Sunday, March 27, 2016

Extravagant Worship

On Palm Sunday, the church celebrates the day when Jesus entered into Jerusalem in festal procession. Riding on a donkey, Jesus was hailed by crowds who declared him Messiah and King. They cut palm branches from the trees, waving them in their and shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest![i] They spread these branches in the road, and their cloaks as well, so that the animal Jesus was riding on could walk on top—kind of like an ancient “red carpet” welcome. Their praise of Jesus was extravagant. It could even have been risky. To call a man their Messiah was to commit high treason, and the people knew it. But they how could they keep from singing His praise? Extravagant praise takes a risk. It pays a high price. But it is worth it, to show the extremity of your love.

When the Ark of the Covenant was brought into Jerusalem, King David danced before the procession. He was so caught up in worship that he discarded his outer clothes so he could move about more freely. His wife, who didn’t understand his enthusiasm or appreciate his immodesty, chided him for the exhibition in his underwear. David paid a high price, in receiving his wife’s derision. But his response was, “I will make myself yet more contemptible than this, and I will be abased in your eyes.”[ii] David’s desire to worship and please God far outpaced any self-consciousness he may have had. He didn’t care what other people thought his worship looked like. That was between him and God, not between him and the onlookers. Rather than recanting his extravagant actions, David insisted that, if given half a chance, he’d do it again, and be even more undignified the next time.

Often when we come to worship, we can be more aware of the people sitting in the pew next to us than we are aware of God. Even though joy may be overflowing in our hearts, we self-consciously hold back on our expression of worship, for fear that others may think us strange. I’ve seen this in so many churches, where the Spirit of God is moving and people want to raise their hands or dance a little in worship—but they hold back because such worship is too risky. Extravagant worship just might be too costly for them, if their neighbors think they’re strange. So an upraised hand turns into a quietly upturned palm, or would-be dancing settles down to simple toe tapping. But I ask you: What are we afraid of? Are we glorifying God, or fearful of our own friends? Exuberant praise is costly—and it should be. Because a gift that costs you nothing isn’t a gift at all. Extravagant praise is risky—and it should be. Because giving yourself to God should never feel safe!

Six days before the Passover—just before Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, He stopped by at the home of his friends Lazarus, Mary, and Martha. He knew he had a horrible ordeal ahead of him, and he needed the encouragement of friends. Mary (the much more emotional and spiritual of the two sisters) took a jar of perfume and anointed Jesus’ feet, drying them with her hair. This was no cheap Dollar Store knockoff brand. The bottle itself was made expensive alabaster. It was sealed so perfectly that the only way to open it was to break the neck of the bottle. In other words, part of the value of it was that in order to use it, you had to devalue it. Like a collector’s item that retains its value if it’s never used and kept in its original packaging, just breaking open the bottle itself was an extravagance. Then the perfume, made of pure nard, was also costly. This jar of perfume, by today’s standards and US wages, would have been valued at about $51,168.[iii] At these prices, you’d think she would have just put a dab on Jesus—but she poured out the whole bottle! When’s the last time you used a whole bottle of perfume all at once? I’m sure you never have—and especially not at such a price! But Mary was willing to give Jesus this costly gift as an expression of her love. She was also willing to bear derision for her seemingly over-generous gift. John 12:4-5, 7-8 says:
But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”

Jesus was saying that her gift was a blessing because it was her natural response to His overwhelming goodness to her family. Remember—Jesus had raised Mary’s brother Lazarus from the dead not long ago. Her extravagance was welcome because Jesus was worthy to receive the very best she had to offer. Her use of her own hair indicated her absolute love, and even her openness to multisensory worship. She wanted to hold nothing back, in her adoration of her Lord.

Today, I wonder—does your worship reflect an extravagant love for God? Or does it hold back, afraid of what people might say? Does your giving to God reflect a generosity in your own spirit, born out of true gratitude for what God has done for you? Or does it miserably hoard its resources for fear of future want? Exuberant worship ought to cost you something. Extravagant worship should be risky. I pray that when you worship the Lord, when you give to God, that you hold nothing back, realizing that God is worthy of all our praise, all our worship, all our lavish love.

[i] Matthew 21:9.  All scriptures taken from the ESV.
[ii] 2 Samuel 6:22

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