Saturday, April 19, 2014

Why Go to Church?

I rejoiced with those who said to me, “Let us go to the house of the LORD.” – Psalm 122:1

Pastor Anderson was opening his mail on Thursday morning and he noticed a hand-written letter from Maria. He had noticed that Maria was in church the Sunday before – Easter Sunday – and that was the first time he had seen Maria in church for over a year. What he read in her letter both told him why and dismayed him.

Easter had been a refreshing worship experience for Pastor Anderson. This Lenten season had been particularly grueling. In addition to the regular weekend services, his church also held two mid-week services on Wednesdays. He also had two big funerals during Lent this year. Then there was Holy Week. Special services on Thursday (two), Good Friday (two), an Easter Vigil on Saturday evening and then Easter Sunday services (two). There are different sermons for each day’s service (except for the Easter Vigil, which traditionally doesn’t involve a sermon). By Easter Sunday afternoon, Pastor Anderson was exhausted and near collapse. But he felt good. He saw a lot of people during all the services, some new faces and some faces, like Maria’s, which he hadn’t seen in a long time.

He took a couple of days off and Thursday he was back in the office to get ready for the coming weekend’s services. He was feeling refreshed and re-energized, which is what he expected from the Easter worship services.

But Maria’s letter took him back to earth.

Maria wrote:

                        Dear Reverend,
I just had to write to you to let you know how disappointed I am with you and your leadership of our church. I was in church this last Sunday and I’ve never been to such a boring service. This has been a pattern I’ve seen develop since you’ve been pastor here.
Tell me, why is that every time I come to church you always pick the same songs and preach on the same topics. Since you’ve been pastor, every time I’ve come to church, we always had the same song – Jesus Christ is Risen Today – and you’ve always preached on the same topic – the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
             I hope you can get your act together or I’m afraid our church will die soon.
Unfortunately, there are many Christians like Maria. They even have a rather cynical name. “C & E Christians.” (That stands for “Christmas and Easter” Christians.) That is the only time, other than weddings, funerals or the odd special service like a baptism or confirmation, which these Christians come to worship.

Why was King David happy to come to church?

King David wrote in Psalm 122, “I rejoiced with those who said to me, “’Let us go to the house of the LORD.’”  That kind of happiness is rarely felt in today’s church. But why is that? I don’t think worship was too different back then than it is now. In fact, in some ways it is similar – including music, ritual, and teaching about God’s Word.

What made David different from a lot of Christians in America is that for a long time he was not able to go to worship. He spent a lot of years in the desert, running from an insane king who wanted to kill him. He also spent years at war against his enemies and didn’t have opportunities to go to the house of the Lord.

How can we capture the happiness King David felt today?

Unless you want to follow David’s example (running from an insane king or going to war), there must be another way to capture that happiness of going to church. Know what worship really is one of doing that. Worship, when it is done according to God’s Word, is a powerful experience. You actually come into the presence of the Almighty God and receive from Him promised gifts of grace and mercy. It is also an opportunity to respond to God’s active working in your life by offering prayers and songs of thanksgiving.

Why would we want to?

A question occurred to me when I got to this point. Do people want to have this kind of happiness? I’m tempted to say that most people do not, but then I’m faced with the facts of all the numbers of people who seek happiness in so many ways. There is the popularity of theme parks, exotic vacations, bigger and better homes, and more family time. Then there are the less “family orientated” pursuits of happiness such as internet pornography, extra-marital affairs, alcohol and drug abuse. All of these pursuits tell me that people actually are looking for the kind of happiness that David conveys in verse one of Psalm 122.

This is why I’ve made it my mission to tell as many people as possible that they can have the happiness they pursue in a relationship with Jesus Christ, the Son of God who died to give us life. Not only as a writer, but also as a pastor, I do my best to tell people that happiness can be theirs. I do my best to write about it. I do my best to preach about it.

I’m sure that you will be among the many, many people who go to church this Easter Sunday. I hope you’ll go again next week. That may be breaking a tradition, but happiness can be yours in the breaking of that tradition. Give it a try! If you do, let me know how it turned out.

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