It Takes a Congregation: Pastor Brian Lowery
I lift up my eyes to the mountains. From where does my hope come? My hope comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved. He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is your keeper. The Lord is your shade on your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all evil. He will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forever more.
Good morning, Grace. My Name is Brian Lowery. I’m the young adults pastor here at the church. Seeing as Chip thought the commute was a little rough, I’m the guy you’re stuck with this morning. Right? So here we go. I wanted to spend some time in this psalm, and I think that even if we hadn’t broadcast which psalm this was that was being read in the midst of the video, I would suspect some of you out there would’ve known the psalm. It’s Psalm 121. It’s one of the most beloved psalms that we really have in the Psalms. I know, speaking for myself, this has always been one of the psalms that I have most cherished. I’ve really cherished Psalm 121 because of what it says.
If you were listening there, over and again what this psalm does is it speaks to us of the beautiful guardianship of God. Right? The compassionate, kind, loving, protective guardianship of God. The word that we sometimes translate from the Hebrew, we translate it “keep.” It really should be translated “guard.” And it’s just a beautiful psalm, and I’ve cherished it for that because we live in a world that is sometimes incredibly dark and very threatening one.
So I’ve cherished this psalm for what it says. What’s happened for me, though, is that in the last four, say, five years, I absolutely still cherish this psalm. But I have found myself maybe even more so being challenged by this psalm. I cherish the psalm for what it says. I am challenged by this psalm — as odd as it sounds — because of how I know this psalm would have been said by Israel when it was said long ago. Or maybe because when we talk about a psalm we’re talking about a song. How it was sung by Israel in her worship. It just says something so powerful. And it challenges me. It confronts me sometimes in my life. What I will say is it has become — Psalm 121 has become for me an apologetic. You know what I mean by that? A defense of this. A defense of this.
And when I’m talking about this, what I mean is Psalm 121 has become a really strong defense for the necessity of what happens in this place, in this hour, among us and through us. Right? Let me explain what I mean by this. Maybe you know this, that Psalm 121 is actually part of this really beautiful little bundle of psalms that we have that collectively are referred to as the Psalms of Ascent or the Songs of Ascent. If you had, actually, a print Bible with you — I know sometimes, obviously, we’ll put it up on the screen, and maybe you don’t bring a hard copy of the Bible with you. But if you had one, starting in Psalm 120 and all the way through Psalm 134, under all of those headers of the psalm, Psalm 120, 121, 122, there’s a subheading that says, “A Song of Ascent,” or, “A Psalm of Ascent.” So, collectively, the Psalms of Ascent.
Really, scholars have long debated what exactly this little collection, this little bundle of 15 psalms is. That’s what scholars do. They debate things. They have a lot of time. So they sit back, and they wonder, “What exactly were these psalms?” They really are kind of set apart in the midst of the whole book of Psalms. And where they have most conventionally, generally landed is that what we seem to have here is a collection of the 15 psalms that the people of God, that Israel would sing as she made her way to Jerusalem for one of the three major festivals back in the time of Jesus. Like, as Israel would gather up from the north, from the south, from the east, from the west, they would make their way into Jerusalem for Pentecost or for Passover or for the Feast of Tabernacles — or Booths. Whichever you want to call it. And they would come together. And on their way there — and remember, Chip said this a few weeks ago. He said when people would travel in the ancient world, they wouldn’t travel just one, two, three of them or maybe just one family. There would often be caravans of 100, 200 people coming from the north, south, east, and the west. And they’re coming to Jerusalem. And they would sing these songs along the way.
The way I’ve described it so far in the services is it’s almost like they had a church on wheels, right? It’s like traveling church. They would come together, and they would sing songs of celebration as they made their way to the celebration. And the reason why it’s called the Psalms of Ascent or the Songs of Ascent is because, quite literally, when you make your way into Jerusalem, you actually do have to go up a little bit. You have to make an ascent.
