"Desire 04: A Liturgy of Worship"
by Tim Suttle
2016.10.16 – Desire 04
Have you guys ever heard of the old radio show: Command Performance?
It was a variety show that aired on Armed Forces Radio during WWII.
It starred folks like Bing Crosby, Jack Benny, Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, Ginger Rogers & Judy Garland.
Troops would send in special request for things they wanted to hear.
Things that would remind them of home or make them laugh.
…like their favorite star singing their favorite song.
Or Anne Miller tap dancing in Military boots.
The sound of the foghorn in San Francisco harbor.
Bing Crosby mixing a bourbon & soda for Bob Hope.
The show ran from 1942 to 1949 with a weekly listening audience of 95 million people all around the world.
One of their most famous broadcasts came the day after VJ Day, Aug 15, 1945.
Some of the era’s biggest celebrities were on board.
Frank Sinatra, Marlena Dietrich, Betty Davis… it was kitschy & funny.
But the most striking thing about the broadcast was its humility.
The allied forces had just completed a military campaign that was unparalleled in human history.
They had taken down the 3rd Reich, and the Empire of Japan.
And yet, on the broadcast, there was no chest beating.
The show began w/Bing Crosby saying:
“Well, it looks like this is it. What can you say at a time like this? You can’t throw your skimmer in the air. That’s for run-of-the-mill holidays. I guess all anybody can do is thank God it’s over. Today, though, our deep down feeling is one of humility.”
Those sentiments were repeated over & over throughout the broadcast.
The actor Burgess Meredith read a passage from Ernie Pyle, a famous war correspondent who died covering the war a few months earlier.
Pyle had written an article anticipating the war’s end… he wrote:
“We won this war because our men are brave and because of many things — because of Russia, England and China and the passage of time and the gift of nature’s material. We did not win it because destiny created us better than all other peoples. I hope that in victory we are more grateful than we are proud.”
There were major celebrations, to be sure.
There was joy & laughter… there were ticker-tape parades.
But underneath it all was a sense of humility and solemnity.
The war had produced so much death & destruction…
…so much human suffering…
Nobody’s life was left untouched by it… so…
There was no grandstanding or strutting… no swagger… no bragging.
Those were too petty & small for a moment like this.
Ovr the past 70 years things have really changed for our society, haven’t they?
In 1950 the Gallup Organization asked HS Seniors if they considered themselves to be, “A very important person.”
In 1950 only 12% said yes.
The same question was asked in 2005, this time 80% said yes.
Psychologists have a quick diagnostic test called the narcissism exam.
It asks people if certain statements apply to them… things like:
“I find it easy to manipulate people because I’m so extraordinary.”
“I like to be the center of attention.”
“Somebody should write a biography about me.”
In past 20 years the median narcissism score has gone up 30%.
93% of young people score higher than = middle score…20 yrs ago.
The largest increase is in the those who agree w/statements:
“I am an extraordinary person.”
“I like to look at my body.”
The desire for fame has increased along the same trajectory.
In 1976 a survey was done that asked people to rank 16 possible ideas for their life’s ambition or life goals.
Fame ranked 15 out of 16 in 1976.
Today it ranks 2nd only to financial security.
A few years back there was a study that asked Jr. High girls:
“Would you rather be a celebrity’s personal assistant, Justin Bieber’s personal assistant, or the president of Harvard?”
Justin Bieber’s personal assistant won 3 to 1 over President of Harvard.
Though, to be fair, they asked the president of Harvard & she said she’d rather be Justin Bieber’s personal assistant, too.
College students were asked: “Would you rather have a life with a lot of fame or a lot of sex?” they chose fame 2 to 1… I’m just going to leave that alone.
A Harvard survey asked 10k JH students: “Do your parents care more about you getting good grades or being kind?” 80% said they cared… good grades.
Christian Smith is a Christian Sociologist who teaches at ND. He did a survey in which he asked college students to name a recent moral dilemma…
70% of them couldn’t do it.
