I like the psalms, but I can’t pray some of them with a straight face. Psalm 122 is a prime example. David is a little too cheerful for me as he exclaims,
“I was glad when they said to me,
‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’”
That certainly doesn’t roll off my tongue when I roll out of bed on Sunday morning. Maybe my wife and I stayed out a little too late on Saturday night. There’s still yard work and grocery shopping and laundry and a hundred other things that need to be done before Monday comes around. There’s a voters’ meeting after church that I’d like to avoid at all costs. I’m likely to get corned by Mr. Meddler or Mrs. Gossipalot and have to find a way politely to excuse myself from their logorrhea. Or maybe I’m just bone tired. I want to chill. I don’t want to see people. I just want to stay home on Sunday morning, drink coffee, and do as little as possible. I’m not always smiling at the thought of going to the house of the Lord.
What may surprise you is that your pastor or priest doesn’t always want to go to church either. Maybe between sermon and Bible Study preparations; hospital visits; committee meetings; counseling sessions; visitor follow-ups; late night phone calls; and typing, copying, and folding the bulletins, he’s worked his butt off the last six days. He’s sick of being cooped up in church; he could really use a day at the beach or a long walk in the park. He tried to write a good sermon, but, in all honesty, this one he’s going to preach today is a total flop. He might even fall asleep in the pulpit while he’s preaching it. He doesn’t want to see Mr. Changehater, who’s been bellyaching for three months straight about the church not singing his favorite hymns, who sits there with his arms crossed over his chest during every song. He knows Mrs. Gossipalot is probably going to corner him, too, and express “Christian concern” about the fact that she just happened to notice that the nice young unmarried couple who sit in the back pew are living together in sin and wants to know if pastor is aware of this fact? Honestly, some Sunday mornings he doesn’t even want to be a pastor. He wishes he had a different vocation. He has zero desire to stand in the pulpit or at the altar. For once, he’d like to leave his alarm clock unset on Sunday morning, sleep till the sun’s up, and do nothing but be lazy. The last thing your pastor would pray is, “I was glad when they said, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’” What would make him very glad, however, is to stay at the house he calls home.
I’m not saying every Sunday, or even most Sundays, are like this for him. Nor am I saying that this is true of every pastor and priest—though I suspect most of them have been here more than they’d care to admit. But, for many, there are days when they’re as excited about going to work on Sunday morning as you are about going to work on Monday morning.
But here’s the point: he goes anyway. Glad or not, willing or not, he gets out of bed and gets himself to the house of the Lord. And in so doing, in a most unexpected way, he fulfills another duty of his office: he sets an example for his flock.
Nobody, not even your pastor, goes to the house of the Lord for entirely spiritually pure motives. Yes, he goes to church to hear the Word, but he also knows he has a mortgage and car payment due, not to mention tuition for his children, and those are hard to pay if he’s unemployed. Yes, he goes to the house of the Lord to receive the Supper, but he’s secretly glad to get out of his own house early since he and his wife had a disagreement the night before and there’s a bit of chill in the air. Indeed, he enjoys singing praises to the Lord, but the handshakes and pats on the back as his flock leave church leave him feeling a bit better about himself, too.
So, is he glad to go to the house of the Lord for the Lord’s sake or for his own sake? Yes.
In other words, your pastor is just like you are. He’s a deeply flawed human being, with an inflated ego, potentially thin skin, lust in his heart, selfish ambitions, and plenty of other nastiness hidden beneath his Sunday best. And for all those reasons, going to church is the best thing he can do, regardless of his motives. Because in church he’ll hear about the God who loves him despite his flaws, who calls him to repentance, and who stands ready to wash him in the waters of forgiveness. He’ll hear, in his own sermon(!), about the Christ who died and rose for him and Mr. Meddler and Mrs. Gossipalot and the young couple in the back of the church without wedding rings on. He will kneel at the altar and hear Christ say, “Take, eat, this is my body,” without ever questioning what his motives are for kneeling there. In the house of the Lord, the Spirit will apply the cleansing blood of Jesus to his heart full of bad and twisted and self-serving motives, so that his heart is pumped full of nothing but the pure, saving blood of Christ. And what God does for your pastor on Sunday morning, he does for you, regardless of whether you’re there for entirely right reasons or not.
Part of the vocation of your pastor is to go to the house of the Lord even on those hard days when he’d rather stay home. He sets an example for us who’d like to stay home many Sundays as well.
One thing is certain: when we’re not glad to go to the house of the Lord, the Lord is glad to have us there. And that’s really all that matters.
What we need in our fragmented world, full of hurting people, is the love of Jesus Christ, who welcomes home sinners with a grace that knows no bounds. My book Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons, is packed with reflections that go that extra mile of grace. Again and again, they present the Christ who is crucified and risen for you. Please take a moment to check it out here. You may also be interested in my collections of hymns and poetry entitled, The Infant Priest, which you can purchase here. Both books are also available on Amazon, as is my booklet Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing (also on Kindle). Thank you for your prayers and support!