A Worshiping Community
- Understand that worship cannot be separated from the way we live
- Sense that the way we live is as important to God as the worship we offer
- Consider ways that our lives could line up more fully with God's mission
Worship is at the heart of the church's life. Our worship forms us as Christians by reminding us of who God is, who we are, and what God's kingdom is all about. The songs and sermons, prayers and sacraments, all shape us into the kind of people who participate in God's mission.
It's precisely because worship is so central and so important in shaping us that the prophets have such harsh words when our worship and our everyday living are on two different tracks. We also see the same ideas in the New Testament. Paul castigates the Corinthians when the manner in which they take communion belies its communal character (1 Cor. 11), and James condemns paying extra attention to the rich and powerful in worship (James 2:1-4). This is especially true when we fail to live just lives.
Isaiah says that the feasts and sacrifices of Israel's worship make God sick (Isa. 1:10-17). Their prayers and songs fall on God's deaf ears. They are simply going through the motions as far as God is concerned. Why? There is blood on their hands. They do not care for what God cares for---the widow and the orphan, the oppressed and the powerless. Wherever there is this kind of disconnect between the worship life of a community and the rest of its life, their worship proves worthless.
So today, if a church community comes together for worship while ignoring the plight of the poor in its neighborhood, its worship is worthless. If a church community sings praise to God on Sunday but fails to attend to the inequities within its own congregation, the songs fall flat. If a church community gathers around the Lord's table but its members are fighting each other, the bread and wine bring judgment rather than health and renewal (1 Cor. 11: 27-30).
However, Isaiah doesn't just dwell on the disease, he also presents the cure. "Wash and make yourselves clean. . . . Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed." Then, "though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow" (vv. 16-18).
We often talk about renewing our worship. Isaiah helps us to see that it's not the latest praise song or finest liturgy or most well-delivered sermon that will renew our worship. It's when we get serious about living out God's mission and paying attention to God's justice that our worship will become more God-honoring. It's when our lives reflect our worship that our worship will more effectively shape our lives.
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