Do you know the joyful sound - or the "festal shout" as Ethan the Ezrahite puts it in Psalm 89 NRSV - of God's covenant people?
On Sunday, I was in a 5-week Sunday school class, What is Worship? led by a Jesus movement leader John Fischer. This was the 4th class session. In earlier weeks, using the story of Jesus' encounter with the Samaritan woman, John had led us in a discussion of the characteristics of worship and how true worship is 24/7 and happens anywhere. Now, he opened the class with a question: If we can worship Jesus anywhere, why do we come to church? Well, I'd just completed writing What is Church? the previous day. My hand shot up and I precociously rattled off my personal reasons for coming to church: 1) to be instructed (in sound doctrine), 2) to experience Christ (Jesus promised that he's present when 2 or 3 of us meet), 3) obey God's commandments (to honor the Sabbath), 4) get a taste (a preview of heavenly life), and 5) to build the body of Christ. Guess how John answered the question?
"These are all great answers," said John. "Let's get a few more."
So we went around the room and had a pretty good discussion; you can listen to it online - details are given at the end.
"I come to be centered in God. To be reminded of what's really important in life."
"I come for the corporate aspect, to meet friends and worship God with them." It turns out a lot of people came for this corporate aspect.
Finally, John said, "All these are good but I think of coming to church a little differently. I come to church to celebrate being found, filled, forgiven and freed."
Come to Church to Celebrate. Celebrate. Celebrate. As John elaborated, my mind's eye saw a movie of myself, getting ready for church with alacrity, eager to come and be with others like myself who were once lost but since then found by God, continually being filled by Jesus Christ with rivers of living water, "darn big sins" forgiven, and set free from sin to live a life of total freedom and holiness. I have definitely known my life as becoming more and more of a celebration the older I have grown, but I hadn't quite realized how much of a celebration - a festal shout-out to God and the joyful sounds of a people of God - is packaged into the faithful act of regular Sunday church worship.
Happy are the people who know the festal shout, who walk, O Lord, in the light of your countenance; they exult in your name all day long, and extol your righteousness. Psalm 89.15-16
Listen to John's audio sermon from the Irvine Pres Adult Education Audio archive (week 4) and read the class notes using #worshipchatipc (search on google or twitter with that hashtag to get the notes).
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