Why do Christians gather to worship? Christians gather in cities, the rich neighborhoods and the ghettos. They gather in the suburbs. They gather in rural country churches across our nation. They even gather in prisons.
Across the entire world Christians gather. In India Christians gather outside for worship in yellow, red, and purple dresses. In China, it is estimated the close to 100 million gather to worship throughout the week, many still in private house churches.
Our church here at St. Paul began when German immigrants began to gather at the Maywood Town Hall in 1874 – just down the street. And here we are, 135 years later. We may look very different, dress different, and talk different than those Germans. But here we all are – still coming to the same place.
Why do Christians keep gathering? Year after year? Is it for the music? Is it just for coffee hour? Is it just the instant coffee, donuts, and Danish? Is it just to see dear friends – or network with others?
If we wanted the best music, surely, many great options are out there. If we came here only for music, we may find a better venue with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. They have the finest instruments, the best repertoire - the best, most talented conductor. Or if we are looking for our favorite rock band, there are few places better than the House of Blues downtown Chicago. Where else can you pound a burger, drink a beer, and hear your favorite band!?
If we wanted the best coffee, I am sorry to inform, that Starbucks may have left us all behind on that front. They have lattes and mochas, cappuccinos and espressos. Our instant Maxwell House here, unfortunately, just cannot compete. If we are here for social networking, Rotary club or lions club may very well be more effective. There, you don’t have to wait for a long worship service to end, you can just move ahead with the meeting.
Why do we gather for worship? What keeps us coming back? If it is not just the music, or the coffee, or the friends, what is it? What makes all this different? Why is what we do here so special? What do we get here than we do not receive elsewhere? Why have faithful Christians at this congregation continued to rise up early and come here.
We gather because we know that things are not all how they should be. Too much has gone wrong. Things are not all alright. In one way or another, help is needed. There is too much depression in the family. There has been too much crying. Too many dark nights. Too much loneliness. In too many areas of life we have come up short. We have disappointed others and we have disappointed ourselves.
There is something that the finest music cannot accomplish for us. There is something needed that our favorite rock band will not grant us. There is something that the grandest coffee hour, or trip to Starbucks cannot give us. There is something we need that the Lions club or elk lodge cannot deliver to us.
None of these things or places can forgive us our sins. Only one man can do that. And he chooses to do it in His church. “Father, forgive us for our sins.” This is the one thing needful. The Germans who met 130 years ago at the Maywood townhall met for this reason. This is why Christians throughout the world come out, even in the face of persecution to worship. It is not just for music, or coffee, or friendship. The come to meet the risen Lord, fresh from the grave. They come to worship because they need Jesus. They need forgiveness. They need the crucified and resurrected Christ.
It never ceases to amaze me that God continues to speak that word of forgiveness, every time our ears are open to it. The greatest surprise in Christian worship is forgiveness. The greatest source of joy is that when Christians ask for forgiveness, they receive that which they ask for, without exception. Ask and you shall receive, our Lord says. Time after time, He speaks it again and again. “I forgive you, I love you.”
God makes the unaccepted, acceptable to him through the forgiveness freely offered in Jesus Christ. We can never move beyond the joys of the forgiveness of sins. It is the heart and center of worship. To ask for forgiveness gives God the highest praise for this is what He wants to hear. And this is why He came in the first place. When we pray “Forgive us our trespasses” this is the finest chorus and grandest symphony orchestra. This simple petition – this desire to receive from God is how he loves to be honored and worship. At this petition all the angels in heaven rejoice.
Christians gather to worship because they need Christ and his gifts. We need Christ. The object of our devotion is Christ. And our desire it to have what he freely gives. Here, he is given and shed “for you.” Here, he locates himself in a spoken Word that does everything it is set out to do. He locates himself in bread and wine, eaten and drunk right here, for the forgiveness of sins.
As Christians, we can never tire from receiving forgiveness. We have constant need for it. For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is life and salvation. Here there is true freedom and true comfort. And this is why we all keep coming back. And thank God, He is always here to meet us. In the name of Jesus. Amen.