“Presence” is a word worthy of reflection, especially in the Christian Church. Technology has covertly taken its place. I was present with my grandson on his birthday – when he was in Illinois and I was in Indiana. I was present with a pastor friend in Florida. We talked to each other, but I was here and he was there. In both cases, there was something missing. I can’t give my grandson a kiss or hold him. I can’t see the smiling face of my pastor-friend. The third dimension is gone and so is the magnetism that comes through a real presence.
When a Christian worships, a Christian enters the presence of God. As the Son of God is eternally in the presence of His Father (“And the Word was with God and the Word was God.”), we are privileged to enter the presence of God through the Son as these words are spoken: “In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” In the presence of the Son of God, God literally speaks to us in His Word, in the liturgy, in the three-dimensional face-to-face with Christ as He talks to us in preaching, as He comes physically in His sacramental body and blood. Among us He is present both as the priest and as the sacrificial lamb.
But people often feel that when it comes to a relationship with God, “presence” is neither necessary nor important. Church worship has taken on a type of “cell phone” mentality – the idea being that we can take God with us wherever we go. We just dial him up in our minds – a little prayer here, and a little thought about God there, and this is the same thing as “presence.” Not so.
A king gives a feast. He invites many to come. Some of them make excuses. “I just got married.” “I bought a cow.” Not only does the king respond by extending the invitation to the “unworthy” out on the highways and byways to fill his banquet hall, but he rejects those who were invited but played hookie with his gracious invitation. They were too important. Their needs trumped the honor of the king. Little did they realize that they would never enter his presence again.
It is hard for me to beat the drum for the attention of the minds and souls of my beloved flock, but I must ask each of us – myself included – are we letting the world covertly, subtly, change our way of thinking about our relationship with God? First Article of the Creed: “He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, all my members…my reason and senses…clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home…He richly and daily gives me all that I need to support this body and life.” But when it comes to returning and giving thanks, as only one of the ten lepers did, bowing before Jesus, worshipping with such profound thankfulness – well, isn’t it good enough to give him a “thanks-call” on the way to the game, or the store, or wherever and whatever is more important than entering the presence of God?
Even more so, the Second Article: “He has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person. Purchased and won me from all sin, death and the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with his holy precious blood and his innocent suffering and death.” Imagine what it was like to be a slave during the 1800’s in the United States and what it meant to be purchased and set free. We have been purchased from sin, death and the eternity of hell by Jesus our Lord. What is the appropriate worship response? An hour or two each month? One Sunday out of three?
When those words of invocation are spoken, Christ comes truly and really, and He waits for you and me, inviting and calling, not perfect and sinless people, but broken sinners into His presence. His presence brings us into the third dimension of the Kingdom of God. As we learned in our Bible Study on Sunday morning, when we are in Christ’s presence, we are being remade in our inner persons – like a broken mirror being put together to reflect the image of the one standing before it. Christ’s “magnetism” draws out our Old Adam, kills him, takes away his power, and restores and refreshes us with a forgiven and cleansed person through His own life-giving Spirit.
Worship for the Christian, therefore, is not optional. Don’t let the world tell you differently and don’t let your Old Adam think that cell-phoning God once in a while will do the job. Think “presence.” And if and when you have a birthday party celebration – and no one comes – think about what God feels when you don’t. He loves you. Honor Him and “come into His presence with thanksgiving and His courts with praise.”
Your drum-beating pastor,