Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Looking Ahead to August 8, 2010 -- 11th Sunday After Pentecost

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Isaiah 1:10-20
  • Psalm 50

The Sermon title for the week is Hating Worship

Early Thoughts: What are we doing each week? Why are we doing it?

If you asked many people what "church" is one of the first answers is likely to include some discussion of weekly worship.  After all, weekly worship is the primary contact point for many people.

For the people of Ancient Israel worship had a special place in life.  Worship included the offering of burnt sacrifices to God (as a side note, can you imagine the stink that must have surrounded the temple in Jerusalem with all those sacrifices being made??).  To properly perform the rituals and rites of worship was an important piece of  how one remained on good terms with God.  And so there was a well developed system of those rituals and of festivals and so on.

And so imagine the consternation it must have caused when Isaiah, a member of the upper class (in a society where it was often assumed that to be among the wealthy and noble mean that you were right with God), conceivably a member of a priestly family (at least that is suggested by his call story in chapter 6), comes out with this rant about God's real impression of these feasts and rituals and sacrifices.  Instead of this being pleasing to God Isaiah suggests it gets in the way of what is truly important!  Somehow I think there was, at best, a mixed reaction.

So what does this have to do with us?  Why do we read these words all these centuries later?

We read Scripture because we assume it has something to say to us in the here and now.  We don't just read it to hear stories of the faith or to pontificate about what happened "way back when".  We assume that God is still speaking to us through the words of Scripture.

What might these words of Isaiah have to say to us in 2010?

Well I think of all the "discussions" that have taken place over the years about what constitutes "proper worship" and think of Isaiah.  I think of those places that spend countless hours and multitudes of money maintaining their buildings without asking how the building helps or hinders their attempts to be the community God has called them to be and I think of Isaiah.  In the end, I think that we fall into the same trap of maintaining the status quo and missing out on key issues that the people of Ancient Israel did.

On my bookshelf is a book with a wonderful title -- God Hates Religion.  When we let out religiosity get in the way of caring for the weak and vulnerable in our society then I believe that God hates our religion.  When we allow ourselves to believe that the most we can do to spread God's love is attend worship faithfully the God hates our worship.  When we let ritual and decency and propriety consume our energy and have nothing left for Kingdom-building then we have missed the point.

That is what Isaiah was trying to say all those centuries ago.  It is what we need to hear from time to time today.  In the end God does not demand that we worship in any specific way (I am not entirely sure God "demands" that we worship at all).  But what does God require of us?  Micah tells us -- seek justice, love kindness, walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8).  Worship and ritual can help us do that or it can get in the way.

Which will it be??

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