The folks over in Israel realized this. When they rolled into that old holy city of Jerusalem, you do actually go up a bit. Jerusalem rests upon kind of a plateau-ish foundation. This is why, in the Old Testament Scriptures, it’s often spoken of as going up to Jerusalem, going up to Mount Zion, going up to the holy city. And you literally ascend, hence the Psalms of Ascent. And the people would be singing these psalms as they travel, as they’re making their way over one, two, three, four days, maybe a week, two weeks to get there.
And the reason why I think it’s really important to keep that in mind is I think knowing that these are traveling songs, that they sang as they were making their way through the ancient climate in the Middle Eastern setting, I think that actually really shows the power of the opening verse of Psalm 121. What you’ve got is you’ve got one individual, it would’ve been someone who was probably walking to the front of the group of 100 or 200 people, who would, at some point, this guy or gal, cry out and start the song by saying this: “I lift up my eyes to the mountains. From where does my help come from?”
It’s powerful, mountains, because in the ancient world, mountains, there are few things more terrifying than the mountains. Because anyone who was traveling in the ancient world recognized all of the threats that the mountains held. I mean, really, I think the rest of the psalm really speaks to what the psalmist, this person in Psalm 121:1-2, has in mind when they’re talking about the things that are terrifying them. But, first and foremost, it would be this: For you to travel in that time in any kind of mountainous or hilly region, is for you to be under threat of being pounced on by robbers or thieves. Because in the ancient world, I mean, all the crags and the crevices of some of the rocky structures all around people traveling, that’s a perfect place for a robber to be splayed out and ready to pounce on some pilgrim who’s making their way to Jerusalem. To rob them of everything that they have and to possibly even murder them. This is why, when Jesus tells he parable of the Good Samaritan, no one bats an eye at a turn in the story where a poor guy traveling gets jumped by robbers and thieves. They were probably hanging out in some crag or crevice and jumped him and took everything he had and left him for dead.
And what the person in Psalm 121:1 is saying, “I lift my eyes to the mountains. I have no idea who’s there. Where does my help come from?”
Or I think it goes further. Again, I’ll point out in a moment here that I think the rest of the psalm also tells us what else this person in Psalm 121:1 has in mind that they’re so terrified by. It really is that when you’re looking up in the mountains or some kind of mountainous structure, your eyes are going up, up, up into the sky. And eventually, your eyes are going to be blinded by the sun staring back at you. The sun in the Middle Eastern world is public enemy number one. I mean, if you think robbers and thieves are bad, let’s talk about the ball of fire in the sky that will strip away at your scalp. It will suck you dry of water and dehydrate you. It sometimes could kill you as fast as a thief.
And so this person in Psalm 121:1 is saying, “I’m looking up toward the mountains, which has me looking to the heavens, which has me looking at this ball of fire and wondering where does my help come from. Do we have enough water? Are we going to be okay? Are we even going to get to the holy city?”
But I think it goes deeper than that. Again, the rest of the verse, as I’ll show you in a moment, really point this out as well. When you look at mountains — and maybe you’ve seen mountains in person — there’s something about it that is obviously just so awesome. But at the same time, it really is — it’s ominous, mountains are. And what has happened in the ancient culture is this idea of mountains, that geographical marker, becomes kind of a symbol for evil in a lot of contexts, because there’s just this feeling of in the mountains an evil lurks that we cannot see. And the feeling that as you’re traveling you feel like you’re being watched. It’s like some hound of hell that’s nipping at your heels, and it’s terrifying. In the ancient world, in fact, scholars are very quick to point out in this verse that mountains are where a lot of pagan religions would raise up pagan gods and they would gather to worship. And if they looked down through that mountainous region and they spot the people of Israel, they are excited to have a power encounter with them. Because if they can take out that group of 200 Israelites who are just saying their God is above all other gods, then our god is above their God.
It’s terrifying. And so you’ve got this person, this poor soul, this man or woman who stands up before the people and they set out on a trip. And they’re being a little bit of a Debbie Downer, if you’re honest here, because what they say to everyone is, “I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but we’re surrounded by mountains. They’re everywhere. And I don’t know what’s out there. Where does my help come from?”
