I want you to imagine the scene as it plays out in towns and villages all over Israel: a few dozen people, setting off together early in the morning. Just a handful of families; some of the women are carrying infants on their backs; the men leading donkeys; the very young and the very old riding in carts. As they begin walking, there’s the usual chatter, talk about children, the weather, the crops. Then after a while, someone begins to sing, and one by one, the others join in. A few miles down the road, they meet up with a group from the next village traveling to the same destination. Their convoy grows larger; their singing louder and more joyful. As the miles pass by, more and more groups come alongside them, walking and talking and singing. Finally, they come into view of the city and every road, in every direction, is filled with pilgrims all converging on Jerusalem. And then they hear the voices all singing, all joined together in praise and worship to God. It must have been absolutely thrilling.
The Law of Moses required that every adult male make this journey three times a year. It was not optional. Everyone had to go, whether they wanted to or not. And yet, there is no hint of reluctance here, no thought that the author is going grudgingly, or against his will. He’s not going out of a sense of duty or religious obligation. In fact it’s just the opposite, his heart is filled with gladness. He’s looking forward to the journey, not dreading the long hours on the road; he’s not lamenting the fact that he can’t stay home and relax; he is rejoicing.
Let’s stop right here so I can ask you a question: Is that how you feel? Is that how you felt this morning when the alarm went off and you realized what day it is? Is that how you feel on Saturday night when you think about what tomorrow brings? If not, it can be. This is God’s intention; His desire is that each one of us has this same attitude toward worship. Is should be something we look forward to with eager anticipation.
I have heard all kinds of reasons for not coming to church: It’s my only day of the week to sleep in. I don’t have to go to a building to worship God. I have to work on Sundays. I’m spiritual, but I’m not religious. Everyone who goes to that church is a hypocrite. And on and on it goes. We are well versed in the art of making excuses.
I would imagine that the author of this Psalm had just as many good reasons to stay home as we do today. Think about the fact that in those days, there were no planes, or cars; no interstates; no Hampton Inn’s with clean sheets and hot showers at the end of the day. No Chick-fil-a’s or Cracker Barrels. Just mile after mile of hot, dusty, dirt roads.
And once you reached Jerusalem, there were be huge crowds to contend with; thieves, robbers, pickpockets. For parents of small children, the place must have been a nightmare, always watching to make sure they didn’t run off, or get stepped on by a donkey, or run over by a cart.
Then there was the expense of making such a trip; the lost work, the cost of purchasing animals for sacrifices, the money for food and lodging. Certainly our author could have thought of dozens of reasons not to go. What I find interesting is not all of the reasons that you could give to not worship, but discovering the reasons that we do.
Our Psalm this morning is the song of someone who decided to travel whatever distance it took so that they could worship God. It’s a song that shows what people of faith do; gather to worship.
I love that worship is described as a community event. Notice he said, I rejoiced with those who said to me, ’Let us go to the house of the Lord.’ The Psalmist makes a presumption here that I am afraid we might have missed. The psalmist assumes worship in the plural. There is an absolute need for worship to take place in the crowd.
This is not to say that personal worship is not important. We called to live lives of everyday worship and as we gather here this morning we have brought that individual worship with us. Now we have the opportunity to share our worship and our lives together at the Throne of God. We were created to worship and it is an absolute need in our lives, but it is not exclusive. I don’t know who told us that Christianity is a individual sport, but we have got to get out of that mindset. We must stop thinking that Christianity and worship is something we do as individuals, and start looking at it as something we all do together. By saying let us, the psalmist is longing for the unity of worship that comes when we gather together.
We were created to enjoy being together in a community of believers. There is a energy and spirit in worship that comes from being in a group. God desires to experience this in our worship of Him and to experience the encouragement we receive when we join with like minds in worship.
In Genesis 1 God says that we were created in His image, and you might remember that there is community found in the Trinity, or the three personalities of God. They exist together as equal parts: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are all equals. We are designed for relationships. When we worship, we make a deceleration of dependence and we reflect the relational nature of our design. In worship, we actually represent God’s nature, who lives in perfect community.
God designed the Christian Community because He knew that we couldn’t do this on our own. This community is where we experience God’s grace and power. So if you’re hurting; if you’re angry, or depressed, or afraid, or confused, or discouraged, or bitter, the worst thing you can do is check out. Don’t stay home and read the paper. Meet with the church. Even if that feels like that last thing you want to do. Gather with other broken people and worship God by faith even when the feeling isn’t there. Keep seeking after God. And in time, you’ll feel your joy, and pleasure, and relish for the things of God returning.
Paul Scherer said: The Bible wastes very little time on the way we feel. I don’t know if you have noticed, but feelings are great liars. If we only did the things that we felt like there would be very little work, parenting, studying, shopping, housework, and yard work getting done. The psalmist is saying: I don’t care if you feel like it or not, this is what’s good and right for you to do. It’s not about your feelings, but about God.
The fact is that it’s a lot easier to act our way into feeling than to feel our way into acting. For example I don’t like to walk on the treadmill or ride my bike, but usually once I start I get to the point where I enjoy it. Actually walking changes my feeling about it. Worship is an act that develops feelings for God an a longing for community. Sometimes it’s all about getting going.
