Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The 2nd Sunday of Easter: The Practice of Worship

Brothers and Sisters in Christ: Greetings and thank you for your faithful participation in St. Paul’s worship life. I look forward to being back in the office this week and being with you here next Sunday. I have had a “memorable” week off renovating my kitchen. I had hoped to have it back in a functional condition by today, but you know what they say about the best laid plans… Unfortunately for me, a finished kitchen appears to be no where in my future. Unfortunately for all of you, copious amounts of sermon illustrations are bound to arise from this experience. The real question is who will tire of this project first: me, working on it, or all of you having to hear about it.

The assigned reading from the gospel on the Sunday after Easter is always the story of Jesus’ first resurrection appearance to the disciples. It takes place in the early evening of Easter Sunday. The small band of faithful followers have heard the report of the empty tomb from the women and had it verified by Peter and John. No one is quite certain what it means and Mary’s story of meeting Jesus in the burial garden is puzzling to be sure. Perhaps the best words to describe this group are fearful, bewildered, and grieving.

And then the Crucified One appears in their midst as Resurrected. It begins a transformative process that converts the disciples into people forgiven for their lack of faithfulness and empowered to preach a message that will change the course of human history. One feature of this story stands out: Thomas, who became known as “The Doubter”, was not there that night. He did not experience what happened and, quite understandably, had a difficult time accepting what everyone told him about it. It was a classic “You should have been here!” moment.

If memory serves, 221 people attended services at St. Paul’s last Sunday. It was a magnificent day; accompanied by beautiful music and a thundering herd of flower-bearing children. I always appreciate the opportunity to renew our Baptismal Vows on Easter Sunday. Wanting to be on my best behavior for such a large crowd I stuck to the prayer book text:

Will you continue in the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in the prayers?

“I will with God’s help” came the massive response. Believe me, I was sorely tempted at that point to stop, look over the congregation, and say, “Really folks, just how many of you plan to be here next Sunday?”

In today’s gospel reading there is just one simple difference between Thomas and the rest of the disciples. They showed up and he didn’t! The disciples were impacted not be a moving sermon or by a special anthem, nor did they hear insightful teaching that changed their lives. Simply put, they were at the right place at the right time. And Thomas was not.

There are many elements that are important to the practice of the Christian faith. Some are moral, like treating others a manner in which you would like to be treated. Some are spiritual, like praying the Lord’s Prayer. Today’s reading highlights the practice of regular participation in worship and in the fellowship life of a faith community. Being here every Sunday has a way of shaping us and strengthening our faith. We could not be the people we are if we attended worship just a handful of times over the course of the year.

Not every Sunday’s service is life-changing. There are weeks when we walk away no difference than when we walked in. Maybe the sermon was esoteric. Maybe the hymns were dreary. Maybe you were too distracted by other concerns to engage fully. Maybe the God’s Spirit just did not move. There are Sundays like that. But then there are the other Sundays when the Resurrected One appears in our midst and world is made new. The problem is we just don’t know which service we are going to get on any given Sunday. The only way to ensure that you will be here for the ones that are powerful is to be here for them all – to embrace the practice of regular worship.

What a strange message for me to deliver to the faithful remnant of the 223 on a Sunday when I myself am not even here. Please know that as you gather few in number and mighty in spirit that you are doing something important. It is important that praise to God is said and sung in this place each Sunday. It is important that God’s word is read here each week. It is important that prayers are offered regularly for all who celebrate and for those in any need or trouble. And who knows, perhaps something will happen this morning that will lead you to say to me next Sunday, “Keith, you missed it. You should have been here because...”

May God bless you today and throughout this week. I look forward to worshiping with you again in seven days.

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