Liturgy Lesson: February 23, 2020
Call to Worship: Psalm 65:1-8; Psalm 67:5-7
Prayer of Invocation
Hymn of Adoration – Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven (#76)
Confession: Isaiah 53 and Agnus Dei (“Jesus, Lamb of God”)
Assurance of Pardon: from Colossians 2:13, Galatians 2:20, & Phil. 3:8
Hymn of Assurance: When I Survey (#252)
Reading of the Word: Luke 14:25-35 (“Cost of Discipleship”)
Sermon: Rev. Eric Irwin
Tithes and Offerings
The Lord’s Supper – My Worth is Not in What I Own; Take My Life (#585)
Closing Hymn – Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken
Kindly Unhitch That Star, Buddy
By Ogden Nash
I hardly suppose I know anybody who wouldn’t rather be a success than a failure,
Just as I suppose every piece of crabgrass in the garden would much rather be an azalea,
And in celestial circles all the run-of-the-mill angels
would rather be archangels or at least cherubim and seraphim,
And in the legal world all the little process-servers hope to grow up into great big bailiffim and sheriffim.
Indeed, everybody wants to be a wow,
But not everybody knows exactly how.
Some people think they will eventually wear diamonds instead of rhinestones
Only by everlastingly keeping their noses to their grhinestones,
And other people think they will be able to put in more time at Palm Beach and the Ritz
By not paying too much attention to attendance at the office but rather in being brilliant by starts and fits.
Some people after a full day’s work sit up all night getting a college education by correspondence,
While others seem to think they’ll get just as far by devoting their evenings
to the study of the difference in temperament between brunettance and blondance.
Some stake their all on luck,
And others put their faith in their ability to pass the buck.
In short, the world is filled with people trying to achieve success,
And half of them think they’ll get it by saying No and half of them by saying Yes,
And if all the ones who say No said Yes, and vice-versa, such is the fate of humanity that ninety-nine per cent of them still wouldn’t be any better off than they were before,
Which perhaps is just as well because if everybody was a success nobody could be contemptuous of anybody else and everybody would start in all over again trying to be a bigger success than everybody else so they would have somebody to be contemptuous of and so on forevermore,
Because when people start hitching their wagons to a star,
That’s the way they are.
To what or to whom have you hitched your wagon? What do you seek first? What do you treasure above all? What are you grasping for? What is that thing for which you are striving…reaching…longing…hoping to take hold of? Or have you already taken hold of it, and it is pulling you along in its wake? Is that thing leading you to death or life?
I am grateful that Mr. Nash loaded up his poem with sarcasm and wit, because the message is a gut punch. He is playfully but pointedly mocking the envy, pride, and vanity that motivates anybody who wants to be somebody, which is everybody. The first time I read this poem I had a smile on my face and a pain in my side. My initial thought was “Oh man, ain’t that the truth?” When I was training at conservatory and during the early years of my career as a musician, much of what drove me was a competitive and comparative need to be noticed and celebrated. It wasn’t enough to be special, I had to be more special than the other guy. Solomon had warned, but I wasn’t listening.
“I saw that all toil and skill in work come from a man’s envy of his neighbor. This is vanity and a striving after the wind.” (Eccl. 4:4)
I am something of an approval junkie, and my drug of choice is a wicked mix of what I call A3: affirmation, admiration, and adulation. As a young man, I had been hypnotized by the glossy sheen of the star in front of me, and so I hitched up my wagon and set off for a ride. Those first years, when my career was taking flight, I would bask in the warmth and glow of my own shooting star. When people would tell me how great I was, I would inhale the stardust and get higher. When I had a good show it was thrilling to surf the meteor’s bright tail of light far above the earth. Thrilling…and yet terrifying; because each mistake and each failure threatened to knock me from orbit, my wagon now in full tailspin, hitched as it was to a falling star. Guess I forgot to heed the warning:
“And when you look up to the sky and see the sun, the moon and the stars—all the heavenly array—do not be enticed into bowing down to them and worshiping things the Lord your God has given.” (Deut. 4:19)
And why does God give us this command? Because he created us for Himself and he knows that earth’s broken cisterns will not satisfy our souls. After 25 years on the stage, I know this all too well. I have tasted all the applause, all the ovations, all the A3 sweet syrup that my fickle heart could want. All it did was leave me with a weird aftertaste and deep spiritual indigestion. Now, at the height of my career, this is the prayer that I sing:
Jesus, Thou Joy of loving hearts,
Thou Fount of life, Thou Light of men,
From the best bliss that earth imparts,
We turn unfilled to Thee again.
