Whenever you are watching a sporting event or a movie with a large group of people, there is inevitably that one person who sort of wanders in and out of the room, or who arrives late, but who always expects someone to catch them up on the action when they finally sit down. I usually oblige the best I can and quickly summarize the high points before getting back to enjoying it again. I never say what I’m really thinking, which is, “If you really cared about what’s been going on, you would have been paying attention.”
Of course, faithful attentiveness to movies and football games is not something I think we need to spend a lot of time correcting. People are free to enjoy those things at their own pace in their own way. There is a big problem, though, when we approach the most important thing in all of life with the same attitude of casual non-interest.
The worship of our Creator and Redeemer is the highest and most important duty in all of life. And yet Christians routinely treat the gathering of the saints just as they would a movie or a game. We think, “It’s fine if you can make it and you feel good enough to go, and you have nothing else going on, but it’s okay if you skip it too. You probably won’t miss anything.”
How do you know what you have or have not missed? Who is there to “catch you up?” How many times have you been in worship and found something in the sermon, something in the scripture reading, something in a prayer be precisely what you needed to convict or encourage you in a particular area? What if you slept in that day? Not only would you have missed it, but you wouldn’t even have known what you missed.
As a pastor, I care about what is going on in the lives of people in the congregation, and often in sermon preparation I will come to a point that I feel like I need to word something carefully in a powerful way to address exactly the thing that a family or a person is struggling with. I pray over it. I write and rewrite. Or I will come across something that is perhaps too raw or too tender to address because of a pain someone is experiencing that they may have shared only with me. Not wanting to “break a bruised reed”, and not wanting to make the person feel like I am shining a spotlight on them, I will back off and go a different direction. And whenever I have spent hours of prayer and study hoping to address some particular need in a sensitive or convicting way, almost without fail the person I was so concerned about isn’t there to hear the sermon.
Now I’m not personally offended by that. The Holy Spirit is at work in the preaching of the Word, and I trust that there’s a good chance that my particular approach was a help to other people in the congregation.
But I can’t help but feel a sense of loss for them. They missed out, and very often it isn’t for great reasons. They will never catch up, they will never hear what was meant for them and they will never even know that they missed something.
As a child of God, you require the regular ministry of Word and Sacrament in your life. Not only do you need to confess your sins, hear the word and eat at the Lord’s table, but we need you there with us as we do these things. Your presence is a vital encouragement to the other saints. In worship Jesus is speaking to and eating with His people. Is there anything in the world that could make us want to miss that?