By Pastor Tom Davidson
We’ve all experienced public worship when it was less than invigorating. Unfortunately, there are many people who have come to expect worship to be dull, trivial, and boring. The time in worship is used to think about what’s for lunch or an upcoming ball game. People joke about the mental gymnastics they have to go through to survive a Sunday morning service. Some may count the wood slats on the wall; others time how long they can hold their breath, or think of the longest song they know. Rather than a positive experience, the worship service becomes a ritual to endure.
And it’s true that, as a performance, worship hardly ranks up there with what we watch on TV or at the movies. I mean, how can I begin to compete with The Wolverine, Despicable Me, or The Lone Ranger? For excitement, our worship service doesn’t even begin to come close to a good football game. So why go to church? And I mean by that phrase, why go to worship services? It’s a question that probably wasn’t asked in many communities 30 years ago because it was commonly assumed that church attendance was important. But, in our day and time, a lot of people ask that question: Why go to church? Some people go because they’ve always attended church out of habit. Others go because it’s expected within their community or social circle. But, some people have never been a part of church life and so they question the value of church attendance. Sunday morning is simply a time to recuperate from Saturday night or a time to get some work done around the house. I think it’s safe to say that for most people, attendance at worship has very little relationship to God’s demands for the Christian life. You hear a lot of people say, “I have a strong faith in God, but I just don’t think it’s all that important to go to church.” So, “going to church” seems to be a custom of people who insist on maintaining an old tradition.
But I would suggest to you that we need our times of worship together. I know that worship can take place away from our regular meeting place. But we need special times for worship. If we don’t have those special times for worship, we tend to lose our perspective on life and our sense of values. We begin to think that the only things that are real in life are the things that we can see and touch. It’s hard to live as a Christian in a society that doesn’t think much about God or know anything beyond this material existence. Someone once wrote a poem comparing our lives to a narrow lane that’s lined with high buildings and there’s only a single strip of blue sky above. The lane, which sees the blue sky for only a few minutes a day, asks – is it real? The noise of traffic, the cars, the garbage, the smoke – these things the lane accepts as the real and actual things of life. And before long it ceases to wonder about the strip of blue above. I think that describes what our own lives are like. We’re all surrounded by the things of this world all week long. And after a while we begin to accept them as what is real and we forget the streak of blue above. But worship is our time to be reminded of what is real to us. In our worship – in the singing of spiritual songs and in the preaching of God’s word – we come to the heavenly Jerusalem.
In 1995 there was Primetime Live show on TV, the program was entitled “In the Name of God” and it explored what several different religious groups in this country are doing to make worship entertaining and to attract the baby boomer generation. The charismatic element, the use of jokes to produce holy laughter, everything was designed to make the worship experience as exciting as possible for the people who come, and boy, do they come to those churches by the thousands. There’s only one problem. What I saw on television was anything but worship. There was nothing done that glorified God; rather, it was designed with the sole purpose of making people feel good, so that they can truly say that they enjoyed themselves. I’m reminded of what Jesus said to the woman at the well about the Samaritans in general, “You worship what you do not know.” (John 4:22). I think there are a lot of people who don’t know quite what they’re worshiping. They may think they’re worshiping God, or at least that’s what they claim, but they’ve replaced God with themselves. So we come back to the question, why go to church? In Hebrews 12, the writer gives us a simple, but powerful reason why we should attend worship services. In this passage, it describes what happens every time we come to worship even when we’re not moved emotionally. These beautiful words might have been read to a small congregation meeting in someone’s home. Nothing about that assembly would look very impressive. But the writer wanted that congregation to know that something very important was going on every time they met.
Have you ever thought about what happens in worship, even when you’re not in the mood and when the singing and preaching aren’t as enjoyable as you might like? It may not look like much, but when we worship, we come before God. The author of Hebrews 12:18-29; may have asked them, “Do you realize with whom you’re meeting?” I remember hearing about a congregation who had invited Henry Ward Beecher, a famous preacher, to preach for them one Sunday. As it turned out, however, he couldn’t go and he sent his brother to speak in his place. As word got around the congregation, several people started to leave. The fill-in preacher then stood up and made this announcement: “Those of you who came to hear my brother speak may leave at this time; those of you who came to worship God may stay on.” There’s another story that’s told of a tourist in Washington, D.C., who telephoned the pastor of a church where President Franklin Roosevelt often worshiped. The tourist wanted to know if the president was expected to worship there that Sunday. The minister said, “That I don’t know for certain, but I can tell you that we are expecting God to be here, and we hope His presence will attract a sizable crowd.”
We can’t deny that we’d be impressed, even a bit awed, by the presence of the president of the United States here in this congregation, or some famous person? Don’t you suppose many of us would be just a little bit excited about that? We’d be telling our friends, “Guess who was at church yesterday!” Sometimes I think we forget that as we gather, we’re in the presence of Almighty God. We’re privileged to have an audience with the King of all creation. We can enter His palace, kneel at His throne, speak our humble praise and receive His divine blessing. You see, it’s always tempting for us to judge the quality of worship by the beauty of the setting or the impressiveness of what we see and hear. The Israelites approached God in a scene that was tangible and terrifying to the senses. They could see the glory of God. They could hear the power of God. But our worship is different. As our text says, “You have not come to the mountain that may be touched.” Our worship may not look impressive, but we need to be careful that we never forget that we’re still in presence of God. And that’s what happens every time we meet for worship.
The author of Hebrews tells his tired community that Christians have the anchor for their lives. He pictures, at the end of chapter 12, the end of everything. He talks about the world’s destruction and the end of all material things. But he also refers to the abiding of those heavenly realities which “cannot be shaken.” And then he draws this conclusion: “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:28-29,) In a world filled with change, we find in worship “a kingdom that cannot be shaken.”
We come together every Lord’s Day to be in the presence of God. Even though it may not look like much to some, and even when we don’t always leave with a feeling of excitement, what takes place here is of great significance because this is where we approach Mount Zion and we offer our praise to the one who is worthy of all praise. And may we as Christians, never take this opportunity in a light manner.