In a television program I watch, there is an episode in which the minister stood up before the congregation. It was a vast sanctuary -- but it was almost empty. The minister looked out upon all of the empty seats and surveyed the 4 lonely people in the congregation -- one young man, and three elderly women.
The minister begins to speak.
"I give thanks to God that there are at least a handful of us who have made the effort to come to worship, who have come to feed on the Word of God, and who don't believe that God is less important than the football game on television."
Suddenly, the young man in the back pew jumps up. "Oh no, I forgot about the football game." And with that he runs out of the sanctuary.
I am in a middle of a series of sermons that I am calling The Seven Marks of Discipleship. We don’t want to bring people to Christ and leave it at that, we want to bring people to Christ and help them to become life long followers – disciples of our Lord.
In thinking about discipleship, I came up with these Seven Marks.
The seven marks are in no particular order – but they are listed on the front of the bulletin each week. One of these marks is to worship weekly.
In this country, 43% attend church worship at least once each week.
A lot of people rarely go to church, including Christians. And it is not uncommon to hear people say, “I can worship God on the beach or in my own home.”
Well – that may be true – but only to a degree. You can worship God at home, or on the beach. But that is not enough. You need to be with other people for a depth of worship.
Why come to church to worship?
There are all sorts of reasons to worship weekly. I skimmed through some books and articles and did a bit of Googling about this. It turns out that there are all sorts of reasons – some of them are not straight out of the Bible or spiritual in nature. They are just plain, old, good reasons.
For example. Regular church attendance is good for your sex life. I’m not sure how this works. After all, I don’t often give you any advice about sex during my sermons. But, study after study indicates that there is a strong correlation between worship attendance and sexual satisfaction.[i]This matter of sexual satisfaction may be related to another result in recent studies. People who attend worship tend to be happier and more satisfied about everything. Not just sex, but life in general.[ii]
Another reason to attend worship – stronger marraiges. The divorce rate in this country is 40%. Some studies say 50%. That’s for those in first marriages. For those in second marriages, it is 67%. For those in third marriages it is 74%. For those who attend worship weekly, it is 18%.
There are medical studies that show that worship improves your blood pressure.[viii]
Some studies indicate that if you and your family come to church weekly, then your teeanger will be better behaved. Man! I read something like that and I just have to wonder. I think back on what my Mom and Dad went through and I can only wonder - “how bad would it have been if we had NOT attended church?”
Worship has all sorts of unexpected benefits. It has a direct and very powerful benefit on our lives. As long as we do it regularly and frequently.
Have you ever met people who exercise regularly – every three or four months, like clock work, they go to the gym or health club. But what good is that? You have to go frequently.
You can save for retirement with every paycheck, or you can put a little away every couple of years – who gets the best benefit? The person who saves frequently.
Worship should be done weekly.
One of the marks of a true disciple is that we should worship weekly. And it is not just in those secular studies that show the benefits to improving blood pressure, adding 8 years of life, or giving a more satisfying sex life.
It is in obedience to God, who said, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” (Exodus 20:8).
One reason to come to worship in this Sanctuary, is so we can deal with life outside of the Sanctuary.
Many people think that worship is an escape from reality. But worship is not escape. It is a strategy to deal with the realities of life.
True worship is something that happens in the midst of life.
In our Old Testament lesson, Isaiah begins this passage with an interesting statement. “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord.”
It’s like saying, “In the year the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, I worshipped God.
In the year that Kennedy was assassinated, I worshipped God.
In the year of the school shooting, I worshipped God.
In the year of 9-11, I worshipped God.
In the year that I was married,
in the year that my son was born,
in the year my friend died,
in the middle of life,
in the midst of experiences good and bad, I was worshipping the Lord.
Worship in the Sanctuary can never be oblivious to what is happening out there.
Why do we worship God? It is not to escape life out there, it is to deal with life out there.
If you want your worship inside the Sanctuary to be true worship, then you bring in with you all of the baggage of what is happening out in the world.
In the Old Testament Psalms, one writer said (Ps 86:6-7), “Hear my prayer, O LORD; listen to my cry for mercy. In the day of my trouble I will call to you, for you will answer me.”
It is a natural part of worship to bring with you the concerns of your life. We gather here and we bring in the fears of life, the worries of our family, the concerns of the world and we lift them up in prayer, and we seek God’s comfort and guidance.
Why do we worship God? Because our lives are so full of concerns and issues that we have to have someplace to take them.
Another reason we worship God is because God is worthy of worship.
