Highworth United Reformed Church
Here for you
Are you glad to come to Church?
By the Revd Alan Cassingham
“I was glad when they said unto me, 'Let us go into the House of the Lord'”
“I was glad...”
Well! Were YOU glad to come along to Church today?
What is so special about it?
We may be able to appreciate a little how much the anticipation of worship at the Jerusalem Temple mean to the Psalmist. Its special grandeur and deep significance for the Hebrew meant so much to him! So, what about us, who are invited to share in the public worship of God's people, Sunday by Sunday – often in surroundings a good deal less than grand!
What I want to do now is to get us to look beyond the external shell of a building to see what may be offered through our worship. We are, I am sure, well aware that the Church is currently very much the target of a good deal of negative criticism, and not just from militant atheists either! Quite a lot comes from within the Church. I am aware that I have done it myself, and, yes, we do fail to be what the Church as the Body of Christ on earth ought to be! Seeking humbly the mind of Christ as Scripture points out to us we are called to be faithful to what we see in the life and teaching of Jesus, and this should inform our worship. I believe in the Church, more than ever, in spite of all our human failures, even though it needs constant reformation. And here our worship ought to play a crucial role.
We often claim that our first act in worship is to adore Him. That is praise plus! Many years ago I heard the Senior Chaplain of the R.A.F. at the time describe it as “wallowing” in God! Just letting a sense of His presence overwhelm and infiltrate our very beings! I believe this is an important aspect of Christian worship.
However, we often come for other reasons. Comfort – Assurance – Forgiveness – Healing – Fellowship – Encouragement. Though adoration may hopefully play its part in our worship, it may not always be uppermost in our minds!
It does seem that more and more people are asking what it is the Church has to say out of the tumult of our times. Many of us may discern the Lord's activity in our midst – like the concern for the poor and deprived in our world – but it is not always so readily discernible. We do need help and guidance in interpreting the “signs of the times!” There are so many pressures these days which make people obsessed with themselves! The place of prayer is forsaken – psychiatric clinics are crowded. There seems no time for meditation – frenzy takes the place of poise. The effects may be seen in much contemporary art, drama, music, literature, journalism! Extravagance, impatience and sensationalism intrude almost every area of life. (Witness the Leveson inquiry, as we learn dreadful things about the media, especially the news media!) With the bombardment of both subtle and unsubtle appeals to selfish and base instincts mounting in ferocity, minds become punch drunk, tempers fray and energy is exhausted! Fidelity in marriage and happiness in domestic life can become increasingly difficult. Divorce can seem the easy way out, and the family falls apart into separate and sometimes hostile units! And this can affect Christian folk who, under the pressure of our busy world can easily become spiritually 'undermined'.
If we have noting to lift our thoughts to the heights, nothing to appeal to our deepest selves, nothing to see life in any kind of perspective, we become miserable introverts, a torment to ourselves and a problem to family and friends!
I believe it is the worship of God which can lift our hearts to a new dimension.
Bernard Thorogood, once General Secretary of the United Reformed Church, wrote that to “re-instate the experience of awe, adoration and union with Christ is a very demanding challenge to all the Churches in our chips and coca-cola culture; in our computerised lives and enormously complex nations”.
In a world of increasingly complicated technology it is easy to feel of little accounts – a long number on a machine, not a unique personality. Our society seems to become more and more remote and impersonal.
Although I use a computer I am not one of its greatest fans, for it seems to make our society more impersonal than ever! However, I was interested to hear of a Roman Catholic priest going into a new parish. He had instituted a survey on what his people wanted in their Church life. The findings were processed by a computer, but the programmer, who was acutely aware of the problems, said the priest wanted to see all the forms so that he might see what individuals are actually saying. He wanted to be aware of the needs, the cries for help or prayers of praise, beyond the bare statistics! As the programmer remarked: “We must be masters of our technology, not let it master us” - which is, alas, what happens far too often! Worship deals with the personal! Our public worship is to be a flag waved as a reminder to us all that there are standards, values and truths, far beyond those created by our consumer society!
The Church must not be afraid to stand for those things which are eternal and true. Totalitarian regimes are hostile to worship because it points so characteristically to an authority above the state's! In the old Czeckoslovakia ministers were required to submit the text of each service in advance to the authorities. The appeal to have a loudspeaker in the churchyard for a festival service was rejected. Worship was to be watched, regulated, censored because the state authority could not accept the public proclamation of a higher power! Often, when democratic processes no longer work, people discover in the life of the Church a resonance, an assurance of the worth of each person and the hope of God for each one!
We say such denial of rights cannot happen here, but if the Church, in the name of the Gospel, does not take a firm stand in the face of blatant appeals from influential voices encouraging greed and selfishness, then who can really be sure it won't happen here!.
Our worship stands contrary to all who would deny the reality of faith and the preciousness of persons!
Above all else, worship declares: HERE IN GOD'S PRESENCE YOU CAN KNOW THAT YOU COUNT IN HIS SIGHT! HERE you can find eternal truth. HERE receive a vision of what life may be.
Often we talk of our evangelical witness and agonise over how we should do it! Surely the reality of doors open, a genuine welcome and a glimpse of the wonder of Jesus IS already an evangelical witness which is happening NOW. Think of it like that and – yes – we want to do it better – but witnessing we are – already!
So worship is an offering which replies to God's gift and in humble and grateful recognition asks that we be worthy of His great and atoning love.
“Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were an offering far too small; love so amazing, so divine, shall have my soul, my life, my all”. Thanks be to God! AMEN