I concluded Part 1 with: “The point I’m compelled to make is…” Let’s take it from there.
The point I’m compelled to make is … that when we obviously don’t care about anyone but ourselves, God is not impressed in the least with our worship – whether traditional or contemporary, accompanied by professional musicians on a stage or by a guy with an out of tune guitar on a stool. The kind of worship that God hates is the kind that comes from people who have no concern for justice for the “oppressed, the fatherless, and the widow.”
“I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” Amos 5:21-24
“Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me… Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” Isaiah 1:13-17
“With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God? … He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:6-8
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.” Matthew 23:23
What these ancient worshippers neglected was compassion and just treatment for the marginalized. This isn’t the only thing that disqualifies one from worshipping well, but in each of these passages the common theme is injustice. God requires us to “act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly.” Treating people fairly and mercifully should be as natural and as unstoppable as the flow of a mighty river. We can sing jaunty songs, dance with abandonment, and shout his praises till we’re hoarse, but if we fail to take up the cause of the fatherless and plead the case of the widow our worship can never be thought of as “good.”
“Just” people don’t just care about themselves, but about other people, especially the most defenseless, those typically below them on the socioeconomic scale. “Just” people don’t intentionally repress or unintentionally neglect such people. Among the vilest injustices are atrocities such as the trafficking of human beings or using one’s social power to oppress the weak for one’s own gain. But since there are not many traffickers, sweatshop foremen, or corrupt politicians among my blog followers, I might elaborate on our more common guilt of ignorant injustice.
What do you think God thinks about worshippers who, in order to save a buck, add to their prodigious wardrobes, most of which are produced in the hellish conditions of sweatshops in Cambodia? Cheap to us may very well come at a high price to someone else! What does he think of those who stand on the streets of border towns shouting at refugees, many of them children, to go back “home” to brutality and bone grinding poverty? Many of those who sleep the soundest in spite of their contribution to unjust labor practices or shout the loudest about their own rights at the cost of the needs of others are people who will go to church on Sunday and sing their worship songs in the comfort of their padded pews and palatial sanctuaries. That, in my opinion, is the kind of worship that God finds indigestible, the kind he hates!
The kind of worship he loves – well – it must be the kind that exudes from people who not only love him, but also love their “neighbor” as much as they do themselves. If you’re unclear about who your neighbors are or inclined toward a narrow definition of “neighbor,” refresh your memory of Jesus’ definition.
God loves to be praised. And we love to praise him. It’s the way he made us. It pleased him to give us the pleasure of pleasing him. When I make worship more about my pleasure, especially at the expense of justice to my neighbor, he hates it! Conversely, he loves it when we joyfully give him the praise he deserves and the justice our neighbors deserve!
I admit that these last two posts are provocative. But I feel strongly about both loving God and our neighbors at the same time. To my mind, worship and justice are inextricably linked. You might not agree with me either in principle or with my strong language about these. Let me know what you think.
On the other hand, if you think these posts could be helpful to others in your Facebook or Tweet-world networks, please share it with them. Blessings!