And you’ve got to give a lot of credit to the guy and gal, because just as much as they raise a little bit of a problem for everyone that’s traveling with them, they do catch themselves and they say this:
“Well, I know that my help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”
It’s really a beautiful statement that’s being made here, because there they are, terrified at the mountains — and I love the statement that just said, “Mountains? I am helped by the one who made the mountains.”
And in many ways, it’s absolutely beautiful because what happens here is you’ve got that same guy or gal traveling in front of the 100 or 200 people, they’ve raised the confession, “I am terrified. A little help here would be nice. Oh, but I know that my help comes from the Lord my God, maker of heaven and earth. I know that my help comes from the Lord my God, maker of heaven and earth. I know.”
And they’re kind of talking to themselves. They’re trying to talk themselves into faith. They’re trying to steer themselves away from doubt and a crippling fear so that onward they would march. But let me ask you this question: When you’re terrified, how good are you at talking yourself into faith? Just you. How effective are you, waking up in the morning, when you just look at life with the dark turns that it has taken, and you can stand in front of that mirror in the bathroom and you can tell yourself over and over again, “I see the mountains and I’m terrified by what they hold, but my help comes from the Lord my God, maker of heaven and earth. My help comes from the Lord my God, maker of heaven and earth.”
And you have this resolve and it seems as rock solid as the mountains you’re terrified of, and then you go out into a storm of a day and you come back home and you think to yourselves, “Well, I don’t really know if I was onto anything when I said that, because it seems like it’s just gotten worse.”
So you’re saying to yourself, “I believe in the Lord my God. He is my protector. Is He? I mean, I know He is. Is He? He is. Is He?”
Have you ever tried to talk yourself into something? You’re terrible at it. I’m sorry. You are. I’m terrible at it, too. The good news is I’m maybe worse than you. Okay? Like, I take any situation in my life, I will look at it from every single angle and I will drive toward disaster every single time. If you ask my wife to describe me in one word, it would be “insufferable,” okay? Which this is a good spot for me to tell you that we are leading the young married small group. Alright?
But, like, I am really good at ducking and dodging every single statement of faith that I try to make to myself. I’m terrible at talking myself into faith. And the reason why you are too is because it takes a congregation. It takes a throng of voices to get you to actually believe what you think and hope you believe. This is where I get into the power of how this psalm would have been sung in the time it was first sung by Israel.
And look, I had not noticed this for years in this psalm. As much as I had cherished it, we even sang — this song was put to music and I remember singing it in youth group. I had never noticed something so incredibly powerful, the change that happens in this psalm. There’s a lot of things we don’t pay attention to, if we’re honest, in biblical texts. We skip past geographical markers, things like that. One of the things you and I don’t pay attention to is pronouns. Because they’re just pronouns. But there’s a big shift that happens after Psalm 121:1-2. Look at this. In Psalm 121:1-2, you’ve got first-person, singular pronouns. I. My. I’m talking to myself. But all the rest of the verses of this psalm, Psalm 121:3-8, you’ve got second-person, singular pronouns. You. Your. You. Your. Your. Your. Your.
There’s suddenly, in this psalm, this shift of direction as to who’s talking to who. Isn’t that strange? At one point, the man or woman in Psalm 121:1-2 is talking to themselves, but who’s talking to who in the rest of the verses with that shift in pronouns? Now, you keep in mind this is a Psalm of Ascent, so you’ve got that person that’s kind of leading the group of 100 or 200 people. Is it that maybe they’re talking in Psalm 121:1-2, but they’re still talking in Psalm 121:3-8? And they turn, then to the 100 or 200 people and they speak to them encouragement? That can’t be, because remember, I already told you these are singular pronouns. These are singular pronouns. So they’re not talking to 100 or 200 people.
So was it this? Now, this would be really weird. But is it this? Is it the person who’s leading the group and they’ve got some kind of resolve and then they just decide, “Well, I’m just going to turn to one person out of the two hundred and encourage them? The rest of you are on your own.”
That’s not very pastoral. What’s going on? What’s going on is that in Psalm 121:3-8, you’ve got the congregation speaking to the person in Psalm 121:1-2. What happens is that in Psalm 121:1-2, you have got one person who offers up this very cracked confession of whether or not there is a God who will bring hope, and then they have a declaration that, “Man, I do believe He’s there. He’s there somewhere. Isn’t He? I mean, He is. Is He? Is He?”
