Paul Simpson Duke, Co-Pastor, First Baptist Church, Ann Arbor, MI, commenting on our Isaiah passage this morning wrote, “Isaiah is the first of the books of the Prophets, and we are on the very first page of it. This is God’s first order of business in the prophetic literature: a withering assault on worship.” And certainly anyone reading it or hearing it gets the message loud and clear. God is not happy with our worship. I say ‘our’ because this word is as much for us, the church, in our day as it was for Israel in their day.
Going further, Duke says, “The present attack is on the bizarre disconnect of people praising God, while desecrating God’s command to love.” That’s the heart of this blistering condemnation of all the empty prayers and rituals that constitute traditional worship. Talking with some of my colleagues Friday afternoon, as we enjoyed ‘porch time’ next door, and a reminder to all of you that ‘porch time’ is available most days if you would like to stop by, but back to my point, several of my colleagues find themselves wearied by much of traditional ministry, including worship. Part of our gathering and conversation is to encourage one another.
The “disconnect” which Duke refers to is something that many of us recognize when we speak with people outside the church, people who have either moved away from organized religion or have never found it calling to them. In other words if the church doesn’t seem to resonate with their lived reality, then it offers nothing nurturing or engaging. It is spiritually dead for them. That, I believe, is what God was telling God’s people. Your so-called worship is essentially dead to me. I’m not interested.
So where do we turn? How do we find our way back to meaningful worship that connects us to our God? One that God welcomes and through which God nurtures and empowers us? “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord.” “Come now, let us reason TOGETHER, says the Lord.” There’s the key. Let us honestly communicate and listen for God’s word to us and for us. As was highlighted last week, let us become “rich toward God”.
Jesus urged his followers to let go of their material possessions and wealth because those things distract us and are false security. “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks.”
Ah, God will lead us back to true worship. God longs to heal us, to forgive us, to restore us to life. What is needed is for us to be waiting watchfully. Watchful waiting is something like peripheral vision. It’s like what many experience as “breakthroughs’ of insight after having spent a long time concentrating on a problem. Our worship, our true worship, is what happens after we leave the sanctuary. I experience worship many times at coffee hour, or in someone’s home. Worship happens when I meet one of our homeless guests out on the streets of Glen Cove.
Hopefully we, the church, will nurture watchful waiting and peripheral discernment so that we don’t miss God’s leading. Our worship here in this space comforts and nurtures us, but the question of worship that happens outside these walls, that’s where Isaiah’s and God’s harsh appraisal hits home. That’s where the proverbial ‘rubber hits the road’. Are we “willing and obedient”, to God’s command to love?
God invites us all to the banquet where we are the guests. This is the Table of the Lord and everyone is welcomed to eat and be filled with new life. Whatever your condition, whatever your past, you will find rest and peace, and family and friends. God wants all of creation to enjoy life abundantly, sharing this good earth and all of God’s love.