Why Should We Go To the House of the Lord?
27 November 2016
One day the telephone rang in the rector’s office at Christ’s Episcopal Church in Alexandria, Virginia; it was the church where President Franklin D. Roosevelt attended. On the telephone line, an eager voice asked. “Tell me, do you expect the President to be in church this Sunday?” The Rector answered, “I cannot promise that, but we expect God to be here and we believe that will be incentive enough for a reasonably large attendance.”
Here at Rockville United Methodist Church, we believe God is with us and there is an assurance that he is in our lives. That is why we attend church every Sunday morning.
My text for this morning is Psalm 122 and it is about the love a believer has for a place of worship.
1 I was glad when they said to me, Let us go to the house of the Lord!” Our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem. Jerusalem—built as a city that is bound firmly together. 4 To it the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord, as was decreed for Israel, to give thanks to the name of the Lord. 5 For there the thrones for judgment were set up, the thrones of the house of David. 6 Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: May they prosper who love you. 7 Peace be within your walls, and security within your towers.” 8 For the sake of my relatives and friends I will say, “Peace be within you.” 9 For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek your good.”
This is the Word of God. Thanks be to God.
Psalm 122 was a song sung by Jewish pilgrims when they got into view of the temple. As they began to walk up the slight incline into the city, they began to sing in preparation for worship in the temple.
In February of 2014, I went to Israel with about 40 ministers and Bishop Devadhar. When we arrived in Jerusalem, I found that once we began to walk up the gradual incline to the old temple area, it was not an easy climb. You had to be in somewhat good shape to walk those long and hilly slopes.
As I meditated on Psalm 122, I thought of the routine that many family members use on a Sunday morning when they are about to leave their homes. This expression will sound familiar to many of us as we have all called something like, “It is time to go to church” to get the family moving. Let me suggest a phrase with a richer meaning, verse 1 of this psalm. “Let us go to the house of the Lord.”
As you entered the doors of this sanctuary this morning, it is my hope and prayer that each of us felt God’s presence. I hope as we spend time together in service, we will each experience the presence of God, the holy, the divine, the peace and assurance of God. That is why we come.
As a child, I was fortunate to have parents who instilled in me a desire to be in God’s House. As I look back on it, that provided me with the framework for me to find Jesus as my Savior and a foundation to go into the ministry. In those early years, I got into the habit of attending worship services on Sunday. Even today, if I am not in the house of the Lord on Sunday, I feel incomplete and as I get older, I don’t ever want to get in the habit of staying away for whatever reason.
Hebrews 10:25: Let us not give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
Incidentally, the church I attended as a youth, Star of the Sea Roman Catholic Church in Quincy, MA closed its doors a couple of years ago. It was sold this past year to a developer who had it demolished on Columbus Day weekend. Prior to the demolition, I contacted the developer and received permission to go into the church one final time. When I went inside, the church was just a hollow building with most of its sacred items removed, but in my mind it still felt like the house of God.
For those who do not have a personal relationship with the Lord, a church is a building where nice people go on a Sunday. But for those who have Christ in their hearts, a church building is more than that. It is a sacred place to meet God and hear his word.
I have great respect for the people needing a cane or walker who come to church. Sometimes they come in a wheelchair with an oxygen tank. I know it is an effort for these people to be here and I appreciate their faithfulness.
I remember in the first United Methodist Church that I pastored we held a Saturday afternoon worship service. A 96 year old church member would have his health aide drive him, and they would sit together. On one Saturday afternoon, I saw that the health aide was alone. After the service, I asked where the man was and she said the parking lot. He had a bad cough and didn’t want to disturb anyone. I gave him a one minute sermon and served him communion.
Looking at American history, George Washington’s pastor once said, “No company or visitor ever kept him away from church. The pastor went on. “I have often been at his breakfast table which was filled with guests. But to him, there was no excuse for neglecting his God and losing the satisfaction of setting a good example. Instead of staying at home out of imaginary courtesy to them, he used to constantly invite them to accompany him to church.” President Theodore Roosevelt, in spite of all of his duties and responsibilities, did everything in his power to never miss a church service. He took the promise he made at his confirmation seriously when he pledged that he would be faithful. If Roosevelt could not attend a worship service, he sent a letter to his pastor and explained why he had to be absent.
Unfortunately for today’s society, we have had at least two, maybe three, generations where the parents were not as faithful in raising their children in the Christian faith or bringing them to church. For faith to work, parents have to teach, to set the example and bring their children to the house of God. Otherwise, if you let a child make the choice, most likely they won’t.
When I look at Psalm 122, there is something else that jumps out at me. It is verse 1 which says. I was glad when they said to me. Let us go to the house of the Lord. Notice there is no hint of reluctance, nor is there a sense of duty or obligation. The psalmist is glad and looks forward to the experience. I hope that is our experience as well.
Have you ever seen the Olympic ice sport of curling? Curling is like watching shuffleboard on ice with brooms. It is not terribly exciting except to those who have a genuine interest. To me it doesn’t exactly get the blood flowing, but if you are a true fan, you are passionate and it is exciting. When it comes to worship, if a person does not have Christ in their life or does very little to nurture their spiritual life, church worship could be like curling. It will become irrelevant, and people would rather stay home.
However when a person’s spiritual life becomes renewed and that person becomes born from above, church becomes the House of the Lord, and worship takes on new meaning.
A good worship experience requires some concentration and preparation. In Biblical times, when Jewish pilgrims came within sight of the temple, they began to sing 15 of the Psalm of the Ascents; Psalm 122 is one of them. As they sang, they began to prepare themselves for worship in the temple.
I think our worship experience would go much better if we had some preparation when we get up on Sunday mornings. Perhaps we should keep the TV off and hold off checking our messages on the computer. We can listen to some type of spiritual music in the car as we ride to church. With the proper preparation, when we arrive in the parking lot we can say, “I am glad when they said to me. Let us go to the house of the Lord.”
In many third world countries, people who have to walk to church have rich worship experiences. It does take an effort to get there, but when they arrive the songs are sweeter, the prayers are richer, and the meditation is life enriching. On that same trip to Israel with the Bishop, we were given a chance to do anything we wanted on the Sunday in the middle of our tour. I decided to attend the English speaking St. George’s Anglican Service in East Jerusalem. To get there I walked from my hotel, which gave me time to think and prepare my heart for worship. When I arrived, I discovered that there were many similarities to our United Methodist worship service. But this time, because of my spiritual preparation as I walked to the church, I was more than ready for worship. After the service was over, I walked back to the hotel and I found myself deep in the thought of what I had heard and experienced. It was rich. Normally when I come to the House of the Lord, I just jump in the car and within minutes I am here. But when I had to walk, what a difference it made.
Let me close with this thought. When you come to worship, I encourage you to prepare yourselves. Then you can say, “I was glad when they said to me. Let us go to the house of the Lord.”