Sunday, July 28, 2013

Worshipping With A Different Tribe

How do they dress?” I had asked my sister in law. Even though we coming to her and my brother’s home for vacation, a weekend stay-over meant we would be worshipping with them at their church. My concern wasn’t making three toddlers be quiet in church service; it was not sticking out like a roadside daisy in a well-manicured bed of hybrid tea roses.

I needn’t have worried.

Two pews in front of us sat a man with stiffly gelled hair slicked to one side, a few days’ stubble on his face. He was dressed in a faded red polo that stretched taught around his ample belly and well-worn khakis, the creases and seams fuzzy with frayed threads. By him sat an African American man dressed much the same, both of them obviously together, obviously not financially well off.

Several rows up sat a woman in red and black wool hat, another in designer leopard print heels. Intermixed throughout the congregation were splashes of color, people of Asian and Indian heritage. Behind us sat a woman who whipped out her cell phone to proudly show a picture of her newly adopted son from Korea.

This was a coming together of people from different walks of life, different backgrounds, yet all raising their voice in song to Christ who bound them together. I didn’t feel out of place. Instead, I felt like I was just one of God’s children assembled together as one to worship Him.

Although there are exceptions, in a Southern culture where most churches are divided mostly along racial lines, I sometimes feel I get such an inaccurate picture of what worship was intended to be…what worship one day will be.

I can’t help wondering about that first worship experience when the first group of exiles returned from captivity in Babylon.

The very first thing they did upon arrival was worship: “When the seventh month came and the Israelites had settled in their towns, the people assembled as one man in Jerusalem…[and] buil[t] the altar of the God of Israel to sacrifice burnt offerings on it" (Ezra 3:1-2).

Seventy years had passed. Many of those returning were born in captivity, had never worshipped in God’s holy city as one assembly with all God’s chosen people. Likely, they had never worshipped together as a group, period.

Many were surely quite poor; yet, we know some were wealthy since Ezra speaks of their building houses with panels of cedar like King Solomon did. So, at a minimum, the congregation of worshippers included those of disparate social classes.

Yet, were the worshippers even more varied? Perhaps word of Cyrus’ decree that the Jews could return home had spread rapidly to the surrounding countries, to Egypt, where many of the Israelites fled once conquered. Had these exiles also returned along with the ones from Babylon to help rebuild the temple foundation? Were they part of “the people” who assembled to worship?

And the ones who had been left behind, those considered so poor, so worthless that they were no threat to an enemy king—did they, too, join as one in worship with their returned brothers and sisters? Or had they all intermarried with foreigners, been drawn away by false gods at this point so that their worship was an abomination to God?

There’s a lot I don’t know about who joined together to worship Jehovah once this first wave of exiles returned home. It’s all conjecture.

But Revelation tells how it will be one day. John says, “After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb’”(Rev. 7:9-10).

Rich, poor; healthy, sick; black, white, red, and all in between—we who serve Him will all gather together in true unity to worship Christ, our Redeemer and Lord.   

(Posting from the archives today, as we worshipped here in North Carolina with yet another tribe during a visit with my brother and sister in love.)

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