One television viewer may cheer for or yell at game-show contestants and another television viewer may cheer for or yell at athletes or the referees of their competition, but both viewers would probably admit that their responses at home do not really make a difference to the outcome of the recorded or even live televised events elsewhere.
Maybe some people would also say that their responses to live or recorded worship services do not matter either, but, whether mediated by radio, television, telephone or internet, Christian worship is not the same as a spectator show or sport.
Properly understood, Christian worship is not actors’ entertainment on a stage that an audience in a gallery views passively but something that engages both the pastor in the chancel and the congregation in the nave actively.
God’s Word intends to engage our bodies, souls, minds, and hearts in order to lead us both to repent of our sins that merit our eternal damnation and to trust God to forgive our sins for Jesus’s sake, through His means of grace — His Word read and preached, Holy Baptism, individual Holy Absolution, and the Sacrament of the Altar.
Such repentance and faith leads to physical responses, including our making the sign of the cross, folding our hands, bowing our heads and our assuming postures such as standing, kneeling and sitting, whether we are physically or otherwise present in the worship service.
Some people worshipping in-person may possibly be passive, but those people worshipping virtually readily report their being passive, at least in regards to their worship, while perhaps actively either talking to other people who are in the room with them or multi-tasking in some other way.
Unlike oblivious game-show contestants, athletes or referees on television’s relating to their cheering or otherwise yelling viewers, God serves us with the forgiveness of sins, and we respond to Him with our thanks and praise.
God’s service to us is for our benefit, and we are present in person to receive His service sacramentally, as His Son, Jesus Christ, in order to save us, came personally.
At stake in whether and how we respond to God’s call to faith and forgiveness is not the outcome of Jesus’s victory over sin, death and the power of the devil for us but whether or not He gives that victory to us and so whether we spend eternity in hell or heaven.
The Rev. Dr. Jayson S. Galler is Pastor of Pilgrim Lutheran Church in Kilgore. You can reach him through the congregation’s website: www.pilgrimlc.org.