Thursday, 8 August 2013

What have you done for God lately?

It's been a long time since we offered "burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts" (Isaiah 1:11) as part of worship.  We had a barbecue the other week, but that was after church and it was burgers and they weren't really burnt.  Mostly.  So I don't think that counts.

Still, there's the offering of hymns and prayers and the offering of liturgy and ritual and the offering of money and talent, all to the glory of God and for God's work.  Right?

Yes - he said emphatically - yes.  As long as that's not where it stays, in church, in worship.  

The book of the ancient prophet Isaiah begins with a vision that goes something like this: God says that things just aren't right, Israel.  "The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint" (Isaiah 1:5).  Sure, you worship me regularly, bring offerings and have these celebrations in my name, but what does it really mean to you?  It just seems like a big show you put on and then go away and go back to behaving badly.  I'm so tired of it.

Who isn't?  More than 700 years later, Jesus reminds people that they should not even come to make an offering if things aren't made right with others first (Matthew 5:24).  And he tells stories about those who pray and act for show, but don't live out what those actions truly mean (Luke 18:10-14).

2000 years after that, many people are still wondering the same thing.  When what we say and do in church isn't reflected in our lives, then we're no further ahead than the folks God had Isaiah or Jesus call out.

But there's the problem.  Sometimes it's not about what's "right," it's about perception and judgement.  We're often so much better at telling others what they're doing wrong or seeing the hypocrisy in their behaviour rather than our own.

So here's two thoughts on that.  First, the important part about being "no further ahead than the folks God had Isaiah or Jesus call out" is that it's God that's calling us on it.  Are we prepared to listen for God and offer to God in every moment of our lives, however it is that we know God or by whatever name we know God?  Because if we think that we can offer God a little something special for an hour on Sunday and think that'll hold God until next time, well, we might want to read Isaiah.  Again.   God is honoured by symbolic offerings only when they're symbolic of the depth of our sincerity in how we live.  And the point of Jesus isn't about how we live in worship, it's how worship lives in our daily lives.  "Worship and work must be one," hymn writer Fred Kaan declares in his classic "Worship the Lord." 

Second, I think it's pretty easy, as I said before, to judge others, especially when we don't really know what their life experience is or what they believe.  So don't judge, for starters.  And then, maybe talk to them and find out or, if you're someone who doesn't go to church, why not go once and find out.  Or if you have a problem with "that" church because of past experience or what you think you know, why not go to "that" church and find out where they're at now.  Might not change your mind, but at least you'll know for sure.

I think that worship should be engaging, meaningful and sincere.  And I think it should also teach and inspire.  It should be an opportunity for us, as a community, to celebrate and to lament and to praise and to pray.  And most importantly, it should be something we carry into worship in our hearts and out into our lives.