As far as I know, 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 a religious service. We occasionally have a barbecue, but I don’t think that really counts. We have potluck lunches, too, but I’ve never seen anything burnt at those. I don’t think we’ve ever burned a pancake, even.
Besides, while those are important and meaningful gatherings of the community, without any doubt, they’re not what would be considered “liturgy,” the rituals of a service of worship. That would be the prayers, songs, readings and rituals that are structured and offered in order to bring meaning and understanding to our faith, not just in that moment, but in the living out of our faith in our lives.
In the Bible, 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, God says, 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 lives full of sin, hurt, hate, judgement and cruelty. 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.
Sometimes it's not just 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. That’s not just church going folk, either, is it?
Health and wholeness come from connecting the spirit of worship and the spirit of daily life. However we know God and whatever name we call God, if we think that a few moments of prayer or even sitting through a three hour sermon are “doing our duty,” and that’s enough, well, we might want to read Isaiah again. 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 “worshipped” 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.
I think any gathering of a community of faith should be engaging, meaningful and sincere. 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. It should connect us with God and each other and the world. It should be something we carry into our daily lives.