Sometimes we need to be reminded how much we need God. Worship does that. If we neglect worship, if we neglect gathering with God’s people, it won’t be long before our relationship with God begins to be affected. God gets pushed to the outskirts of our life a little more as each day passes. Our Christian faith gives way to vague feelings of being spiritual. And we start to live as though life depends on us more than on God. Worshipping together as God’s people is one of the main ways to remind us os His great power.
We were not created to live alone, that’s why God created Eve. We can’t hold on to our faith or to our hope on our own. We can’t love our neighbor on our own, and we can’t forgive on our own. We need one another, we need to be encouraged. Meeting together is how we find that support and encouragement we need to live lives of love. A love that is common among believers, but in our world is anything but common.
Worship reminds us of the unity found in God. Verse 3 reads: “Jerusalem, built as a city that is bound firmly together.”
The first time I read that verse I thought that the writer of this Psalm was describing the architecture of the city. He was saying how beautiful it was that all the pieces of stone and masonry fit together. But the more I read this Psalm, the more I began to realize that He is describing something deeper. Jerusalem was not just a location on the map, For the Jews it was a reminder that their lives and their stories were shaped by God. Jerusalem was a symbol of God’s presence in the world.
The Jewish people had a lot of national pride in the fact that they were the sons and daughter of Abraham. They would talk about the fact that they were Jews and everyone else was just a Gentile. But it didn’t stop there, they were not just Jewish, they were from the tribe of Benjamin, or from the tribe of Levi. So there was a national pride and then a tribal identity. But when they walked into the City of Jerusalem, the tribal identities all fell by the way side, they were Jewish people coming together to worship Jehovah God. While they were walking to the city, singing these songs there was a group from one tribe meeting up with a group from another tribe; but once they were in the city all of that went by the wayside. This unity is possible because every Jew came to Jerusalem and turned their focus from themselves to worship the one true God.
The church, should serve the same function today. As American’s we have a lot of national pride, and very often we put that pride out front and center for the rest of the world to see. But we also understand that we have a bit of tribal pride. I am very proud of my southern roots, and that my home place is back in the great state or Alabama. Many of you just cringed because I implied that Alabama was better than Texas. As I look out on this crowd this morning I see people of all different colors and ages. We are a very diverse group, that has national and tribal pride.
But the wonderful thing about worship is that this is a place where we all come together as equals to worship our great and awesome God. Even the way that we worship, points to the unity that is found in God. Have you noticed that when we pray we pray together? Yes someone leads a prayer, but they are not praying for you, we ask that you bow your heads and have your own conversation with God.
We sing together as a show of unity. There is not someone playing and the rest of us singing. We are all singing together. Yes some folks sing better that other folks, and some folks sing louder than other folks, but this is a place where it doesn’t matter if you can carry a tune or not, you have the opportunity to lift your voice and sing with other sons and daughter of God in worship.
We take Communion together, we give offerings together, we fellowship together, and we read the word of God together. Worship is a place of unity where people can gather regardless of your nationality, or tribe to find unity in Christ. This is what Paul is talking about in Galatians 3:27-28 Clearly, all of you who were baptized in Christ’s name have clothed yourselves with Christ. There are neither Jews nor Greeks, slaves nor free people, males nor females. You are all the same in Christ Jesus.
God gathers people from all walks of life to worship together. He doesn’t make sure that we’re all alike enough to get along; it is the love of Christ that enables us to be unified and to work together, not our attempts at getting along. And even in those times when we don’t get along, being in a church is a lesson in learning to love. If Jerusalem is a symbol of God’s presence in the world, then the church is a symbol of what God wants our community to be: all kinds of people working and worshipping together. This is why the Psalmist was happy when they said, Let’s go worship.
As we close I want you to notice that he also gives us something to take with us when we leave. Psalm 122 closes with a prayer for Jerusalem and asks God that there might be peace and security within its walls. It’s interesting that the word used here for pray or ask is an everyday word. It is the word Hebrews would use to ask for a second helping of bread or for directions if lost.
This is not a formal prayer; it’s an ordinary prayer using ordinary words. Asking that God would bless and bring peace to Jerusalem is something the Jews worked into everyday life. Jerusalem was on their minds when they were eating meals or going about the work of the day. We’re called to do the same when it comes to praying about church and praying for each other. This is not a Sunday prayer so much as it is a between Sundays prayer.
It also means that our worship doesn’t stop on Sundays; Sundays is when our worship begins. This is the first day of the week, the one that gets us going, and the one that helps us with how to handle the days ahead before the next Sunday. You see worship does not satisfy our hunger for God, it wets our appetite. This hunger overflows into the week.
Coming together to worship reminds us that God is alive and well. The joy we have in Christ is real. We still go through the same hard and difficult times, but these things no longer determine how we live, and how we see our future.
Questions to Consider
Worship in Jerusalem was both a regular obligation and a bonding experience; what is going to worship like for you?
Does your worship center around giving thanks?
How is worship a community event?
The Psalmist said we need to worship whether we feel like it or not. Have you ever struggled to worship when you didn’t feel like it? Did your feelings change?
Where do you find your pride?
Does that pride ever overwhelm your pride in God?
How is worship the great equalizer?
In what ways does worship “wet your appetite for God” during the rest of the week?