Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Form of Worship, Isaiah 58:1-9

Isaiah 58 tells about God's people having the form of faith without the function, something that happens all too often, I believe.  The people cry out to God, asking why God does not see or recognize their fasting or acts of righteousness.  God replies with a great voice that their fasting is for their benefit, not God's.  Their fasting leads to quarreling and fighting, as well as to the oppression of others.  The righteous acts of the people are for show, a measure to make themselves feel better about who they think they are.

The story is the same today as it was back then.  Too many people who call themselves Christian have the form of faith and worship without the function.  I've heard it said that this is "Sitting on the premises, not standing on the promises."  There are many who consider themselves Christians because they go to church, but outside of that, we would have no idea that they were Christian.  I remember, for example, coming home from church one Sunday and stopping by the grocery store on the way.  I parked in the back of the lot and walked across to the store.  As I got close to the store, I came across two women in different cars fighting for the same parking spot.  Both women were dressed to the nines, looking like they were coming from church.  One had a huge Bible on her dashboard, the other with a plastic Jesus on the dash board and a "Honk if You Love Jesus" bumper sticker.  They were honking and shaking fists at each other.  I went into the crowded store, waited in a long line to pay for my loaf of bread, and came back out maybe 15 minutes later, only to find the two women still fighting over the same spot!  The weather was perfect, the parking lot was not completely full, and they could have already both been parked and in the store shopping if they were not fighting over the spot.  They had the form of faith (the Bible, plastic Jesus, bumper sticker, and having come from church), but they sure did not have the function!  There was no love of neighbor in the interaction.  There was no turning the other cheek or giving of one's coat or cloak.  There were 2 self-centered women who felt entitled to a decent parking space.

There are many threats to Christianity today.  I've heard people speak of Islam being the biggest threat to the Christian faith, while others have said it is homosexuality, and still others abortion.  However, the biggest threat to Christianity today is none of these external forces.  If any external force were to be a threat to Christianity, it would only be because the greatest threat had already played out.  This greatest threat to Christianity is those who call themselves Christian while not living that calling!  Those who are quick to condemn others, those who turn their backs on the needy, those who do not love God and neighbor, those who are sitting on the premises!  For Christianity to flourish, we must return to standing on the promises!  Worship is the starting point, not the focal point.  Worship is where we hear what God wants so when we leave we can do God's will.

So where are you?  What will you do to live your faith?  God is not looking for a good show.  God is looking for action.  Do not be like the people of Israel which Isaiah spoke to.  They thought God would look favorably upon them for their worship.  While God does want us to worship, God also wants us to live that worship.  Thanks be to God!