Does It Matter Where We Worship?
Scriptures: I Kings 12:25-33; Deuteronomy 12:8-14
My last hope for job security is fading. I had always
thought that no matter how many people decided to get their religion on the internet, I would still have a job, because you can't take communion online. You can't receive communion via Twitter or Instagram or Netflix. There is no communion app for IPhone or Android. You can only receive communion in person from a pastor.
Or so I thought. This week I went on the website for
Saddleback Church, the megachurch in Southern California led by Rick Warren. On their site I found a link labeled "Take Communion Online with Us." I clicked on it and found the follow instructions: 1) Purchase grape juice (they did not list an option for wine), 2) Purchase bread or baked crackers, and 3) Be ready at home with your elements. It then says, "The teaching pastor will direct you through properly receiving communion. All you need to do is follow along online."
How great is that? You can take communion at home in your pajamas.
Of course, some may have qualms about partaking of communion elements not blessed by an ordained minister, but you can also take care of that online. I Googled "get ordained" and found a number of sites that will ordain you as a minister without leaving home. One is called United National Ministry. Their website says,
The ordination process starts with a short online application form where you provide basic information about yourself and choose your desired title of Pastor, Minister, Chaplain, Reverend, or Wedding Officiant. Then you complete the process by selecting one of our ordination packages and complete checkout.
You can get ordained at home in your pajamas. You don't need me or
Aaron or this church to serve you communion. You can do it all yourself.
Which, in essence, is what Jeroboam did. Last week we read
how Jeroboam led the ten northern ten tribes of Israel in a rebellion against King Rehoboam, who reigned as king in Jerusalem. But Jeroboam was worried. He feared that if the people of northern Israel continued to worship God at the temple in Jerusalem, where they normally worshiped, they might be drawn back into following King Rehoboam. So he started his own church-verse 28: "So the king took counsel, and made two calves of gold. He said to the people, 'You have gone up to Jerusalem long enough. Here are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.'"
To go with this new religion, Jeroboam built his own new
churches and appointed his own clergy. Verse 31: "He also made houses on high places and appointed priests from among all the people, who were not Levites." That is an important detail because the Levites were the ones God told Moses to ordain for the purpose of leading worship in the temple along with the priests. But Jeroboam appointed his own priests who, not surprisingly, went along with whatever Jeroboam wanted to do. Verse 33: "He [Jeroboam] went up to the altar that he had made in Bethel on the fifteenth day in the eighth month, in the month that he alone had devised; he appointed a festival for the people of Israel, and he went up to the altar to offer incense." Jeroboam not only created his own place of worship but he ordained himself as its chief priest. How convenient is that?
And that's the problem. When we worship God on our own, we
end up creating a God of our own liking, and a religion to go with it. We become our own privately ordained ministers speaking to ourselves the word we most want to hear. There is no community of faith, no voice outside our own head, to hold us accountable, to call us back to the one true God.
Earlier in the Old Testament, the people of Israel are
warned against this kind of thing. In our first scripture reading from Deuteronomy 12, Moses says, "Take care that you do not offer your burnt offerings at any place you happen to see. But only at the place that the Lord will choose in one of your tribes." The reason is given above in verse 8: "You shall not act as we are acting here today, all of us according to our own desires." When we worship God on our own apart from the community of faith, we end up worshiping a god of our own creation, our own golden calf.
In a book called Habits of the Heart, sociologist Robert Bellah
interviews a young nurse named Sheila Larson. She tells Robert Bellah, "I can't remember the last time I went to church, [but] my faith has carried me a long way. It's Sheilaism. Just my own little voice."
That's what happens when we worship God on our own. We end up with a
god of our own making, and we miss out on the real God-the God who set us free from bondage, who led us through the wilderness, who brought us to the Promised Land, the God who sent Jesus to give his life for us and who raised him from the dead that we might have new and everlasting life with him. If the only time you worship God is at home in your pajamas you miss out on that, and you end up with a lesser god of your own making, your own golden calf, your own "Sheilaism."
Which is why I think we still need this church and why we still need
to come together in this place to worship. It is certainly true that you can worship God in other places. You can and should worship God at home; you can and should worship God in nature. But we come to this place to remember who the God is that we worship in all those other places. And we come here to meet that God. Because real communion takes a community of faith gathering together in person to share it, just like real ordination to ministry takes a community of faith gathering together in person to do it, as we did last Sunday for Aaron Willett.
It is like the difference between online dating and real dating. I
have done weddings for people who met online. You have to be careful about online relationships, but for some people an online relationship is a good way to start a real relationship. But how tragic it would be if the online relationship was all there was. An online marriage would be a huge disappointment, and a virtual honeymoon would be a sorry substitute for the real thing.
So it is with communion. I recognize that sometimes people can no
longer come to church for communion. In those cases the deacons and I take communion to them in their homes or nursing homes. But it is still the community of faith sharing communion with them in person together.
And that is the key. Real communion is personal; it's communal; it's
here at this table where the Lord who sat with his first disciples also comes to sit with us.