They’d say stuff like, “I pulled into a parking spot the other day & didn’t have the 25 cents for the meter…”
He said, “That’s a problem… not really a moral dilemma.”
They’re not bad kids, just don’t have the vocabulary, or the skills to think about life in these self-critical ways.
PT: How did we get here? How did we go from WWII, & accomplishing this selfless & self-sacrificial service to the world… without spiking the football… to the place where in any college or professional football game someone can make a fairly routine play… a tackle for a 2 yard loss, and they stomp around & beat their chest & taunt their opponents? What happened?
Well if you asked the author James K.A. Smith, who wrote this book we’re looking at called, You Are What You Love.
He would say… the place to look has to do with Human Desire.
We’ve had a change not just in what we desire, but in how we handle our desires… what we do with them.
If you asked another famous James (the writer of the book of James in the bible) I think he would wholeheartedly agree.
The 4th Chapter of James begins w/James challenging those to whom he is writing, & he asks them a question. He says: “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?”
It’s a powerful question.
You wanna know the source of your problems?
What’s making your relationships so difficult?
What’s causing all the strife & quarrelling?
Isn’t it obvious that it’s your desires that battle within you?
Your desires pit you against one another & destroy the peace.
And James goes on to tell them in great detail exactly what desire is doing.
“You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”
He’s outlining a couple of different ways desire pulls us off course.
He says the 1st problem is: you want what you do not have.
Anything wrong w/that?
Maybe not on the surface of it.
I want lots of things I don’t have.
Lots of them are good things that God may even want for me.
But, James says, you desire but do not have, so you kill!
Anything wrong with that?
PT: It’s not wrong necessarily to desire what I don’t have, but my desire can lead me into destruction if I begin to shortcut the process of acquiring what I desire by doing violence to others, by literally killing, or by more hidden forms of violence: exploitation, deception, selfishness, and things like that.
So James offers a solution: take my desires before God.
“You do not have because you do not ask God,” he says.
I don’t have what I desire because I don’t ask God for things.
Ok… now we’re on some dicey territory.
This is a basic tenet of the prosperity gospel, where you pray for what you desire & if you have enough faith… get it.
I don’t think that’s what James is after.
James wants us to bring the desires before God, really, before we even pass judgment on them.
Can we just be honest w/God about the things we want?
God seems to want my desires to align w/God’s purposes.
So if I’ll be honest about my own desire & submit that to God.
Then God can help sort thru those things with me…
Desires that are good…& align w/God’s purposes I can chase…
Desires that are selfish & self-serving… they’ll be exposed & I can deal with them honestly w/out feeling guilty or hiding them.
Which brings us to the 2nd way our desires tend to lead us off course. He says,
“When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”
It’s not just what we want that matters, but why we want it.
James calls this a problem of wrong motives.
Desires can be warped at the very source of desire… the heart.
When our desires spring from a self-centered place, James says, that kind of desire will lead to frustration and restlessness.
Desire that is based in self-gratification or any motive that runs counter to God’s purposes in the world…
Those kinds of desire lead us into the bottomless pit of dissatisfaction.
PT: So there are really 2 ways that our desires can derail us. Either, we try to fulfill our desires in illegitimate ways. Or, there is a corruption of the desire itself… we want wrong things for wrong reasons—usually selfish ones.
If you remember 1st week of the series we talked about the power of DESIRE.
Desire functions like a map that propels us out into the world.
And a faulty map will shape our desires in unhealthy ways.
In the 2nd week we talked about how desire functions like an internal compass.
These internal desires that help us navigate.
And the crazy part is how much of this is unconscious.
It’s hard to know what we really love / desire.
We’re just not that in touch with them.
And the only way to really tell what we desire/love is to look at what we actually do in our lives.
What we DO tells us what we love.
Then last week, Cole took us thru the other side of that equation.
What we do tells us what we love, but…
What we do also shapes what we will love… shapes our hearts.
We used this word: Liturgy.
Liturgies are the habits, rituals, or behaviors that simultaneously reveal what we love, and give shape to what we love
The heart is shaped by our liturgies… & the twist here is that…
Most of the time those liturgies are shaped by our culture without our even realizing that it’s going on.