We are what we love…or rather, we are what we worship. The heart chases after the ultimate thing it desires, and the body will always follow. Most of our days we are blindly pulled along by that which has hypnotized the heart. Our chosen supernova has put us in a stupor, and sometimes we perform crazy circus tricks just to stay in its blaze or shadow. The biblical word for this is, of course, good old-fashioned idolatry. The Bible affirms the notion that our idols shape our thinking and train our affections. Put simply, we become what we behold.
“We all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Cor. 3:18)
This is the goal of all right Godward worship, “to look to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising its shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2). Right and true Christian worship should reckon with the idols of our heart by holding up before our eyes the transcendent joy and glory of the cross, wherein we encounter our true worth and the inestimable abundance of God’s love for us. This all-consuming Son should blaze with such power that it makes our own little comets dim by comparison. In our liturgies, each prayer and hymn, sermon and scripture, is a gentle reminder to “kindly unhitch that star, buddy.” And this is a merciful thing, because the thing about stars is that if you follow them too closely they will literally melt your face off! Idols will destroy you, or God will destroy them.
So, come on Sunday and behold the Risen Christ. “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Heb. 1:3). Now that’s something you can hitch your wagon to!
My Worth Is Not in What I Own
Words and Music by Keith Getty, Kristyn Getty, and Graham Kendrick
“As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.”
– 1 Tim. 6:17-19
Here is a great new hymn that tackles idolatry head-on, encouraging us to unhitch our wagons from that which leads to death and “to take hold of that which is truly life.” Each verse starts by naming the common false gods and denying the lie that we find our identity or purpose in them. Among the idols named are possessions, skill, might, reputation, wealth, beauty, and fame. At the end of these short verses is a simple statement that turns our heads toward the cross and says “look, there is your worth.” The chorus is a combination of phrases inspired by the rich imagery of 1 Peter, which depicts Jesus as an inheritance and treasure far greater than anything this world has to offer.
I rejoice in my Redeemer, greatest treasure, well-spring of my soul.
I will trust in Him, no other, my soul is satisfied in Him alone.
This hymn feels like an up-tempo modern equivalent of the classic “Jesus, Priceless Treasure,” which contains a verse that may well have inspired this contemporary effort. This was written in 1653:
Hence, all earthly treasure! Jesus is my pleasure; Jesus is my choice.
Hence, all empty glory! What to me thy story told with tempting voice?
Pain or loss or shame or cross shall not from my Savior move me,
Since He chose to love me.
Here is what co-writer Graham Kendrick has to say about the creation and content of this new hymn:
“We know that our culture calibrates human worth by measures of wealth and status, skills and achievement, beauty and youth, power and so on, but we don’t always appreciate how deeply those values are ingrained into us and how effective they are in driving our behavior. Christians are little different. We need to sing about our worth from God’s perspective, not ours or our culture’s, and God’s perspective centers in on the cross.
John Stott wrote: ‘Our self is a complex entity of good and evil, glory and shame, of creation and fall…we are created, fallen and redeemed, then re-created in God’s image…Standing before the cross we see simultaneously our worth and unworthiness, since we perceive both the greatness of his love in dying, and the greatness of our sin in causing him to die.’ (The Cross p. 285)
William Temple wrote: ‘My worth is what I am worth to God, and that is a marvelous great deal, for Christ died for me’
It has been a pleasure working together with the Gettys to bring this song from concept to reality and we hope that it will help many to sing themselves free from all that steals away the joy of being loved by God.”
I am grateful to Graham and the Gettys for this winsome new hymn that communicates some timeless truths to our modern context. It gives us a chance to sing out and celebrate our settled answer to that exhausting search for significance. Just a gentle reminder to all of you before we sing this one. Unhitch that wagon, buddy!