The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
September 25, 2022
We sometimes rationalize excuse to avoid bothering with going to church.
If, however, we use the same lines of thought we use to justify not going to church to justify our not engaging in some other vital life activity, we see the absurdity of our logic. For example, here are ten excuses to justify not taking a shower or a bath: 1) I was forced to take one as a child. 2) Those who make soap are only after your money. 3) I wash on special occasions like Christmas and Easter. 4) People who regularly wash are holier-than-thou types who think they’re the cleanest. 5) There are so many ways to wash it’s arrogant to pick just one. 6) I used to wash, but it got boring, so I quit. 7) None of my friends wash. 8) The bathroom is never cool enough in the summer or warm enough in the winter. 9) I’ll wait to wash when I get older and dirtier. 10) I’m too busy and can’t spare the time.
The human author behind this Psalm never looked for an excuse to justify missing church. For he loved going to church. Of course, he didn’t call it church; he called it “the house of God” but that’s the same thing. He so loved coming into the Lord’s sanctuary, the physical place where psalmist met God in the company of others seeking to meet God, that he spoke of “longing” for it, “fainting” for it, “crying out” as many translate the last line of verse 2.
His yearning for, and delighting in, being in God’s house was not just to enjoy its architectural beauty, which was considerable. He valued church most of all as a spot on earth that supernaturally facilitated his connecting with God and with fellow adopted children of God in shared love and gratitude.
When in the first verse the psalmist describes his church as “lovely”, he was not first and foremost expressing an aesthetic appreciation of its physical appearance, as beautiful as it was. In the original Hebrew “how lovely” more exactly means “how loved” by me and my faith family, “how precious and dear” to us.
The physical “church” building is precious and dear to people like the psalmist because it helps them be present to the presence of God. Just as lovers have “their” restaurant or “their” beach spot, made all the richer with meaning and blessing for its association with other sweet times together, so too lovers of God relish the physical church building because it reverberates with other uplifting encounters with God in unity with His community. This psalmist so cherishes what being at church does for him that he almost feels jealous of the swallows flying around the temple grounds, building their nests and hatching their young near the altars of the Lord. While the psalmist knows that no one can always be at church, he knows that the more time one spends there, the more blessed one becomes. That’s why he exclaims, “Happy are those who live in your house, ever singing your praise.”
The psalmist celebrates how attending church moves people from “strength to strength”, brings forth lush spiritual growth even in stretches of their life as dry as the valley of Baca, builds in their hearts highways between heaven and earth (so that God’s messengers can go back and forth between the two like the angels climbing Jacob’s ladder), and gives God, the One who withholds no good thing from the upright, the opportunity to be their “sun and shield” and “bestow favor and honor” upon them.
Is it any wonder then that the psalmist declares that for him a single day in God’s “courts” is better than a thousand elsewhere” and that he’d rather stand at the threshold of God’s house than at the center of “the tents of the wicked” (back when the tents of Israel’s wicked enemy kings were luxurious enough to make the most expensive “glam-camp” structure look like a Cub Scout pup tent)? The psalmist would choose a moment in church over a month in Maui!
No doubt the psalmist had some vivid life-changing experiences of God all by himself in some simple “prayer closet” that were the equal of any he experienced at church, and I’d bet a good number of us have as well. But, if engaging with God is as marvelous as the Bible says and as many of us have experienced, wouldn’t we want not to miss out on any chance to get to know Him still better, especially one that bless so consistently?
Though not just a building, a church is a building in which God dwells and in which people meet up with God in collaboration with a bunch of others meeting up with Him at the same time. That makes church like a heart as Ron Bryce notes in his book, The Fingerprint of God.
An active, beating heart consists of billions of tiny cells communicating and coordinating their individual activities with each other. The heart’s cells rhythmically contract in unity, acting together to produce a heartbeat. If any of these living cells are separated from the heart in a test tube, they instinctively continue to beat, but not in sync with each other. If the cells are brought back in contact with the rest, the instant they touch, their contractions again become synchronized.
Individual heart cells cannot accomplish their God-given function alone. They were each designed to be one of many cells in one heart; and each cell needs the other cells to fulfill its purpose. If they don’t keep contact and communicate and coordinate, life is not possible.
May God’s life abound for us who worship in this church and in whatever places it sends us to serve others. That will happen as we love God with everything we’ve got, and thus love His church – and thereby embody God’s heart on earth.