Summary: We need to be reminded that we come into the presence of God every time we worship.
In a scene out of the book Tom Sawyer, Tom had gone to Sunday school and church at the demand of Aunt Polly. After Sunday school, Tom and his brother Sid went to the auditorium to sit under the watchful eye of Aunt Polly. Next we read Tom’s description of public worship. He says that announcements are made from a "list that would stretch to the crack of doom". The prayer is, to use his words, "generous in its details". Furthermore, Tom is so familiar with the prayer that he knows it by heart, and so he recognizes and resents any new additions to it. The preacher’s sermon "drones on monotonously through an argument that is so prosy that many a head begin to nod". Basically, the worship service bores Tom.
It may be that Tom’s descriptions remind us of similar experiences in our own lives, especially during childhood. We have 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 count bricks on a wall; others time how long they can hold their breath, or find the longest song in the songbook. 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 television or at the movies. I mean, how can I begin to compete with Tom Cruise or Sean Connery? 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 attend because it’s expected within their community or social circle. 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 this morning that we need our times of worship together. I understand 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 which doesn’t think much about God or know anything beyond this material existence.
Tagore, a great Indian mystic, once wrote a poem comparing our lives to a narrow lane which is lined with high buildings and there is only a single strip of blue sky above. The lane, which sees the blue sky for only a few minutes a day, asks herself -- is it real? The noise of traffic, the carts, 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 are 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.
I. The Importance of Worship
I find it interesting that only Hebrews, among all the books of the New Testament, provides us with an answer to the question, "Why go to church?" The other books of the New Testament probably don’t deal with this problem because the importance of church attendance was never questioned. Early Christians knew they needed to be present in the frequent -- even daily -- gatherings of the disciples.