(…continued) And then, as in all good communication, we respond in worship, speaking back to God. We pray to God, we sing hymns to God, and we confess our sins to God. And, even as we speak to God in the different parts of the service, we do so in words from the Bible, responding in ways God’s people have spoken to God for thousands of years. We use words from I John as we confess our sins. In the Kyrie, we pray the prayer of the tax collector in Like 18:13 when we pray simply, “Lord, have mercy.” The hymn of praise begins with the words sung by the angels on the night Jesus was born, and in the ‘Alleluia’ we ask in the words of Peter, ‘Where else shall go, Lord, you have the words of eternal life.’ I begin each sermon with a prayer, and end each sermon with a blessing, both also from the Bible. After the offering we sing some words written by David in Psalm 51, and we then pray the prayer taught to us by Jesus himself in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. We also sing songs written by others, and pray prayers written by others, or from our own heart. In all these ways, we carry on our end of this conversation with God.
Worship is communication. It is our ongoing conversation with God. Yes, we should pray our own prayers at home, and yes, we should read the Bible on our own. But for thousands of years, this time of worshiping together has been the primary place for this ongoing conversation between God and His people.
When you think about it, our conversation with God that goes on during this hour is, in some ways, similar to our conversations with each other. Let me give you a few examples of what I mean. Our daily conversations begin with a greeting, perhaps a ‘hello’ or a ‘how are you?’ Worship also begins with a greeting. I say, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all;” and you say, “And also with you.” In our conversations with each other, we are always eager to share good news. The word ‘Gospel,’ which is at center of worship, comes from an old English word which means ‘good news.’ And that is just what the angel told the shepherds on the night of Jesus’ birth: “I have come to bring you good news of a great joy for all people; a Savior has been born.” At the heart of the conversation with God that is worship is the sharing of this Good News. To give another example, in any close relationship there will be times when we wrong each other, and then, if the relationship is to survive, somebody has to say ‘I’m sorry’ and somebody else has to say ‘You are forgiven.’ In church we call that ‘The Order for Confession and Forgiveness,’ and we need to have the same conversation with God each and every week. It is how we begin our worship. Sometimes in our conversations we will ask each other for help. In worship, it is in our prayers we ask for God’s help. Then, in our offerings, we make a return of what God has already given us as we offer to help with God’s work here in the congregation and around the world. In our conversations, we will at times thank one another, so in worship we will certainly want to thank and praise God for all he has done for us. We do that in the hymns, the Psalms, and in the prayers. Worship ends with a Benediction, just like our conversations. Our farewell word ‘good-bye’ is in fact a shortened form of a benediction, “God be with ye.” Over time, ‘God be with ye’ became simply ‘goodbye.’ I could go on, but you are probably getting the idea.
With that in mind, think again about what I said at the beginning about how relationships die from lack of communication. Much has been said about whether or not one can be a Christian without going to church. The short answer is yes, of course, you can be a Christian without going to church. I’ve seen some wonderful Christians who did not ever go to church. We are not saved because we go to church, we are saved because Jesus died on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins, and has promised that all who believe in him shall be saved. John 3: 16 does not say one word about going to church, and yet the whole Gospel is right there: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son so that whosever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” See? Not a word about church.
But there is in John 3:16 that word about believing; and believing implies some sort of relationship, some sort of connection, and some sort of response. God’s love is freely given, but it is not forced on one who will not have it. The danger of no worship is the same danger as in any relationship in which there is no conversation. Eventually, the relationship will die, and there are some warnings in the Bible about not letting that happen. When people insist on paying no attention to God they, in time, come to not care at all about God or His promises. And then, faith and belief are gone, and the John 3:16 promise can be lost for all eternity. (continued…)