No. 1 reason for worship

Sunday, June 27, 2010

During the weekly Prime Minister's Question Time in the British House of Commons, the speaker begins the proceedings by calling on a parliament backbencher. By protocol, the backbencher always says the same thing, which is: "Question No. 1, Mr. Speaker."

Question No. 1 on Sunday morning for us might be: Why do you go to worship?

Some time ago, I asked a young man why he came to worship. A runner, he told me that it was important to keep not only his body but also his spirit in shape. Churchgoing was his way of "working out."

I asked a senior woman, in her 80s at the time, why her worship attendance was so faithful. She told me that going to Sunday worship kept her week straight. "What do you mean?" I replied, thinking it an enigmatic answer. "If I don't come to church," she answered, "my days run together without definition or meaning. Sunday church keeps me regular."

One of the oldest men I've ever had the good fortune to pastor, who could no longer see the bulletin well enough to follow the liturgy, told me he came to church because he was "studying for finals."

Each of the foregoing had reasons. It's important to know why, isn't it?

A longtime churchgoer once wrote a letter to the editor of his local newspaper. In his missive, the man complained that it made little sense to go to worship. "I've gone for 30 years now. In that time, I've heard over 1,500 sermons. For the life of me, I can't remember a single one. I think I'm wasting my time listening and the pastors are wasting their time writing them."

His letter sparked a running controversy on the op-ed pages for several weeks. One man wrote this: "I've been married for 30 years. In that time, my wife has cooked some 32,000 meals. For the life of me, I can't recall the entire menu for even one of those meals. But I know this: all my wife's meals nourished me and gave me the strength to do my work. If my wife had not given me these meals, I shudder to think how malnourished I would be today. Likewise, if I had not gone to church all these years, I believe I would be spiritually dead!"

If church is your destination this morning, pause for a moment before leaving your house and ask yourself a few questions: Why am I going? What do I hope will happen? Am I going just for myself or could it be that someone might need to see me there today? Am I going for a spiritual fill-up or am I going to get filled up and to give? Am I going just to be uplifted personally or, in addition to an uplift, am I going to offer praise to the one who made, redeemed and sustained me? Is worship merely a consumable good -- similar to buying lunch in a restaurant or purchasing a ticket at a movie theater? Is worship only about getting your flat spiritual tire filled with air, or is it also handing a cold bottle of water to someone whose life has become parched?

True worship is not consumption; it is service. It's not primarily about what you get but about what you give.

The best thing Rick Warren wrote in his best-selling book, "The Purpose-Driven Life," is applicable here: People of the church, it's not about you.

Why are you in church this particular morning? Let's make it question No. 1 on this first official Sunday of summer.

Jeff Long is pastor of Centenary United Methodist Church in Cape Girardeau. Married with two daughters, he is of Scots and Swedish descent, loves movies and is a lifelong fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

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