Summary: Why do we need to worship in a group? What's wrong with worshiping at home - or somewhere else - alone?
“More Words on Worship: Linked In”
She was deeply moved; the time of worship had led her into a deeper level of commitment, into a deeper intimacy than she had ever before experienced. She drove home a different person than the one who had left a couple of hours previously. As she entered the house and put the bulletin on the coffee table her husband shut off the television. Just as she began to greet him he interrupted: “Let’s not start that again! I don’t want to talk about not going to church with you. I’ve been to church, too. I’ve watched ‘Hour of Power’ and Charles Stanley and listened to “Words of Hope’ on the radio. Why should I sit in those uncomfortable pews when I can relax and concentrate right here, in my own living room, and hear some of the best preachers around? I know you don’t think I’ve really worshipped, but what goes on in the sanctuary that’s any different from what happens right here in my own living room?” (1)
How would you respond to this familiar scenario? The author of the letter to the Hebrews tells us WE VALUE WORSHIP BECAUSE IT LINKS US TO A VARIETY OF VALUABLE FELLOWSHIPS. Verses 22-24 get to the point: “But you have come to Mount Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.”
The first link in worship is to A SPIRITUAL FELLOWSHIP: “...you have come to Mount Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God.” Early in the Old Testament Mount Zion reminded the Israelites of the giving of the Law, and of the accompanying darkness, thunder, lighting, and whirlwind. It symbolized holy and human terror. Eventually, however, it came to represent the place of worship where all nations would one day gather to pay homage to God. Listen, for example, to Ps. 122:3ff: “Jerusalem is built like a city that is closely compacted together. That is where the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord, to praise the name of the Lord according to the statute given to Israel.” By the time of this Hebrew letter, Mount Zion represented what the Old Testament saints had longed for and expected -- an out of this world, heavenly place where all God’s people would one day gather.
So today, when we gather as God’s people, WORSHIP LINKS US WITH THE SPIRITUAL REALITY. When we worship we share in the heavenly Jerusalem. We are exposed to and participate in a new age, a new environment, a new life that comes only from God. It is an experience that answers the deepest longings of our hearts. As the Psalmist wrote (41:1-4); “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, the living God. When can I go and meet with God? ...These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go with the multitude, leading the procession to the house of God with shouts of joy and thanksgiving, among the festive throng.” Worship is the GPS system that always indicates the true north of our souls. As Brennan Manning writes, “Worship is a countercurrent to the drift into materialism, narcissistic self-indulgence, and the relentless bombardment of the media. Worship opens up to the transcendent and enables us to see through the make-believe character of the unreal world. It frees us from the idolatry of the mall and the marketplace, it liberates us from false deadlines...and the obsession with comforts and pleasures that delight the flesh but demand the soul in exchange. Though these idols will continue to tempt us, worship exposes them, names them for what they are, and diminishes their power over us.” (2) Worship in the sanctuary links us to a much needed spiritual fellowship.
According to Hebrews the second link in worship is to an IMMORTAL FELLOWSHIP: “You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly... (22b)” When we worship together here we are, in fact, joined by the angels and heavenly hosts. We are not alone - we are gathered, even now, as a full, holy assembly of thousands. All the pictures in Revelation of the heavenly throngs gathered around the heavenly throne are real even as we worship together.
And it’s not only the angels who join us -- IT’S ALSO ALL THE SAINTS (23c): “…to the spirits of righteous men made perfect.” It’s all the heroes of Hebrews 11; it’s all those who lived and served subsequent to Christ who were granted righteousness through the death of Christ; it’s all our believing loved ones who are deceased yet living. In John Calvin’s words, worship involves both the visible and invisible church. Euripides, centuries ago, wrote a Greek play called “Alcestis.” It tells how the hero Heracles -- the Greek Samson -- came to the palace of King Admetus and found the beautiful Queen Alcestis had died; the whole land was in mourning. Heracles volunteered to go out to the lonely tomb where he met the monster Death and did battle with him. In the last scene of the play Heracles came back, leading someone completely covered with a white veil. As he stands before the king he says, “Look upon this; and if (she) seems to thee like thy wife, then my king, step forth out of grief into joy.” With that he pulls of the veil and says, “See, O king, I give her back to thee.” (3) What the Greeks watched as fable, we experience as fact every time we worship in the sanctuary; God, through the resurrection of Jesus, gives us back communion with all those who have departed this life. This morning, worshipping with us, are all those departed significant saints who influenced my life: my sister, my parents, my grandparents, my aunts and uncles, my pastors, the many wonderful persons over whose funerals I have presided and so many more. And you can recite a similar litany from your life. Together we worship God through Jesus Christ. At this very moment we are part of an immortal fellowship!