Have you ever been in a church service where the leader has thanked you for coming? For joining us? Or supporting us?
It’s a strange thing to say at the end of a church service. The assumption is that they have in some way put themselves out, made an effort, and so we should be grateful that they’ve come out and shown their support. Here is an event we have put on, and we are grateful that you turned up, otherwise we might have had an empty building and it might have been a bit quiet. Thankyou for being here, rather than one of the myriad number of other things you could have been doing with your time.
Christians shouldn’t be thanked for coming to worship God, receive from his word, pray and have fellowship with other Christians. The implication (certainly not articulated, and probably not even thought of) is that they are somehow doing the church – or, worse, God – some kind of favour. Yes, you should be grateful that I turned up. Where would you be without my support?
This misses something really rather fundamental. Being a member of God’s people – the church – is a privilege. We are called to worship, invited to draw near to the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16), and given the promise of salvation. None of these are things we either earned or achieved by ourselves. So why should I be thanked for responding to God’s call on my life to worship him with other Christians?
As well as a privilege, it is my duty. An army officer doesn’t thank soldiers for turning up for parade. That’s their duty; it’s where they should be. And if you have believed and trusted in Jesus Christ, your local church is where you should be.
I often make the distinction between ‘going to church’ and ‘being part of the church.’ When we think of church as a place to go, that’s when it becomes an event, something we can opt out of when we choose to. But the church is more like a family, a community, which you are part of. But being part of the church also means being there. It is our duty as well as our joy, the Holy Communion service says, to come together to worship God.
If anything, it is I who should give thanks that I have been brought into his kingdom at such a high cost – the death of Jesus on the cross. What a privilege it is to come and worship the living God. What joyful duty. Thank you Lord for your loving invitation to know you and worship you.