Dear Friends in Christ,
I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord!”
Our feet have been standing within your gates, O Jerusalem!
Jerusalem—built as a city that is bound firmly together,
to which the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord,
as was decreed for Israel, to give thanks to the name of the Lord.
Story #1 is a memory I have of my dad spending long hours on a bright sunny day sharpening the blades on his seven foot John Deere sickle mower. There are a lot of reasons I’m a preacher and not a farmer. One of those reasons is watching my dad sit on a stool and listening to him sharpen blades with an old fashioned grindstone. I can remember thinking to myself, “Hey Dad, it’s time to make hay, our neighbors are cutting hay, why are you sitting here with this grindstone making this God awful sound, taking up all kinds of time and energy sharpening the blades?” Of course, good farmers like my dad knew what this teenage boy didn’t know, it’s well worth your time, it’s a practical thing to do, to spend time sharpening a tool.
The kingdom of God is like a Christian man who takes time on bright sunny Sunday mornings to go to church. As he sits still and receives the gifts God is giving, his mind is sharpened in such a way that he is equipped in the week that lies before him, he is equipped to live out his vocations in a way that honors his Savior.
I have a similar memory of my father-in-law Lester working on painting projects with me on our house over the years. Lester was one of those people who liked to do things right the first time. Me, not so much. If it were up to me, I’d scrape for a short time and early in the day get going on the slapping of paint on the wall. But Lester knew what my wife knew and what many of you know — it’s well worth your time, it’s a practical thing to do, to spend time and effort preparing a surface well before you begin painting.
The kingdom of God is like a Christian woman who takes time on Sunday mornings to prepare her heart for Holy Communion. She holds up the mirror of God’s law, she examines her heart, she considers how she has fallen short of God’s glory, she gets herself ready for the forgiveness of sins to sweep over her soul and to give her the peace only her Savior can give.
Why do our hearts leap for joy when it’s time for worship?
First, Because worship gives us a workable structure for life.
In the Old Testament God demanded this structure, that believers would work for six days and rest on the seventh day. In the New Testament, we are warned about the dangers of forsaking the assembling ourselves together, and Christ invites us again and again to bring all of our weariness and all of our burdens to Him and exchange them for the rest that only He can give. To rest in God’s forgiveness is to have a peace that surpasses human understandings.
This is how one of our Lutheran Hymnals (1982) describes worship, “The rhythm of our worship is from God to us, and then from us back to him. He gives his gifts, and together we receive and extol them.” We build one another up as we speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Our Lord gives us his body to eat and his blood to drink. Finally his blessings moves us out into our calling, where his gifts have their fruition.”
Worship gives us a workable structure to life. For the most part, everyone who worships does so because he or she wants to. There are some exceptions, to be sure. But for most Christians, worship is voluntary. Even though church attendance is declining nationwide, the numbers are impressive. In normal times, there are more people at worship on any given Sunday, than are at all the football games or golf links or fishing or taking walks in the woods. Worship is the single most popular act in this land.
The kingdom of God is like an elderly woman who can’t stop crying as she comes back into the house of God after months of being kept away. Tears of joy as she makes the sign of the cross and begins the service in the very presence of God. Tears of joy as her sins are declared to be washed away, tears of joy as the sermon helps her to give up the grudge she has been holding, tears of joy as the Spirit of God draws her close and closer to her Savior.
The kingdom of God is like an elderly woman who has been going to church for 80 plus years now. Sunday after Sunday, she takes all of her weariness and all of her worries and all of her worst fears into the sanctuary, she is still, she knows that God is God, her spirit is calmed, her conscience is cleansed, her soul is relaxed. She has peace not because she has life all figured out, but because the guilt of her sin and the power of her sin and the eternal consequences of her sin have been washed away in the blood of the Lamb. She has peace not because the world around her is settling down and is on track to be normal, but because her mansion in heaven is on reserve and her name is written in the book of the life. And with all of that in mind, she goes back out into her little corner of the world for one more week of practicing a long obedience in the same direction.