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 look around and wonder, don't we have anything better to do right now than to come to worship service?
There are chores to be done at home, books to read, movies to see, games to watch, and web sites to surf. What motivates us to abandon the television and postpone a visit to the mall in order to worship?
I suspect that for some, the answer is "habit." And to tell the truth, not all habits are bad -- although we tend to speak in terms of good habits as discipline. Study habits, proper exercise routines, and good financial management and budgeting are all good habits -- good self discipline. And attending worship is a good spiritual habit. Some of us are here because it is our habit.
But there is something lacking in that answer, because some time earlier in our lives, we didn't come to worship out of habit. We had to make the decision that this was a discipline we wanted to follow. Why did we make that decision?
Others of us may come to worship because we are struggling with God. We are grieving or we are hurting. We are lost, or we are lonely. And our attendance at worship is part of our search for answers.
Still others may be here against our will. You come here because your parents make you and they are bigger than you are. Or your wife made you come – maybe she’s bigger than you are. Or maybe your wife made you come here and if you want your life to go smoothly over the next day or two, giving into her about coming to worship is the thing to do.
The story is told of a man who was enjoying a pleasant sleep in bed when his wife suddenly yanked the covers off the bed and announced, “Time to get up and get ready to go to church.”
Meekly, the man told his wife, “I don’t wanna go to church today. Just let me stay here and sleep in this one day.”
Without any compassion, his wife looked at him and said, “Look Bozo, you have to go to church today. You’re the pastor.”
Why come to worship?
Our Scripture Lesson from Isaiah is a great place to look for answers to these questions. For the past 3 thousand years, worship has found its basis in this chapter. The order of our worship is based in part on this 6th chapter of Isaiah.
First, true worship is not an escape from reality. It is something that happens in the midst of life. 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 the jets flew into the ,
I worshipped God. In the year of
Hurricane Charley, 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. World
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.
True worship also focuses on God. This is where many of us make a mistake. We assume that worship focuses on us. I’ve heard many times people talk about how they are struggling in their worship life because they aren’t being fed. Have you ever heard anyone say that? “I’m not being fed. I’m not getting anything out of worship. I’m not being nurtured by worship. I don’t get a blessing out of worship.”
Well, that is a legitimate question with some people, but what concerns me is that I never, ever hear people say anything about whether or not God is being blessed in the worship service. I never hear anyone concerned about whether or not GOD is enjoying worship.
Why do we worship? We worship so that WE can get something out of the experience, but we also ought to worship PRIMARILY so that GOD can get something out of it.
And until God gets something out of our worship, we never will. Until God is blessed by our worship, we won’t be blessed.
All too often, we treat worship as something that is supposed to entertain us. But it isn’t. What is most important is that God enjoy the worship experience. We are here to worship HIM. We are here to bless HIM.
In Isaiah, the prophet goes to the
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. Temple
Another reason we come to worship is for the difference it can make in our lives. And the difference should be in terms of service. Worship at its best, always motivates the worshipper to roll up the sleeves and to get to work.
“Enter to worship, depart to serve.” That phrase is a common phrase at one time was frequently found on bulletins and on church signs. The concept was that worship and service go hand in hand. In the Christian life, one cannot have worship without service to follow. You cannot have true service, without having worship. One of the Hebrew words for worship, avodah, is also a Hebrew word for work or service. Service and worship, worship and service – all part of the same.
In our Old Testament lesson, the Prophet Isaiah is in the
worshipping God. He hears the call to
worship, with angels singing “Holy, Holy, Holy.” Temple
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.
So the question for us today not why do we worship? Or why do we come to church today when there are other things we could be doing?
The real question is what will we do when we leave this place of worship.
For the prophet Isaiah, he was sent out to speak a message to the people.
But what are we sent out to do?
What is God calling you to do this week?
Who is it in your life that you need to love a little more?
Who is it in your community that you need to reach out to a little harder?
We come to worship because it makes a difference in our lives.
We leave worship and go out to serve, so that we can make a difference in the lives of others.
Dr. W. Maynard Pittendreigh
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Ministers may feel free to use some or all of this sermon in their own ministries as long as they do not publish in print or on the Internet without ascribing credit to the author.