. At that time, he worships Jesus and declares Jesus to be the Son of God.
Is this when Peter becomes a Christian? He became a Christian when he left his nets. He left his nets and followed Jesus. What the world’s going on here? It’s a very common journey that people have. You can understand Jesus intellectually. He’s the Son of God, resurrected from the dead on the third day after being in the grave. You can understand things factually about Jesus. He’s Jewish. He was born in Bethlehem. He died in Jerusalem. He was around 30 when he died. You know the facts. But what we have here with Peter in Matthew 14, is the worship of Jesus. It’s not based upon facts, but on a real-time experience. The real-time experience of worshiping Jesus, when it finally hits you; I can’t save myself. I need your help.
That’s a Peter moment. That’s a Matthew 14, Peter moment. I believe every believer, as we journey, always has a time when we realize when it becomes real in real-time in your life. When you press a panic button, you can always press it, but you learn you have to press it. I went to seminary when I was 21, so I’ve been studying about God, pastoring, and teaching, I’m going to be 61 in two months. I have been pastoring for 40 years. I had my Peter moment in my fifties when I transitioned from pastoring into teaching. The transition was rough when I was hit with an autoimmune disorder. I could not save myself, both physically and emotionally. What happened was Jesus was there as my savior throughout my journey but in real-time. It is an amazing realization in real time to allow Christ to uplift you amid tension. I’ve been coming here for years, and one of the joys I have coming here is that I get to know some of the old-timers here and follow their journey. Over the 10 or 12 years, I think I’ve been here.
What does it look like? I saw someone this weekend with a new knee. I was reacquainted with and said hi to someone who came from a broken family. I saw someone’s son for the first time, though I’ve seen pictures of him, whose wife died. I prayed with someone who lost their daughter. These are the tensions of life, and this is worship in real-time. The ability to worship Christ in real-time, in times of tension, and to have Christ sustain you is an amazing experience. To worship Christ because He is God is a wonderful thing, but it’s 50 percent. It doesn’t lead you to where Christ wants you to go. Take that and have Him now be God in an active sense in your life, who delivers you in whatever category of the people that I’ve mentioned. They are real people at Cornerstone because Christ is real. The things we go through are real. I’m not going to sugarcoat it and say it doesn’t happen.
What I want to say is if you understand the transcendent Christ and allow Him to help you, He will sustain you and uplift you. You need to allow that. Perhaps some of you need this because you’re at your Peter moment. But it’s more than just the ability to deliver in real-time. In this final point of what He did for us, He delivers in eternal time. In the last passage I have included, they worship Jesus after His crucifixion and resurrection from the dead. I don’t know if you noticed it, but in verse nine, there’s a very visual aspect to this episode. They came up, took hold of His feet, and worshiped Him. This is bizarre. Take hold of your feed and worship Him? I can understand the magi worshiping, bringing gifts, Tupperware, a Keurig machine. Everyone loves coffee these days. What kind of worship is this? Clinging to someone’s feet? When was the last time someone clung to your feet? I’m a New Yorker. If someone did that, I’d say, “Get away from me. I don’t want this. You’re a weirdo.” When it comes to God, it’s a different category. You’re now holding onto Christ as the resurrected one who transcends this life and into eternity and beyond. “Oh, here’s the gold. Here’s the money. Here’s the Tupperware. Here’s the Starbucks gift card.” Into, “I need you, I’m holding on to you with my life.” It’s very graphic because this comes a full in from birth into death to eternity. Some of us will have losses that we will never regain. The worship of Jesus will continue to the end, into another age.
It is a great joy to be at Cornerstone. I can’t believe it. It helps me with my SAD. Probably next time, I’ll have another ring and I might spring for $10. Go splurge in life. You only live once. I’ll just tell you a story. The morning Pastor Terry asked me what my schedule for 2017 was because I come regularly here, I said, “Yeah, put me down. Put me down.” So I’ll see you next year. I’m happy to see you because it’s a joy. It’s a real joy. I can become myself. I’m kind of myself. I’m a half comedian, half theologian. But I tell, you one day I will not be able to do it. It’s okay because the worship of Jesus is not an event-driven that I attend. I have come to understand it as something of the heart that you have experienced and will draw you into eternity. I ask God to allow some aspect of this message and its application to touch you. Allow me to pray for you, and then we will have the end of this service, the receiving of offering, and a final song.
Our Heavenly Father, I pray for my friends at Cornerstone. Wherever we are in this journey, let us begin to understand the depths of worship. For those who are outsiders, there are no outsiders. Let us understand that for those who are experiencing Peter moments and are drowning, to see You in real time so we worship You in a different sense of reality. Those who have suffered a loss that can never be regained, or to see our lives failing, to cling on You, to bring us into your presence when this life ends. May You grace us with an ability to incorporate one of these insights into our lives this Christmas season. I pray this blessing through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.