On a Saturday night, while preparing for Sunday, how many of the following thoughts hit home for you? “I’ve had a long week, I need a morning to just sit at home and relax.” “My daughter has a soccer game this morning, and she can’t miss, or she might not get to play as much in the next game.” “We have guests tomorrow afternoon, so I’ll have to get the house ready for them tomorrow morning.” “I need to make a connection with this client, and the only time they seem to be able to meet is Sunday morning.” “My boss asked if can work tomorrow morning. I do need to pay for that vacation that is coming up, so I better take the time while they’ll give it to me.”
We live in a day and age where it can be difficult to make weekly worship with the rest of the church a regular habit. We live in a national society that does not value a day of Sabbath oriented toward the Lord God. Traditionally, for most, this time of worship was on Sunday morning. It is no benefit to us to view the world around us as if it were still a society rooted in Christian-like values and habits. Rather, we have to be honest about the day and age in which we live and call it what it is. We live in a post-Christian society. We live in a society that no longer values habits like weekly worship with other believers. Instead, those kind of habits are now viewed by many in society as extra-curricular or add-ons to “regular” life.
Now, as much as many of us have not outright renounced our belief in Christ Jesus and the way of life that he admonishes. I do wonder if many of us have become apathetic. in our belief in Christ. Living in the water of the society around us, it is easy for us to fall prey to the temptation to be and live life as everyone around us does. We still mentally believe in Christ, but our habits reflect otherwise. We can easily get caught-up in the worries, concerns, and priorities of those still separated from God. We can worry about money, and instead of leaning further into Christ and giving him our worries, we sacrifice the habits of Christ to make room for us to solve our financial problems on our own (e.g., working/meeting-with-clients instead of worshipping on Sunday mornings). We can be concerned about the opportunities of our children, and instead of emphasizing opportunities where they can encounter Christ, we sacrifice the habits of worship to make room for us to give them worldly opportunities (e.g., sports or artistic opportunities instead of opportunities to be shaped into Christ-like people). We can focus on the priorities of the world, and instead of remembering our baptism (that we died to ourselves and now live for Christ alone), we sacrifice the call and cost of our teacher (Jesus) to make room for the priorities of the world (e.g. making money, overwork and find ourselves in desperate need of rest, in-debt-ing ourselves to elaborate vacations and purchases).
You may be wondering how all of these scenarios relate to weekly worship. A snippet from Jesus’ ministry on earth help shed some light on this. In our reading through the New Testament, we recently encountered a scenario where Jesus was at the home of a prominent Pharisee to eat. As the dinner unfolds, a person at the table says to Jesus, “Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God (Luke 14:15).” Following this statement by the person, Jesus replies with saying,
Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ “But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’ “Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’ “Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’ “The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’ “‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’ “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’”
As much as this story is a general story about a banquet, it does have very specific connections to other teachings and habits given in the New Testament. This whole story is an allusion to the eternal feast of the kingdom of God that Jesus, the Son of God, has been announcing and inviting all people to attend (see Rev. 19:6-9). A few chapters later in the gospel of Luke, we encounter Jesus unveiling that the kingdom of God is not a spacial place, per se. Rather, the kingdom of God is wherever the presence of Jesus is. Jesus tells the people in Luke 17:21 that the kingdom of God is in their midst — it is his very presence among them.
Now, back to Luke 14, Jesus’ story speaks of a banquet in the kingdom of God. If we take Luke 14 in light of Luke 17, we see Jesus describing his very presence among humanity as a banquet where all of humanity is welcome to attend and indulge. Now, where have we ever seen a banquet or meall like this in our day and age? Well, we see it every time we gather to worship with other Christ-followers on a Sunday morning.
Weekly, we are invited to a meal — a meal consisting of Jesus’ presence, the bread (representing his broken body) and the cup (representing his spilled blood). We encounter the presence of Jesus every time we — as his followers — gather together and receive the meal that he sets before us. Every time we receive the elements, we are rushed — once again — into the baptismal way of Christ Jesus (the way of the cross). We may not have thought about it that way before, but every Sunday when we gather in the name of Jesus, and eat, we are in the presence of Jesus and are indulging in an appetizer of the eternal banquet of the kingdom of God.
You see, Sunday morning worship isn’t just an add-on to “regular” life. It is not just a pep-rally, giving you a spiritual high for the coming week. It is not just an escape from the worries and concerns of life. Rather, it is a privileged meal that we are invited to attend each week. It is a meal in which we are invited remember and encounter Christ’s presence in all aspects of our life. It is in this meal, that the way of Christ is kept before us. Each week, as we gather in the presence of Christ (the body of Christ eating and drinking together through one Spirit), our lives are to be shaped and shaped and shaped again into the way of Christ — shaving off the worries, concerns and priorities of the world, and instilling into us the cares, concerns and priorities of God. But, when we consistently miss this opportunity week upon week, we miss out on this transformative process.
Now, I know, I’m in a precarious spot to stress the importance of gathering with others for worship on Sunday morning. After all, you may be thinking, “It’s your job. You have to be there. Of course, you’re not going to miss.” Or, you may be thinking, “You get paid to be there. I don’t have that luxury. And I have a lot of other responsibilities and things to pay for. I can’t just take a morning off and not make money or cover my responsibilities. It costs me a lot to worship with others every week.” Believe me. I get it. My role in the church is different from yours; and my participation on a Sunday morning is different from yours. But, my role is not the standard that you are held to. Rather, you and me and all others in the church are held to the standard of Christ. We all are to faithfully live out our baptismal commitments — to die to ourselves and live for Christ. We are to not act like those in Jesus’ story and place other commitments above the commitment we have made to him in baptism.
I get it. It is costly to follow through on a commitment to Christ. As a person on staff at the church, that cost shows up differently for me, than it does for you. My costs just look different than the costs you have to bear. For me, some of the costs I endure for the sake of Christ are:
Sunday morning is seldom, if ever, a purely family activity for my family (it is always intermingled with my role as a staff person). Sunday evenings are seldom a family time. Rather, I spend time with preteens and teens and clean-up after them, and then come home when my wife is almost ready to fall asleep (and sometimes I don’t see her till the following morning). In some ways, I am always on-call. My phone can ring or vibrate with a call or text at almost anytime of the day, and in almost unpredictable fashion. Holiday celebrations like Christmas-eve and Christmas day seldom are just a family activity (again, they are intermingled with the responsibilities of my role as a staff person). Now, I am not listing these items to complain about them. I am merely pointing-out that following Christ’s call on my life has a cost to it as well. And, I am trying to point out that as much as it may seem like there is little cost on my end to worship with the body of Christ each week, there is a cost to me, it just shows up different on my end.
And, I get it. There are emergency moments that happen on Sundays, that are beyond our control. I'm not trying to say that missing one Sunday somehow determines your eternity. I'm mainly trying to point out that weekly worship is a core habit for those who follow after Jesus; and have we considered the importance of that habit for our own lives.
So, whether there is a cost to you to worship with the body of Christ each week, or the cost associated with me being on staff at a church, the bottom line is that each of our roles involve a cost. The cost to each of us may be different, but those costs are alike in that they are for the sake of Christ and for the sake of being shaped into Christ-like people. But, we shouldn’t expect anything less. After all, we follow after the one (Jesus) for whom it cost him everything — his very life. In that light, the cost on our lives is not as high as it may seem, especially if we have not had to give our lives yet.