And then you’ve got 200 people traveling to Jerusalem who come alongside of this one man, this one woman, and they say, “No. You are onto something. What you’ve just said about the maker of heaven and earth who can make these mountains crumble, that is truth. Don’t you let go of it. Onward, you need to march.”
It’s the congregation speaking to the person who spoke out in Psalm 121:1-2. The voice of 200 people coming together. It is, in fancy terms, what scholars would call this is a responsorial psalm. That’s what most of the psalms sung by Israel were, really. Psalm 121 is not unique. You see this all over the psalms, and this is how they worshiped in the synagogue at that time and in the temple. And it’s beautiful what you would always have when they would come together to worship, whether it’s in a set place or they’re traveling to Jerusalem is you’ve got one man, one woman who stands up, and they are a stand-in — listen — for every individual that’s out there, and they offer up, with one singular voice, “I think we’re in trouble here.”
Or they’ll go further, and they’ll offer up, “But I think we’re going to be okay,” but everyone realizes that one voice is not enough, because the world is a terrifying and dark place. So the congregation knows their role. They come up around that person, they surround them, and they say, “You are onto something. Onward, we march.”
In fact, that’s what so beautiful in this psalm is that you’ve got the individual believer. I lift up my eyes to the hills. Where does my help come from? It seems to come from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. And then the congregation — and I love this, because if you listen to this, they systematically deal with every fear the person, the individual believe has in Psalm 121:1-2.
He will not let your foot be moved. That terminology that’s used in Hebrew really does speak to the dangers you have in traveling. It’s the idea of being struck down, of being attacked. It’s the stuff of robbers and thieves and crags and crevices that are looking to take you out. And they say to this individual, “Don’t you worry. Do not be afraid. He will guard you.”
Remember public enemy number one? The sun? Well, the Lord is your keeper. The Lord is your shade on your right hand. In fact, they go further and say, “You’re not even in danger because of the burning away at you by the moon itself, for the God who created them guards you. You are onto something. Onward, we march.”
The individual believer is scared of the evil, the hands of hell that just nip at their heels. Look at this: “The Lord will keep you from all evil.”
He is going to keep your life. He will keep your going out, your coming in from this time forth and forevermore. You’ve got this one person who’s terrified in Psalm 121:1-2 who says, “Where does our help come from? Is there any source of guardianship within this terrifying world?”
And the congregation comes around and this — I mean, this is powerful to me. It’s almost obnoxious, because in Psalm 121:3-8, you have the same Hebrew word used six times. And that word that we translate “keep,” remember I told you should be translated “guard.” You’ve got these people coming around after someone said, “Am I guarded here?”
And the congregation says, “You are guarded. You are guarded. You are guarded. You are guarded. You are guarded.”
Again and again and again. You hear that six times in six verses. Guess what? You start to believe it. It takes a congregation. So you’ve got, in the beauty of this, and the beauty of Israel’s worship and the way they sing it is the individual, that we are all the individual, expressing our terror and we come unto life and we’re slumped in our terror. And then the throng of the voices come around us and tell us that we’re guarded again and again and again. And it’s hard for me not to imagine, as they’re making their way to Jerusalem, the guy or the gal that was slumped one minute is just sauntering the next and saying, “Okay. Let’s go.”
So it takes a congregation. In fact, I will confess to you I have no idea. I have no idea if the order that these Psalms of Ascent have been given us is the original order that Israel had. And what I mean by that is I don’t know if they sang Psalm 120. Okay, now Psalm 121. Okay, not Psalm 122. But if they did sing it in the order we have it, to me it’s pretty awesome to go from 121 to 122. Because in Psalm 121:1-2, you’ve got an individual who is terrified and slumped, and then you have the congregation come around them, 200 voices strong, declaring the majesty and the truth of God in His sovereignty and His power. And then that same individual who’s the leader of the congregation who had said at one point they were scared, they come into Psalm 122 and call out to the people, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’”
Isn’t it beautiful how that comes together? I was glad when they said unto me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.” He’s glad, she’s glad because it takes a congregation. You know that, right? It takes a congregation. I know that.
