How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts!
My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.
Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may lay her young, at your altars, O Lord of hosts,
my King and my God.
This memory that I have is of something so often repeated that it has become a way of being. I remember going to church every Tuesday (or maybe it was Thursday) evening (it couldn’t have been Wednesday because that was prayer meeting) for the adult’s choir practice. My parents didn’t get a babysitter for us; they brought us along. So, with one eye on the choir director and the other beamed down on us, my brothers and I occupied ourselves there in the sanctuary. We played “guess what I’m writing” on each other’s backs, or hang man on discarded bulletins. Noiselessly, (we thought) we chased each other down the aisles and under the pews but never, ever, were we allowed to run. We did all this against the background of the great anthems of the church. Choir rehearsal would drag on. Drowsy and finally tired of our silent games, we each chose a pew and stretched out. Our parents sounded to us like angels, and we slept to the praises they practiced.
God’s house, where he is worshiped by his people, is lovely to me. It is a refuge. My parents’ example taught me that. And it is a place of service. Mom was on the church staff as the kitchen manager and cook. The church was large and meals were ordered daily for one event or another. It was a “commercial” kitchen with a walk-in frig, restaurant quality dishwasher, and enormous ovens. She was in her element serving God and his people there. I spent many an hour with her washing pots and pans, chopping onions and learning how to cook for a crowd. Here she taught me to graciously wait tables. Mom was tireless. I lacked her endurance and she periodically instructed, “Sweetie, go now and sit down to rest awhile.” But I don’t recall that she ever rested.
Staffers deviated from their path and turned down the hallway to follow a comforting aroma coming from “Betty’s kitchen”. She offered a taste of whatever had brought them there, she listened to sad stories, she prayed for those who crossed her threshold, she kept confidences. She trained fledgling cooks, she catered to cantankerous people, she prepared tasty meals on a limited budget, and all without complaint. Thus, this industrial space was sacred to me, also. Here, my mom and dad (he helped out, too, during especially busy times) taught me to serve others with patience and a smile. This, too, as with their singing voices, was their worship.
So when I read Psalm 84, I think of my parents. Ordinary sparrows, they brought their young to God’s house; they sheltered us in His courts and we found refuge at His altar. There, we heard God’s word preached and sung; we participated in the sacraments; we served others and had fellowship with one another.
I long to enter the sanctuary once again; to look my brothers and sisters in the eye as we respond jointly to the word preached; to take the Lord’s supper with them and to confess our faith with one voice. But I learned from my mother and father that the true people of God sing for joy to him in their heart, as well as with their voices, day in and day out, in the privacy of their homes, and in the public square, and even when they are “just practicing”.