& it becomes this circle. You are what you love, but I may not love what I think
If I want to know what I love, look @what I do, but what I do shapes …desire
And we’re back to where we started.
No wonder Jeremiah said:
“The heart is deceitful above all things. Who can understand it?”
And the writer of Proverbs says:
“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”
So: the goal for this series, if you can even call it that, is to get us thinking about the wise cultivation of desire.
And the way it will shape our lives.
Now B4 we move on I want to sketch this again… it’s deep down wisdom on the way our lives work… get this your’re ahead of 95% of people in the world.
We all have these MAPS of the world…
They are our vision of what makes for a good life.
They are external to us & come from lots of different sources.
They instill in us certain kinds of desires.
We navigate those maps by the COMPASS of the heart…
The heart guides us & propels us into our journeAy.
None of us know our own hearts as well as we think.
The heart is tricky… it can often lead us astray.
Our ACTIONS shape & reveal the truth about the human heart…
The heart is revealed by what we actually do…
And the heart is also shaped by what we actually do…
So we have these LITURGIES that we enact… habits… behaviors…
Our liturgies cultivate & regulate our desires.
They mostly come from CULTURE, & function w/out our knowing it.
We’re not aware of the way we’re being shaped.
It’s the old joke: an old fish swims by 2 young fish & says, “How’s the water boys?” The young fish look at each other & say, “What’s water?”
We are swimming in cultural liturgies that shape our desire.
The liturgies of culture are FAILING to shape us in redemptive ways.
Ex: from today is how much more narcissistic we’ve become ovr 70yrs
Compare WWII era to now… culture has been mis-shaping our desires.
The maps we are handed by culture are faulty maps.
The ways our culture asks us to behave will mal-form our hearts.
So the liturgies of culture, in large part, have failed…
They are not able to give us a good life!
And this brings us to the crux move of the entire series right here…
PT: Health for our society, and the very faithfulness of the people of God… depends upon our ability to disengage from the liturgies of culture & relinquish of our illusions that the kingdoms of this world are able to lead us to a good life. And to reengage ancient & proven COUNTER-LITURGIES that can shape our hearts in ways that lead to flourishing.
What we are trying to do as a church is to relinquish the old maps because they are maps of a world that doesn’t exist, and has never really existed.
Our society follows these maps that promise to make us safe & happy.
And the truth is that they have failed… we’re not that safe & we’re sure not happy… we may be the unhappiest society in the world.
So, the task of discipleship is to:
Re-map our vision of the world.
Re-calibrate the compass of the heart.
Find Counter liturgies that will shape desires & lead to flourishing.
And bear witness to the rest of the world that this is the way to a life that is truly life, or what the NT calls eternal life.
This is the crux move of the series: And here’s the problem… this task of remapping & recalibrating & engaging in counter-liturgies is as task with which most of us are profoundly ambivalent & severely unmotivated.
Let me give an example: So, one of the liturgies that is shaping us right now is the cultural liturgy of electing a president… yes, we are going there…
This is a cultural liturgy we go thru every 4 years.
Does anybody doubt that this liturgy has become toxic to the soul?
Anyone feel this is going well… healthy? (if so ignore this).
I wish that I could say that Christians are not sucked into it…
But many are right in the middle of it all.
We’re all swimming in the waters of this toxic cultural liturgy.
I can almost hear James in my head saying:
“What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight…don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? … anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God… God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble…
Christians, of all people should be able to rise above the rancor & fury and be a non-anxious presence.
And the only way we can do this is to become submitted to a counter-liturgy that will form us & shape our desires such that…
The politics of the day & the culture of trash & bash does not write the script for our lives…
The unsavory aspects of an election can’t shape our desires because we desire the KOG over some political party or politician.
PT: Christians are supposed to give thought to the liturgies in our lives and our culture that both reveal and shape our desires… and in many cases we must call those liturgies into question. And we must find counter-liturgies that remap our world & recalibrate the internal compass of the heart… And one of the major forms of counter-liturgy is the practice of weekly worship together as a church.
