Worshiping God in the Wilderness

Advent 1 – Genesis 22:1-14

It is something you do not even notice until someone mentions it.  Not because the thing missing is so unusual and bizarre that you would actually be more surprised to see one as opposed to not, but because it is something so basic that you just always assume that there is going to be one nearby.

What is it that is missing?

As it turns out, there are no churches, no synagogues and no temples in the Book of Genesis where the faithful can go to worship.

To our ears, that is just about the equivalent of going into someone’s house, only to discover that there are no bathrooms.  And so you ask yourself, what do they do without this most basic item?

What do Adam and Eve do without a church?  Where do Noah and his sons go on Saturday’s for worship if there is no synagogue?  How can Abraham, Isaac and Jacob be called faithful and righteous if there is no temple?

But perhaps those questions can best be directed at you: what do you do when you find yourself on vacation and away from your church home?  What do you do when you go to college and suddenly discover that you forgot to check if there was an LCMS congregation nearby?  How can you be called faithful and righteous, if you are not in the Lord’s house?

The answer to that may be quite simple in our minds, even if you do not want to say it out loud for others to hear.  If you are away, you just don’t go.  How do you eat at a favorite restaurant if there is not one close by?  Simple, you don’t.  How do you gather for worship when there is not a desired house of worship nearby?  Simple, you don’t.

The reality is that when you take vacation, you are not just away from home and from work, you are away from church as well.  When you look at colleges, the last thing you think about is where you will hear about Jesus on Sunday morning.  When you look around and discover that you have moved to a new place, or have a new job, that makes getting to worship a difficulty, you simply don’t go.

If you don’t have a pool, you don’t swim.  If you don’t have a car, you don’t drive.  And if you don’t have a church nearby with all the conveniences of home, you don’t worship.

Such is our logic when it comes to worship.  If there is even the slightest change or inconvenience, then we are perfectly justified in our minds and in the minds of others to declare that the Third Commandment has a loop hole that allows us to skip out on worship.

After all, is that not what they did in Genesis?

If anyone has an excuse for not worshipping, it is the faithful in the book of Genesis.  After all, there are no churches, no synagogues and no temples.  And on top of that, it is completely impractical to build one, because they are all nomads.  They follow their flocks and herds in search of green pastures and still waters.  Surely they have found the perfect reason; the loop hole that so many of us use to justify our own actions, has its origins just like so many other things in the book of Genesis.

In the beginning, the loop hole was invented, and man declared that it was brilliant.

Except that is not exactly what Genesis tells us.

There are no churches, synagogues or temples to be sure; but there are a lot of altars.

Cain and Abel, presumably with instructions from Adam, have an altar in Genesis 4; Noah builds one in Genesis 9 after the flood; Abraham builds several altars, the most famous one here in Genesis 22; Isaac and Jacob also build altars when they are in need of a place to pray, praise and give thanks.

Even nomads can have worship.  Even wanderers can keep the Third Commandment.  Even those who have no church or synagogue or temple nearby do not need loop holes, for they are faithful and righteous.

Adam and Eve and Noah and Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, not to mention many others in Genesis knew the importance of worship, of gathering together to give thanks and praise to the Lord of heaven and earth, of having a sacred place to pray.  And when they did not have one that was a permanent structure, they made one where they were, even in the midst of the wilderness.

Do you need to gather stones and build an altar and make sacrifices upon it?  Not at all.  But the example set before us is that worship does not stop because it is inconvenient or out of the way.  The practice of daily devotions, of gathering around the word is never too difficult.  The mindset, that the first thing you look for is a place to hear the Word and receive the sacraments, supersedes the cost and athletic programs a school may offer, or any job or benefits a new community may present.

Genesis does not have churches; but Genesis does have the people of God gathering around to pray, praise and give thanks, even at times and places no one would expect them to.

And what do they receive by doing so?  What do you receive from it?

The strong defenses to stand firm against the relentless attacks of Satan.  The gathering to worship God has no bounds, because the attacks of Satan have no bounds.  If Satan attacks Jesus in the wilderness, so too will he attack you in the classroom, the office, the fields and the community.

But in the gathering around word and sacrament, in the hearing that your sins are forgiven by your Savior who suffered and died so that you might live forever, you can now look at Satan and announce to him that he has no power over you, for you, the faithful and righteous, are armed with the weapons and strength that comes from the community of believers, who confess with the mouth and believe with the heart that Jesus is Lord.

About revschmidt

An LCMS Pastor in North-Central Kansas
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