April 23rd, 2011, my mom gives me a call. My wife and my daughter and I are planting a church on the west side of Indianapolis. My mom calls me up and says, “Brian, you need to come home. Your dad’s dying.”
For a little less than a year, my dad had been battling Stage 4 cancer, and my mom called that morning and said, “I could hardly get him to wake up. We took him to the ER. He’s been admitted. Brian, I need you to hear me. He’s not coming home.”
So I just threw everything I could think of in our little Hyundai Accent, and I just tore over there, three hours straight west, from Indianapolis to get to the little hometown I grew up in, Lincoln, Illinois. And I just raced up to the hospital room, and I sat there with my mom and my sister. And we talk and we pray and we cry and we laugh and we cry and we talk and we pray. And then mom sends us home to get some rest, my sister and I, and she says, “I’ll sit with your father through the night.”
So we go back to the house that I grew up in. We’re sitting around the kitchen table we had so many meals around. I’m talking with my sister, and she looks at me and she says, “Are we going to go to church tomorrow?”
And before she could even finish a sentence, I said, “No. I’m not going. I’m not going.”
And she looked at me with horror because she goes, “Brian, tomorrow is Easter Sunday. Like, everyone and their hamster goes to church on Easter Sunday. Like, we’ve got to. What are you talking about we’re not going to go?”
I fought with her back and forth and was like, “I just don’t want to deal with it. I don’t want to hear from anyone. I don’t want to see anyone. This is awful. What are you even talking about?”
And we fought and fought. And my sister is aggressively persuasive. Is that a nice way to put it? Aggressively persuasive. And so, finally, I said, “Fine. We will go to church.”
So I go to bed and, after a very fitful night of sleep, I remember waking up and getting ready to go to church and looking in the mirror and just starting to weep. And I’d never had it before. I had a full-on panic attack. I couldn’t breathe. Because outside of my wife and my daughter, the person who has meant more to me in my life is my father. And all of these things start to crash in on me, and I’m thinking to myself, “Man, I try to hold onto these things that I even preach and teach, but what if? I mean, what if? What if all of these things that we hold to be true — like, what if?”
I mean, it was a terrifying time. And then it’s time for church and we climb in the car and we take off to Jefferson Street Christian Church, the church I grew up in, and I walk in and the congregation is waiting. And yet, if I’m honest with you, I was like just kind of blown away by the noise of it all. I mean, I walked into all these people dancing and clapping and waving their hands in the air, and again and again and again they’re saying, “He is risen! He is risen! He is risen!”
And I’m trying to make my way through there with my sister to find a seat. She picks one in the middle of a row, so we’re making our way down past all these people who are happy, and if I’m honest with you — I know, this makes me a terrible minister — I wanted everyone to just shut up. And everyone’s just going, “He is risen! He is risen! He is risen! Aren’t you happy? Aren’t you great?”
And I’m like, “No! My father is dying!”
So I stood up and I made my way back down the row. I’m tripping over pews and getting people out of the way. And my sister is horrified. I don’t care at this point. I just want to get out of there. And I’m pushing past all these people that I’ve known since I was in diapers, and they’re all trying to tell me, in each their own way, “He is risen! He is risen! He is risen!”
And I just want to get away from the congregation. I tear out the door. I am running through the parking lot to just get in the car and drive away. And half way there I remember I didn’t drive. My sister did. I don’t have the keys. So I get out here, and you’ve got all these women bopping in with their Easter bonnets. “He is risen! He is risen!”
And finally, I just call my mom and said, “Get me out of here.” And she says, “Well, I was just going to make my way back home, and you can come and sit with your father. I’ll come pick you up. I’m only like two minutes away.”
So she picks me up, we go to the hospital, I tear up to my father’s room, I sit down by his bedside, I take his hand in mine and I pray with him. And I sit there in silence and then I look up, and I look over to my left where the big whiteboard is, the one where they put down different medicines that they’re doing, and whoever the nurse is on duty. And it’s all a bunch of stuff that doesn’t make sense to me except for three words that are in the lower left-hand corner that someone has scribbled. Want to take a guess what they are?
