Show me your ways, Lord,Psalm 25
teach me your paths.
Guide me in your truth and teach me,
for you are God my Savior,
and my hope is in you all day long.
One of the things we do when we visit my dad is sing hymns. Both my parents love them, and it is amazing how many of the verses pour out from dad’s memory, even when he is having trouble stringing two words together in regular conversation.
Typically I ask them to choose something, and then I find it on YouTube. I try to play U.K. renditions when possible, and the best are often when I can grab a recording from the BBC television program, Songs of Praise.
One day this week we listened to Guide Me Oh Thou Great Jehovah, singing along with the congregation (and visitors) at a church in Cardiff, Wales. This was particularly wonderful because the sanctuary, with its three-sided balcony, looked exactly like the Folkestone church where I grew up.
What struck me was the fact that the church was packed full with local people, all singing their hearts out. Joy on their faces, tears streaming down their cheeks, lifting their heads to sing like they meant it. “Lost,” as the writer of Love divine, all loves excelling puts it so well, “in wonder, love, and praise”.
This is a scene repeated throughout the British Isles. The highly rated BBC program ran for decades, with Songs of Praise filmed in church buildings of all denominations. The events were wildly popular. People who typically did not attend church showed up and joined the regulars; their spirits touched and their souls fed as they experienced everything that is beautiful about worship.
This is my focus today. These enthusiastic folk could all return to the church the next week, and the next, and have exactly the same experience! They could receive the kind of soul nourishment they crave and their hearts could be full! But they don’t. Even though they need it, they want it, their souls long for it, and it would transform their lives. But, no.
In a similar story, there is a scene that played out almost every Easter, and Christmas, and Youth Sunday, and Confirmation Sunday (and other “special” services) in the congregations Rebekah and I served.
When the service (typically packed to overflowing) was over, I would often find myself talking with folk who were worshipping in our church for the first time.
“This was wonderful!” they would say; “If church was like this every week then we would always be here!”
And then, before I could formulate an appropriate response, some young family from our church would overhear and jump in…
“But it is like this every week! Rebekah never holds back, the choir is great every Sunday, the sanctuary is always full with enthusiastic people! This is not unusual!”
This is what it is like to be part of a vibrant, engaged, positive, invitational, all-about-Jesus faith community.
In other words, why would anyone wake up on a Sunday morning and do anything other than show up at their local church, sing their hearts out in praise, be inspired by stories of faith, listen to a challenging, encouraging message, and feel the dynamic pulse of the heartbeat of God’s ongoing work?
This, friends, is my word to you today. We live in a sad, fragmented, bitterly divided, decaying culture that is steadily moving away from authentic community and into angry isolation. We need one another in every possible way. If we want to save America, if we want to heal this world, then community worship may be the best possible intervention.
So let’s get into the attending business, and the inviting business too. We need this – all of us, and the world needs this too; we need it today – DEREK