A Matter of Life and Death

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While studying this week for our sermon on obedience to Christ’s commands (John 15:10-14, “Obey My Commands”), I’ve come across the text of a sermon from Ephesians 5:21ff preached by William Willimon on the topic of submission. While discussing how the world has subtly attacked the Christian¬†doctrine of submission and declared war on our lives of obedience, Willimon speaks about the importance of our Sunday morning worship gatherings. He calls our worship assemblies “a matter of life and death.”

A couple of years ago, I was invited to preach in the congregation where a friend of mine serves. The congregation is located in the heart of one of our great cities. The congregation is entirely black people who live in the tenement houses in that part of the city. I arrived at eleven o’clock, expecting to participate in about an hour of worship. But I did not rise to preach until nearly twelve-thirty. There were hymns and gospel songs, a great deal of speaking, hand-clapping, singing. We did not have the benediction until nearly one-fifteen. I was exhausted.

“Why do black people stay in church so long?” I asked my friend as we went out to lunch. “Our worship never lasts much over an hour.”

He smiled. Then he explained, “Unemployment runs nearly 50 percent here. For our youth, the unemployment rate is much higher. That means that, when our people go about during the week, everything they see, everything they hear tells them, ‘You are a failure. You are nobody. You are nothing because you do not have a good job, you do not have a fine car, you have no money.’

“So I must gather them here, once a week, and get their heads straight. I get them together, here, in the church, and through the hymns, the prayers, the preaching say, ‘That is a lie. You are somebody. You are royalty! God has bought you with a price and he loves you as his Chosen People!’

“It takes me so long to get them straight because the world perverts them so terribly.”

Paganism is the air we breathe in this current world; consumerism is the water we drink; individualism and imperialism are the oxymoronic values that shape us. These things capture us, they convert our kids, they subvert¬†us Christians. We live in a hostile place for discipleship. That’s what makes our congregations, our communities of faith, and our appointed times of corporate worship, a matter of life and death.

We must regularly speak together about God in a world that lives as if there is no God. We must talk to one another as beloved brothers and sisters in a world which encourages us to live as strangers. We must pray to God to give us what we can’t have by our own efforts in a world that teaches us we are self-sufficient and all-powerful. What we do together on Sundays matters a great deal.

Peace,

Allan

4 Comments

  1. Rob's Dad

    I don’t question the value of worship however I do have a question about the day. Does it really matter if it’s Sunday morning? Could Saturday evening do just as well?

    let’s all hold a good thought for Matty – I am reeeaaally worried about this.

  2. Allan

    Yes, I believe Sunday morning matters a great deal. Sunday is resurrection day. It’s the day God’s Holy Spirit brought our Lord and Savior back from the grave and defeated sin and death once and for all. For more than 1,950 years, Sunday has been the historical, traditional day for God’s people to come together in his presence, in the name of Jesus, to worship and celebrate our salvation. Sunday has always been the day to remind and rehearse the great salvation story. It has everything to do with the Resurrection, the single most important event in the history of the world.

    Of course, corporate worship of our God is good and right and valuable and transformative any day or night of the week. Duh. Communing with our God and his people around the common table of our Lord is critical to our development and maturity in Christ. In fact, the more the better. The first Christians did it every day. I’m not sure why we think we need it any less. But I don’t think Saturday ever truly substitutes for the “Lord’s Day.”

    This is not a perfect analogy but…

    To me, it’s like celebrating Christmas four weeks early, like in late November or the first week in December. Sometimes we’re forced to do that because of schedules and travel and in-laws and other outside factors. Yes, it’s good to be together with family. It’s good and right to share that time and those meals and to give the gifts and tell the stories. It’s great. But it’s just not the same. It’s never as good as it really is on Christmas Day.

    Substituting Saturday for Sunday is like sprinkling instead of immersing, like a crumb of cracker and a sip of juice instead of a full meal, like going to an Independence Day fireworks show on July 2nd. There’s nothing wrong with it at all. In fact, there’s lots of good about it. It just lacks some of what was originally intended.

  3. adair

    great post allan. although the ways the world is tearing folks down in suburban churches may be more subtle, we too need our time in worship & community to recharge for the battles coming our way as we start the new week.

  4. Elleta Wilson

    I have been sick for the past 2 weeks causing me to miss worship 2 Sundays in a row. I have been at home this entire time, not out in the world witnessing and experiencing the evil and corruption that is running rampant. And yet, I have noticed that I am not as at peace and nor do I have the same attitude that I normally have when I am able to worship with God’s family. And that has happened just from missing 2 Sundays. And I was here, safe in my home, praying and deep in God’s Word. Not out in the world. I will pray even more now for those who are out there battling Satan on almost a daily basis.

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