Saturday, July 12, 2014

An onerous burden or a joyful opportunity???

Growing up there seemed to be no end to the distasteful jobs that had to be done.  As a child I was sure that I had it worst -- that one of the perks of parenthood was delegating the awful duties of the home to the lowest on the totem pole.  As a parent now I see how wrong I was -- not only in the false idea that my mother and father had abused me by requiring me to do what they neither wanted to do or were willing to do.  But more than that, I see how wrong I was in the estimation of what was distasteful and of what was good.

Somehow or other we have allowed the idea to stand that worship is the most distasteful of all duties and obligations that God has placed upon us mortal beings.  It is the worst of punishments that parents inflict upon their children and it is the worst of duties we must endure as adults.  So, in turn, the job of the Church has become the renovation of worship to make it less painful, to relieve some of the burden of it all, and, even, to make some parts enjoyable.

What folly is there in this entire thesis!  If the unregenerate heart dislikes and fears worship at one and the same time, we certainly understand it.  But if worship is the assembly of the baptized, those in whom God has worked the new birth of water and the Spirit, then worship is for us, at minimum, not a terrible burden to be endured or an awful duty to be fulfilled but the delight of the soul.  Yet we perpetuate this foolish idea that worship is unpleasant by making ourselves captive to the clock and by refusing for a moment to place on hold our whims, desires, techno toys, and attention to the things not taking place in the Divine Service.  We are our own worst enemies!

If our children have learned that worship is a duty that must be done, no matter how unpleasant it may be, they have learned it from parents who grow fidgety when the time approaches the one hour mark, who sit disinterested in what is going on, who fail to crack the book or open the lips to speak or sing the praise of God or even an Amen to His gifts, and who bolt at every sudden urge for bathroom, drinking fountain, or other distraction.  I note that most children of parents who participate fully in the service have less trouble getting their children to church on Sunday morning than those who dread it themselves (even though they think they have hidden their disdain from their children).

It is high time that challenge the long accepted notion that worship is not only NOT fun, but the worst of torments to be imposed upon a soul on Sunday morning.  It is high time that we as Pastors forgo the most urgent of pursuits of keeping the entire service constrained to a minimal commitment of time and give up the great temptation to try and find ways (even within the liturgy) to keep it all light and entertaining.

If worship is worth anything, it is worth a few hours of time without constantly clock watching.  If worship is worth anything, it is worth the effort to speak and sing as a full participant in the assembly of those whom God has called and gathered and in which He is at work enlightening and sanctifying His people.  If worship is worth anything, it is worth encouraging our children to see this as the highest of privileges to be invited into the holy ground of God's presence and only to receive gifts beyond price, explanation, estimation, or our power to earn or merit.  If worship is worth anything, it is worth every effort and energy we put into it for Him who spared nothing in order to save and redeem us as His own new creation.

Summer is the time of great temptation to reduce obligations upon the people of God, to shorten the time devoted to worship, to put Sunday school and Bible study on hiatus (in favor of the pursuits we love more?), and to skip the Divine Service altogether.  How ever great the temptation, it always proceeds from the idea that worship is an awful bore, a terrible burden, and an unpleasant task.  It is as if we program the wrong idea into our people and then program according to that idea -- assuming that summer is too great a distraction for those who find worship something that must be endured.  We fear that too much time in church on Sunday morning will cause us to miss something -- on TV, on the lake, at the golf course, of sleep, or a thousand other things -- but we are sure that you can miss the Divine Service and not miss anything important, essential, or worth the investment of time.

Being in the Lord's House on the Lord's Day around the Lord's Word and Table is not some inhumane cruel and unusual punishment.  It is the highest of all privileges and the domain of grace beyond measure.  When the worker complained that he got the same wage as the worker who entered the vineyard late in the day, the parable asks "Do you begrudge me my generosity?"  It seems that this is exactly what we do.  We begrudge the Lord's generosity not out of jealousy for others who receive its gift but because we find it too burdensome to come to the place where His Word calls, His water washes, and His Meal feeds. 

I pray that we as Pastors and our congregations will not succumb to the great temptation to agree that a Sunday morning is too great a thing for the Lord to ask of us, too dull and boring to keep our attention, and too unpleasant a duty to be done except when we must.  It is time to be prophetic and challenge this false and misleading dream of time that is only mine, of lives that insist upon being entertained, and of hearts whose self-centered desires rule the day.  We are, after all, not the heathen and pagan masses but the Church of God who gathers on Sunday morning -- the baptized who hear the call and joyfully respond, the sinners bidden to confess because we know His mercy, the disciples who delight in His instruction and guidance, and the hungry and thirsty who are satisfied only with the bread that is His body and the Cup of His blood.

It is meet, good, right, salutary, and our bounden duty...  


Anonymous said...

Life is always about choices, isn't it? Because of our human sinfulness, when it comes to choosing between God and ourselves, we will always win out - to our own detriment. But because God has chosen us in Christ, we are now free from the bondage to ourselves to choose Him. May God grant us the grace always to make choices which will someday be acknowledged by Him with, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant."

Anonymous said...

"I was glad when they said unto me, let us go into the house of the Lord." (Psalm 122) I cannot understand why churches would not want communion every Sunday or why in the summer attendance would drastically drop off or why most have no midweek services. I go because He is there to give me grace and faith and life.