What I want to argue is: one of the major forms of counter-liturgy is the practice of weekly worship… what we’re doing here is so important!
It’s the one time in the week that we come together and say.
“I want all that God has for me in my life.”
“I don’t want all the culture has for me… it’s ultimately unfulfilling.”
And we gather confess the ways in which our desires are at odds with all that God wants for us.
And we participate in these liturgies that re-habituate our desires.
So that we can more easily and freely love what God loves & desire what God desires.
In worship we practice the movements of the KOG. We perform a counter-liturgy that is at odds with the liturgies of culture & exposes them as weak
We are re-formed by the Spirit of Christ in worship.
And then we carry this with us as we go out into the world around us.
And we become God’s good news… God’s gospel people…
To a world that doesn’t know what it doesn’t know.
Worship, you guys, is so central to our ability to bear witness to the KOG.
So, you think about the election liturgy we’re in right now as a society.
We have many people in our church on the left & on the right.
On our staff & elders there are republicans & democrats & indep.
The culture wants to pit us against each other!
The culture wants us to hate each other!
The kingdom wants us to come together and worship!
PT: So: while this cultural liturgy of the election cycle is enacted, you guys, nothing could be more important than the Christian counter-liturgy of worshipping together as brothers & sisters in Christ. It breaks my heart that there are people in our church who’ve checked out… & won’t come to worship with their congregation because the liturgies of culture have set the terms.
Christians are supposed to come together and say:
I don’t care how bad you guys hate each other on the news!
I will never despise my brothers & sisters.
I will never view them as my enemy.
And if we fail to do this it will be because we’ve been formed by the liturgies of culture, not the kingdom.
Because in the KOG, as Paul said in Gal. 3 “There is now no longer Jew/Gentile, Slave/free, male/female… u r all one in Christ Jesus.”
If he were writing today I swear he’d say Republican / Democrat.
We are not named by party, we’re named by Christ: we r Christians.
That’s just one example of how the culture seems to hold sway in our lives.
We have to find counter-liturgies.
What could be more counter-cultural than for all Christians to promise not to engage as adversaries, but as friends?
Wouldn’t it be good news for all of us to stand as friends & confess.
We don’t trust in kings & presidents to make us safe & happy.
Xian worship = Powerful liturgy that takes us thru challenging words of truth:
Facing ourselves & others in honesty;
Humbling us to come with empty hands to the table of the Lord.
It’s the announcement of the blessing of God in the reality of resurrection and the defeat of death and all its forms.
When we walk w/Christ we walk in victory over the powers of the world
We carry the blessing of God into the world without fear because we know that, ultimately, God will get God’s way.
Christian worship is orderly… there’s a calendar of seasons, a rhythm of gathering weekly, an order of service, including things like joyful singing.
Who else sings together anymore, but the gathered church?
It’s a counter-liturgy of joy, unity, and beauty.
We pronounce the certainty of meaning in meaningless age, an age whose liturgies lead us to suspect life is without a greater purpose.
Christian worship says: life does have purpose that includes a goodness toward which history is bending.
And, when you come here on Sunday to worship, you are doing something that does something to you.
It is a counter-liturgy that competes with all the liturgies of life.
Christian worship is the heart of your discipleship to Jesus.
It is God’s gift to us to save us from a life that is secular, dehumanizing, violent, exploitative, technological and meaningless.
It welcomes us into a life of the presence of God,
the dignity of self,
the priority of neighbor,
the integrity of creation,
the reality of death,
but the certainty of shalom.
Christian worship is the heart of discipleship to Jesus, and you are not crazy for orienting your life around being here each week…
For saying no to other good things so that you can submit your life to the best thing, which is life in the Kingdom of God, life with Jesus, life empowered by the Spirit of Christ.
The Psalmist wrote (Ps. 84:10), “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.”
May our hearts be formed as we also commit lives to this counter-liturgy of Christian worship that can lead you to real life.