Many people today like to claim that they can worship God anywhere so they don’t need to participate in a worship service. Perhaps you know someone like that. While it’s true that you can have a heart full of thanksgiving and praise toward God anywhere, it’s important to recognize that there’s a lot more to worship than just expressing our feelings and thoughts toward God. Too many people today think that worship is simply about “rendering your heart to God”. Download a praise song, climb up a pretty mountain, walk along the beach, have an emotional moment, give yourself up to God, and all is well, right?
Well, no, actually. All is not well. Now, please hear me out. While such experiences are often lovely, perhaps even very special and memorable moments between you and God, something else entirely happens when God calls us to gather together in worship. You see, in the worship service, we don’t go up to God. Instead, God comes down to us.
In the worship service, God literally comes to us, in tangible form, giving us His very own body and blood in, with, and under the bread and the wine in the Lord’s Supper. In the worship service, God comes fully down to us and pours out His Holy Spirit upon us when The Promise of His Word is spoken to us while the waters of Baptism wash over us as God claims us as His own. In the worship service, God comes all the way down to us and gives us His Word which proclaims to us that we ARE forgiven of ALL our sin (something each one of us desperately needs to hear every single week). And, in the worship service, the Holy Spirit literally weaves Himself throughout the congregation during the preaching of His Word, filling those whom He has called and gathered, so that they may have ears to hear and a heart to understand Him. Each of these treasured gifts are offered by God and received by His people when they have gathered together in the worship service.
Another popular excuse for not attending worship is that people feel they can get a good and encouraging word from other sources. Have you been to a book store lately or browsed through Amazon’s lead pages? There are literally tens of thousands of book titles, pod casts, TV shows, and what not that are filled with self-help ideas, even Christian self-help ideas. There’s a wealth of information out there that can teach someone how to be encouraged, how to live a good and proper life, how to overcome moral challenges, even how to overcome evil and negativity in your life. For these reasons, some people think they don’t need to attend worship. They have plenty of resources. They don’t need some “know-it-all” pastor or a bunch of “highfalutin” people to show them how to be a better person.
You know what, they’re right! People don’t need the Church to teach them how to be a better person. But, once again, that is not what happens in a worship service! We are not called to gather together to learn how to be better people. Worship doesn’t encourage us to go forth and do battle with sin, death and the power of the devil. Instead, we gather together in worship to hear God’s Word proclaimed to us and the Word proclaims that Christ has ALREADY WON our battle! Jesus Christ has already defeated sin, death, and the power of the devil! He fought that battle for you and for me on the cross. And, when we gather together for worship, we learn that He continues to do battle for us, right here and right now, giving His victory on the cross to you and me from the pulpit, at the baptismal font, and at the altar. Thanks be to God!
What’s more, Psalm 100:3 commands us to “Know that the Lord is God”. There’s actually a really big difference in knowing about someone and actually knowing them. For example, I know about President Trump, but I don’t know President Trump personally. In the same way, many people know about God, but they don’t know God personally. You see, in order to know God, at least in as much as He has chosen to reveal Himself to us through His Word, we have to spend time with Him. We have to regularly encounter Him. And, the one place that He has promised to always be is where His people are gathered in His name. We encounter God through Word and Sacrament. God has called us to gather together in worship because it is in the worship service that He makes Himself known to us. It’s in the worship service that He has chosen to feed and strengthen us through His Word and through the gifts of grace that are so freely offered. In the worship service, we can know God because we humbly come together on HIS terms rather than our own.
We are NOT the acting agent in worship. God is. God initiates worship. God calls us to gather together for worship. God does all the real work in worship. We simply respond through praise and song. But we can’t receive His gifts or respond to His grace if we ignore the call to gather together in worship. We cannot truly know God when we reject His invitation to join Him where He has chosen to bless His people. We cannot demand that God show up on our own terms rather than His. Instead, let us humbly gather together in worship and rejoice in all that He has done for us. Invite friends and neighbors to come with you so that they too may hear the Good News of the Gospel proclaimed to them, so that they may come to truly know God, and so that they may receive the beautiful gifts that God so freely lavishes upon all who gather in His name. To God be the glory!