He is risen. And in that moment, what happens for me is I remember what my mom told me. On the short drive over, she had said, “You know what? Just after that first Easter service had gotten over, your dad’s friend Gary, an elder at the church, just tore over here to the hospital and came up. He prayed with us and we had communion together. And he said, ‘I want to give you the message I just heard, and anyone who’s in this room. He is risen.’”
And my first thought in that moment was, “These people won’t leave me alone.” My second thought was, “I hear You. He is risen, indeed.” And my third thought was, “And in Him, my father will rise.” And my fourth thought was, “And I was glad when they said unto me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’”
Because it takes a congregation, right? I mean, how is this for take-aways? You need this. I know that’s nothing fancy, but it’s revolutionary. You need this. You need this. You know, we don’t think in these terms. We never think in these terms, and I get that, but my goodness, all day long — like, what we have here in this place, and I know there’s other forms a congregation takes. But just hang with me. I’m talking about this place. This hour. What happens here. We only get this for one hour, one day. The throng of voices, 200 or 300 people strong, speaking truth over us. And we don’t think in these terms, but this congregation we get is beautiful. But my goodness, do you realize how many congregations you have in your life?
And absolutely so many of these congregations in your life, they are life-giving. I’m not saying there’s no other life-giving assemblies of people that gather about you and speak life. There absolutely are. But, man, we’ve got congregations in social media. The media is a congregation. The music you listen to is a congregation. The books you read are a congregation. The articles you read, the books you read, the conversations you have. Your workplace is a congregation of people who are speaking several things over you. And again, I’m not saying that they’re not sometimes very life-giving, but one of the things I think we need to acknowledge is that we have really, as a culture, stumbled into being incredible peddlers of bad news.
Our greatest — listen, guys. Our greatest threat is not fake news. It’s bad news. We are feasting upon bad news. We feast upon people pointing out mountains to us that terrify us. And God bless our little heads. We will sit back and say, “I believe that the Lord my God is my help, the one who made the heavens and the earth,” but we find ourselves stumbling because of all of these congregations. And we think, “Well, He is. Well, is He? He is. Well, is He?”
And so we make our way slumped here, and we come to this hour and we come to this place to be among this congregation, and we offer up this cracked confession that all week long I have seen these mountains, and we will offer up a very quiet and whispered declaration. “I do believe there’s a God somewhere, and my help comes from Him.”
And then the congregation, two to three hundred of your brothers and sisters crying out over you, “You are onto something. You are guarded. You are guarded. You are guarded. You are guarded. You are guarded.”
We do this through the songs, but don’t think that small because we do this through communion. And I love communion. Because I spend so much of my week — this is one of the mountains I spot is mountains of guilt and shame. And I think to myself, “Surely this is the time where I have run out of all of my ‘get out of jail for free’ cards with God. He’s probably done with me for the things I’ve said or left unsaid, the things that I’ve done or left undone.”
And I stumble my way here clinging to the hope that my help comes from the Lord my God, who has delivered me through Jesus Christ, but I offer that sometimes as a cracked confession until I see you take the bread, until I see you take the cup. And for you, no offense — which means I’m about to offend you — you are as much of a mess as I am. And yet, for you to stand up and to receive the body and blood of Jesus tells me once again that what Paul says is not false. We are more than conquerors and nothing will separate us from the love of Jesus Christ.
And look, this doesn’t just happen through communion. This happens through offering. All week long we spot mountains of selfishness. People who will cling, with white-knuckled tenacity, to their material wealth for their own self-preservation. And we will wonder, “Where will our help come from in a selfish society?”
But to come together, and in something revolutionary like an offering, we watch all of us come in with what we have been given, and to release it, to let it go for the glory of God and the building up of my neighbor. And I look at that and I believe, “Yes, my help does come from the Lord my God.”
