12 Pentecost, Year A
12 Pentecost, Year A
Psalm 105:1-6, 16-22, 45b
Once upon a time, there was a man named Bill. He did not attend church very often. However, one week his wife asked him whether or not he’d be willing to fill in as a greeter one Sunday. He surprised her by saying ‘Yes.’ While Bill handed out bulletins and welcomed the worshippers, he said to himself: “This is okay. In fact, I really like this job.”
At exactly that moment, Bill shook hands with a distinguished looking gentleman. “Welcome,” Bill said warmly, “we are happy that you’re worshipping with us today.” “Thank you,” the man said, “as your pastor, may I say the same thing to you!”
As humorous as this little story is, perhaps we’ve all had somewhat similar experiences—I know over the years that I have! Perhaps they leave all of us feeling slightly awkward, uneasy, if not embarrassed. Yet, according to contemporary researchers, like, for example, sociology Professor Reginald Bibby at the University of Lethbridge, there are a whole lot of inactive Canadians who, when the census is taken associate themselves with a particular denomination, but do not attend church on a regular basis. I know, in conversation with Europeans recently that the situation is similar, if not worse over there. In some parts of Germany, for instance, only around two percent of the total population attends church regularly. Our national bishop, Ray Schultz, recently said that according to the most up-to-date census, there is something like 600,000 Canadians who consider themselves Lutherans—yet; only some 100,00 are actively involved in attending church on a regular basis. How do we as active churchgoers reach out to and attract this inactive Lutherans and encourage them to become more active? Well, as you all know, there are a lot of different answers and different ways of approaching this question. Overall though, I do not think there is a consensus on how best to do this. Moreover, I doubt whether there will ever be a complete consensus—as each church needs to deal with the question in light of their own unique demographics and circumstances; utilizing their specific resources and gifts as a congregation in their particular community.
As a pastor, reading the appointed psalm for today, I believe there are several clues for us as God’s people that instruct us in this matter. Psalm 105 is most likely a liturgical psalm, used on some special occasion or other. Some scholars believe that it was a psalm created specifically for the occasion of a covenant renewal ceremony. In other words, the setting of this psalm is that of the worshipping community of ancient Israel. Worship for the ancient Israelites was extremely important. It kept them in touch with God, the true source of all life.
Maybe, in part at least, the answer to our question how do we as active churchgoers reach out to and attract inactive Lutherans and encourage them to become more active—maybe the answer is closely related to communicating to them how worship and life go together; how one is incomplete without the other; how both complement each other. It does seem that in our society today, there is a considerable number of people who are seekers. Many of these seekers do believe in God, but somehow don’t seem to connect with institutional or traditional religions and faiths. Maybe if we were able to articulate how worship moulds and shapes us as God’s people this might draw some seekers back into the church. Today’s psalm provides us with at least three clues concerning the importance of worship for us. Let’s explore those three clues a little now.
First, worship allows us to feed our souls and our relationship with God. In obedience to God’s commandment to keep the Sabbath day holy, we are given an oasis in the desert. Worship, if we participate fully in it, avails us all of a new energy from God our Source of life. By basking in the sheer Presence of God, our lives are given a renewed faith, hope and love to serve God by serving one another in our everyday world. Hopefully in the reading, study of and preaching of the word; in the sharing of the Lord’s meal; in the singing of hymns, in the offering of our prayers; in the sharing with other brothers and sisters of Christ we are fed and nurtured, inspired and renewed in our relationship with God. I know from my personal experiences that on many occasions, there have been times when I just did not feel like going to worship the LORD, church was the last place I really want to be. Yet, lo and behold, it has often been precisely at those times that I’ve most needed to worship the LORD and go to church. Such times have, more often than not, surprised me by proving to be times of blessing and renewal for me; times when my soul has been fed abundantly and my relationship with God has flourished.
The second clue in our psalm that worship is so important for us all is that it gives us a clearer focus or vision. For example, in worship; in praising God; in rejoicing in God’s presence; we are more likely to remember who God is and what God has done for us. We, like the psalmist and ancient Israel are able to remember the wonderful works he has done. In our psalm, in particular, how God worked among his people by their remembering of the story of Joseph. This story of Joseph is full of drama, as we learn in our first lesson today. Joseph is Jacob’s favourite son. All the other sons of Jacob are rather jealous of Joseph because of their dad’s expressions of favouritism towards Joseph. So they plot against Joseph, first to kill him, but then Reuben is able to restrain the other brothers’ anger and resentment towards Joseph by resolving to place Joseph in a pit. Then some foreigner traders come along, remove Joseph from the pit, and sell him into Egyptian slavery. The psalmist reminds us then how God acted and intervened in a chain of events to deliver Joseph out of his slavery and gain favour with the Pharaoh—eventually rising to power in Pharaoh’s court by becoming the Prime Minister of Egypt.
When we gather for worship, we too are invited to remember what God has done in our lives for us. Have there been times in our lives when we, like Joseph have been rescued from dangers or even from various forms of slavery? Have there not been times too in our lives, when we like Joseph have received many blessings because God has acted on our behalf and has rescued and delivered us? Have there been times in our lives when we, like Joseph have been favoured by the LORD and the tables were turned? Have there not been times when the LORD has acted to bless us by moving us out of what we thought was a hopeless situation into a very hopeful one? It is in remembering what the LORD has done, is doing, and will do for us that our hearts and lives well up with a deep sense of gratitude and joy in the greatness of our God.
The third clue concerning the importance of worship for us grows out of the second one—in that worship helps us, like it did the psalmist and ancient Israel to make known God’s deeds among all the peoples in the world. The message is, in other words, meant to be shared in and through our words and actions. Because we are so grateful, so thankful, so joyful over what our LORD has done for us; we shall want to respond by sharing this message with other people. Do we as God’s people give others the impression that God’s message is the most important and urgent message of all? Or do we share it reluctantly, without conviction or enthusiasm, as if it makes no real difference in life? Or do we give up too easily and decide not to share it at all?
In his helpful book A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, Eugene Peterson expresses this concern: “Our attention spans have been conditioned by thirty second commercials. Our sense of reality has been flattened by thirty page abridgements. It is not difficult in such a world to get a person interested in the message of the Gospel; it is very difficult to sustain that interest.”
In many areas we seem to have the I’m getting tired so let’s quit mentality and not just in the spiritual realm. Dieting is a discipline, so we stay fat. Finishing school is a hassle, so we bail out. Cultivating a close relationship is painful, so we back off. Walking through conflicts in a marriage is a tiring struggle, so we walk away. 1
As people of faith, we like ancient Israel need to constantly renew our covenant and commitment with God. We, like they, need to stick things out, in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health; God calls upon us to remain faithful and to share our faith with others over the long haul. This is likely best accomplished in and through loyal, long-term, committed friendships with others, which reflect the relationship that we are privileged to enjoy with our LORD.
In worship, may the LORD continue to bless us and feed our souls; keep our relationship with him alive and healthy; help us to remember and celebrate his work among us; and assist us in spreading his life-saving message to all peoples.