In Isaiah, the prophet goes to the Temple, and he says “I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple.” It is the presence of God that fills the worship.
True worship always focuses on God and on his holiness.
We’ve lost something of that in our worship services. There was a time when people were so aware of this aspect of worship that the very churches themselves were being constructed in ways that emphasized the awesomeness of God. It is difficult to walk into one of the cathedrals of Europe built centuries ago without feeling awe and wonder. The quiet, the slight aroma of incense or candles, the artistry of stained glass windows and classical music moves one to acknowledge awe and wonder.
In recent years, theology and worship have emphasized the personal nature of God, the love God, and joy of God to such a degree that for some reason we’ve forgotten that our God is also an awesome God. We have almost reformed God into a “little buddy” or someone to pal around with. We have forgotten that God is such an awesome and holy God that to be in His presence is to be filled with wonder.
It is not that one concept of God is true and the other isn’t. God is awesome, and holy, and wonderful – and He is also love, and joy and a personal relationship.
And since God is indeed all of these things, we worship God because he is worthy of worship. He deserves our worship.
Another reason we come to worship is so that our lives will be different. Worship makes a difference in our lives. As the studies show, it improves our blood pressure, marriages, stress levels, and yes, apparently even improves our sexuality.
But more than that, it makes us better people.
Worship at its best, always motivates the worshipper to roll up the sleeves and to get to work for the good of the community and for our neighbors.
In our Old Testament lesson, the Prophet Isaiah is in the Temple worshipping God. He hears the call to worship, with angels singing “Holy, Holy, Holy.”
He is moved to confess his sins, which is followed by the assurance of his pardon.
He hears the word of God proclaimed, hearing the voice of God saying, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?"
And what follows then is the service. The work. The rolling up of sleeves and the reaching out to others. In the Scripture lesson, the Prophet said, "Here am I. Send me!"
True worship will always result in service. We cannot enter the sanctuary to worship, without departing into the world to serve.
So, why are we here? Why did we come to worship today? We came in here, in part, to be challenged to do something out there.
Copyright 2012, Dr. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved.
[i] Michael, R.Y., J.H. Gagnon, E.O. Laumann, and G. Kolata. Chapter 6 in Sex in America: A DefinitiveSurvey. Boston: Little Brown. 1995.Travis, C., and S. Sadd. The Redbook Report on Female Sexuality. New York: Delacorte Press. 1977
[ii] (Cutler, S.J., "Member in Different Types of Voluntary Associations and Psychological Well-Being," TheGerontologist 16 (1976): 355-339.
[iii] Jennifer Baker of the Forest Institute of Professional Psychology in Springfield, Missouri..Shrum, W., "Religion and Marital Instability: Change in the 1970's?" Review of Religious Research 21(1980): 135-147.
[iv] Williams, R.W., D.B. Larson, R.E. Bucker, R.C. Hackman, and C.M. Pale, "Religion and Psychological Distress in a Community Sample," Social Science Medicine 32 (1991): 1257-1262.
[v] Seeman, T.E., and B.S. McEwen, "Impact of Social Environment Characteristics on NeuroendocrineRegulation," Psychosomatic Medicine 58 (1996): 459-471.
[vi] Steinitz, L.Y., "Religiosity, Well-Being, and Weltanschauung Among the Elderly," Journal for the ScientificStudy of Religion 19 (1980): 60-67.
[vii] Seeman, T.E.,G.A. Kaplan, L. Knudsen, R. Cohen, and J. Guralnik, "Social Network Ties and MortalityAmong the Elderly in the Alameda County Study," American Journal of Epidemiology 126 (1987): 714-723.Schoenbach, V.J., B.H. Kaplan, L. Fredman, and D.G. Kleinbaum, "Social Ties and Mortality in EvansCounty, Georgia," American Journal of Epidemiology 123 (1986): 577-591.
[viii] Larson D.W., H.G. Koenig, B.H. Kaplan, R.S. Greenberg, E. Loge, and H.A. Tyroler, "The Impact of Religionon Men's Blood Pressure," Journal of Religion and Health 28 (4), (1989): 265-278.) Others that indicate worship improves your chances of surviving cardiac surgery. T.E., D.H. Freeman, and E.D. Manheimer, "Lack of Social Participation or Religious Strength andComfort as Risk Factors for Death After Cardiac Surgery in the Elderly," Psychosomatic Medicine 57(1995): 5-15.
[ix] Wallace, J.M., and T.A. Forman, "Religion's Role in Promoting Health and Reducing the Risk AmongAmerican Youth," Health Education and Behavior 25 (1998): 721-741.