We need this. We need this. There is nothing more life-giving than this. Nothing. But I will also say this. It takes a congregation, but it takes a congregation. It takes a congregation willing to be a congregation with marked consistency. I will say this: You need this. This needs you. This needs you. You know, one of the things I think that we all have to acknowledge is that someone on a Saturday or Sunday, whenever you’re going to come to a gathering here where the congregation will assemble together, there are absolutely moments where you will wake up and this is like your own kind of variation of Psalm 122. You’ll wake up and say, “Well, I was glad when they said unto me, ‘Hey, let us go to the house of the Lord.’ And that’s good, but I’m good. I don’t think I need it.”
And look, this is one of the things. I was just talking about this with the young adults on one of the Tuesday nights. We are, all of us, not as gifted at knowing what we need. We’re not as gifted at it as we think we are. In fact, that’s one of the things I’ve always found fascinating is that we will come on a Sunday morning and we will come in and say, “Man, I needed that because of the week there was.”
Switch your thinking to also realize you need this because of the week that is to come, maybe. Sunday is as anticipatory as it is reactionary. So you need this. But, at the same time, I’ll go ahead and I’ll honor your statement. “I don’t think I need this.”
Okay. Let’s say you don’t need this. Guess what? You are still needed. Because one of the things that I have to tell myself — and this is acknowledgment. I made it every service. I’ll just go ahead and make it here, too. It probably means I’m going to get fired. But I don’t wake up every Saturday and Sunday being like, “And I was glad when they said unto me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’”
Sometimes I’d rather sleep. Sometimes I’d rather go to the beach. Because in those moments, sometimes, I think to myself, “I don’t know if I really need it.” So sometimes I do. I wake up and I think to myself, “Well, I was kind of, I don’t know, when they said unto me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’”
But what I have to push myself to remember is that somewhere across some street in some darkened home, I have a neighbor who is saying, “I was glad when they said unto me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’”
And the last thing I want is for him or her to show up here and not be able to hear my voice, one who has made his way through the mountains, declare the goodness of the Lord our God. The saddest thing of people who are kind of losing their heads about them don’t come into a congregation of people who do have their heads about them to lift them up in their time of struggle. It’s what Anne Lamont said. She goes, “You know, really, the only way that any of us really get about living this faith is that not everybody in the tribe is nuts on the same day.”
We gather because we know that we’re needed. Not just because we need it, but because we’re needed. I heard this story from Len Sweet a long time ago in a book that he wrote. And I will be honest with you, I have no idea if this story is true. I had a preaching prof who would always say, “Hey, I don’t know if this next story is true, but it should be. Because that’s good.”
But Len Sweet in his book said that he had heard about a church in Europe that didn’t have any electricity, didn’t have any power or lighting. And I think it’s because, you know, it was an old stone cathedral. And there was something about stringing it up with all that wiring that was just going to take away from some of its beauty. So you’ve got a church with no lights. And they realize, “Well, we probably should have some lights.”
So what they decided to do, by way of their tradition, is that every single family in this church was given a torch. They would take it home with them, and every Sunday morning, before the congregation would gather there, outside of their houses these families would light the torches, make their way down the streets toward this old cathedral, and then, once they got there, there were these placeholders all along the walls in the main sanctuary of worship. And one by one, the families would place their torches and the room would light.
That alone is a beautiful thing, but what I love is their tradition that when someone hadn’t been there on a Sunday for the assembly of the congregation, the special nature of this, this hour, this place, they wouldn’t do what we usually do where we come and say, “Oh, man. I really missed you. I really missed you.”
They would go up to that family who’d been missing for a while, and they would simply say this: “It’s good to see you. We missed your light. We missed your light.”
Because you’re needed and it takes a congregation. You need this. This needs you. Now, let’s embrace the beauty of this. In an age when so many are giving up meeting together, let’s embrace this, the bigness of this. But let’s be this, right? For our neighbor.
God, we thank You for Your love. We thank You for the gift not only of Your Son, but we thank You for the gift of Your Church. Because, man, we need one another and it’s beautiful when we come together. So stir in our hearts a resolution to gather and let You do a good work in us, through us. But let us commit ourselves, also, to recognize that we are needed and that You are forever using us for us, because it takes a congregation.
We love You and we thank You for this hour and for this place. And it’s in Your Son’s name that we pray, amen. Y’all have a great week.