““Why this frenzy of sacrifices?” God’s asking. “Don’t you think I’ve had my fill of burnt sacrifices, rams and plump grain-fed calves? Don’t you think I’ve had my fill of blood from bulls, lambs, and goats? When you come before me, whoever gave you the idea of acting like this, Running here and there, doing this and that—all this sheer commotion in the place provided for worship? “Quit your worship charades. I can’t stand your trivial religious games: Monthly conferences, weekly Sabbaths, special meetings—meetings, meetings, meetings—I can’t stand one more! Meetings for this, meetings for that. I hate them! You’ve worn me out! I’m sick of your religion, religion, religion, while you go right on sinning. When you put on your next prayer-performance, I’ll be looking the other way. No matter how long or loud or often you pray, I’ll not be listening. And do you know why? Because you’ve been tearing people to pieces, and your hands are bloody. Go home and wash up. Clean up your act. Sweep your lives clean of your evildoings so I don’t have to look at them any longer. Say no to wrong. Learn to do good. Work for justice. Help the down-and-out. Stand up for the homeless. Go to bat for the defenseless. “Come. Sit down. Let’s argue this out.” This is God’s Message: “If your sins are blood-red, they’ll be snow-white. If they’re red like crimson, they’ll be like wool. If you’ll willingly obey, you’ll feast like kings. But if you’re willful and stubborn, you’ll die like dogs.” That’s right. God says so.” --Isaiah 1:11-20 (The Message)
Have you ever gone through all the right motions, done all the right things, and still not gotten the results you were hoping for? My guess is this happens to many of us on a regular basis. Whether it is at work, school, with family, at church or with God, we do all the things we think to be right and it seems we continue to come up short. In our relationship with God this is very easy to have happen. We invest our time in making sure we read our Bible. We make sure to be at church almost every Sunday. We make sure we do the right things in the worship service. We might even rearrange our schedules once in a while to do something that seems like something God would appreciate. We do almost anything hoping that it will please God, and make God happy with us.
Israel in the days of Isaiah was very active in fulfilling all the regulations of God. They brought their sacrifices, observed all the religious holidays and festivals. They were good church folks. Yet as we read from Isaiah 1, God does not seem very pleased with them. They are doing all the right things but there seems to be a problem. The issue restated later in Isaiah a little differently, “The Lord says, “These people draw near with their mouths and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their worship of me is a human commandment learned by rote.” (Isaiah 29:13) In his ministry Jesus would quote this passage when referring to the Pharisees, the religious leaders of his day. The issue is the people were doing all the external things of worshiping God without any impact on their hearts.
This has made me wonder how God views worship as it takes places in churches today. Do we put on all the trappings of the show without having our hearts available to God? Do we simply put on a good show hoping that it will please God? The troubling words of Isaiah 1 should haunt us in appropriate ways. God does not desire a good show on Sunday morning where we make sure all the pieces are perfectly in place. God desires that our hearts would be available and stirred to the point where we live as people who have been infected by the grace and love of God. That we would be known as followers of Jesus because we work for justice, help the down-and-out, stand up for the homeless and go to bat for the defenseless. With all respect to Altar Guilds everywhere, I am not sure the importance is on whether the right colored paraments are presented.It seems that our relationship with God is not seen best in the ceremony and celebration, the observance of the festivals and Holy Days. To understand the relationship someone has with God through Jesus Christ the best place to look is their heart, and the ways in which a person lives their life. Do we seek justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God as Micah calls us to, or do we simply want to make sure we have a good show?