AND WHY ARE WE HERE?
There's a popular notion today that a family's church life is the wife's responsibility. Along with that society thinks that worship is for old people, women, children, the sick, and those who have nothing better to do. Into which of these categories would you place King David? He was one of the more macho characters of the Bible. I doubt we would consider him a pious individual - although in the classical sense he was pious like Aeneas, not like the Pietists who were rather effeminate. David was world-affirming. David was busy, in fact he had far more plausible excuses for avoiding worship than any of us. Still, when the time came for the sacred assembly, David was at the head of the line, glad to be there.
David does not say in the Psalm that he was "going to church." He does not use that unfortunate expression, one that gives the false impression that there is any place where you are not the church. Wherever you are, you are the church. Nevertheless, there is something special about the assembly in the house of the Lord. God did command us to sanctify the holy day. We need forgiveness and spiritual refreshment. We need encouragement to live the faith we believe. We need the discipline of attendance, and must remember that we set an example by whatever we do.
At first glance it would appear as though the Sabbath Commandment had nothing to do with us. It is part of the special covenant God made with Israel, forbidding people to work on Saturday in order that one day a week might be consecrated. Originally the Sabbath was celebrated at home. During the Exile a new institution appeared, the assembly of the Jews in synagogues - small communities of at least ten men who prayed and read Scriptures. Jesus acted in complete freedom on the Sabbath Day, yet He often attended worship in the local synagogue. In time, Jesus fulfilled the Sabbath for all of us by resting in the grave, completing the work which began with His birth. He was under the Law to redeem us who were under the Law. He shouted "It is finished" shortly before the Sabbath candles were to be lit. To this the Commandment, and the creation story, telling how God rested on Saturday, both bear witness. We are to sanctify every day, but we need a day when God sanctifies us. God's Word and Sacraments sanctify us. We assemble together to make ourselves available for the Word and Sacraments.
` So why are we here? We are here because we need forgiveness. There is only one way a Christian can be sanctified, and that is by forgiveness. David knew this too. All around his kingdom he saw anxiety, international politics, war and bloodshed. But in the house of the Lord the central focus of attention is on the mercy seat. Heaven touches earth there, where God speaks tenderly to the depressed soul. He reassures us of the Savior's love. David might not have been qualified to stand before the Holy Ark itself, but he could go up as far as the curtain and pray. There would be peace for his conscience, pardon for his failures, strength to resist temptation. During the Exile the Ark was lost forever. But the altar stands where the Ark once stood, where pardon and peace come to us from Jesus.
There are other reasons why we come. We come to be instructed. No, the church isn't a school. We do not come here to learn information. We come to hear one particular story, a story that is far from ordinary, that has power to transform peoples' lives. We know the facts of the story, although hearing it again may cause one to find something new. The main point of this story is to lead us to repentance, to give us a stronger measure of faith, and to encourage us to live out that faith. Only preaching can encourage us this way, because it applies God's Word to us in our lives. The Christian preacher does not tell new tales, but teaches the Law and the Gospel, and places before us the Sacrament of Jesus' Body and Blood. No one can be satisfied by hearing only one sermon, or by repenting only once, or by receiving Communion one time. The soul quickly becomes hungry again, therefore we are glad the church bells say, Let us go into the house of the Lord.
David knew that everybody in Israel was watching him. The people would talk about anything their king did. We can truly say, when it comes to attendance, he was a good example to Israel. Today, around this house, and around your house, are people to whom the church bells mean nothing. All the sermons in the world will not help them if they will not hear. But they can see what you do. They see you leaving a nice, warm house to assemble in the Lord's house even though the snow is falling. They see you turning off the football game to attend the Voters' meeting. They know that something is happening here for you. Eventually they will ask you about it, and you will have an opportunity no clergyman could ever have.
Then why don't all Christians take every possible opportunity to go into the house of the Lord? Some people cannot come. They deserve our sympathy, as well as our efforts to bring the church to them. But there are many others who make silly excuses, things that would never keep them from the bowling alley or the theater are sufficient to cause neglect of spiritual nutrition. I'm just the messenger. You don't have to give account to me. You have to give account to the Judge. If your excuse is not fit to tell Him, then it isn't good enough to ease your conscience. This is the place where your conscience can find true peace, because the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses it.
There are some who never come at all. There are others who think one hour a week is sufficient thanks to Jesus who gave His life for them. The ancient fathers of the church were hunted down like animals, yet they went out of their way to meet together for the Word and Sacraments. We have advantages they lacked, but our hearts are colder than theirs. There was a little deaf lady who came regularly to the house of the Lord every week. She could read the hymns, see the worship actions, taste the Holy Eucharist. She sat in the company of the saints, and was comforted by them. That little deaf lady could say with David, I was glad when they said unto me, let us go into the house of the Lord. How blessed are all the tired pilgrims who find in the cross of Jesus shade from the heat of their earthly journey. Church bells broadcast God's love wherever they can be heard. God may come in judgment, but He comes with a smile, lifting His countenance to give us peace.
May our services be the vestibule of heaven where we anticipate the Messianic Banquet. Find joy in God's house as David found it of old. Come together to make our building a spiritual lighthouse, beaming out to our community the one and only entrance to the harbor of peace with God. Blessed are they that dwell in His house. AMEN.