First Mennonite Church
June 26, 2022
Text: Jeremiah 7:1-15
What Is at Stake in Worship?
The situation in the tiny nation of Judah was not anywhere good at the time God sent Jeremiah to speak these words. Judah was at the brink of being completely overtaken by the invading Babylonian army, as would be a tiny bird’s nest in the path of a raging wildfire. Humanly speaking, nothing could stop the Babylonians from easily capturing Judah. However, there were voices among the people in Jerusalem telling them a completely different story, a story disconnected from the reality.
The false prophets were telling the Judeans they were safe and that nothing would happen to them. This, for two main reasons: First, Jerusalem was the city of God. The prophets were saying that the mighty God who defeated the Egyptian Pharaoh and will protect the city. And secondly, that there was nothing to fear because the Temple, which was considered the dwelling place of Yahweh, was in Jerusalem. These prophets had ample scriptural references to back up their claims.
For example, Psalm 46 reads in part:
God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved;
God will help it when the morning dawns.
The nations are in an uproar; the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice; the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge (Psalm 46:5-7).
But as the people were coming to worship, Jeremiah stood at the gate proclaiming God’s word to them. Jeremiah’s words certainly came as a surprise to the people. To a certain degree, Jeremiah’s words turned upside down the people’s reasons for going to the temple. Jeremiah’s words revealed the contradiction there was between words and deeds, between what they thought they were offering God and what God was seeing about them. “I, too, am watching,” said the Lord to the people.
God was telling the Judean people that their daily deeds not only invalidated their worship, but did mockery to Yahweh. The people were unaware that God had already abandoned them. 5 For if you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly act justly one with another, 6 if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, 7 then I will dwell with you in this place, in the land that I gave to your ancestors forever and ever.
The prophet Isaiah spoke of a similar situation.
The Lord said:
Because 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.
From what we see, God had already abandoned his people. His promises of protection and to be in their midst were only valid if Israel kept its side of the covenant. Breaking covenant invalidated the promises that came with it. By God’s calling Judah to amend their ways and deeds, the Lord was pleading with his people to repent, to turn around. That involved acting justly towards their neighbors, showing concern for the foreigners living among them, taking care of the fatherless and widows. Repentance meant to abandon every way that made the innocent to die; it meant to stop worshipping idols. Correct forms of worship without godly living is futile. Worship that is disconnected from embodying God’s character, even if dimly revealed, comes short of honoring God indeed.
Some months ago, a man was arrested in the Midwest. He was charge for harassing people at a church parking lot. He claimed he was there only to “tell the hard truths” to the people in that church. Church security asked him to leave when the man confronted the pastor and after he would yell his message at the arriving worshippers, the police were called. The article did not specify what “hard truths” this man wanted to communicate.
Also, you might recall the day we were having outdoor services during the pandemic shutdowns. A gentleman came and as I was giving him a chair to sit on, thinking he came to worship with us, he told me he was a prophet. He then quickly told me that the reason we were out there was because we were “obeying man and not God.” He left shortly after he said that.
Worship, what is worship? Is it something that happens when people get together in churches? Is it the singing a particular genre of songs or the combination of singing hymns, offering prayer, and reading scriptures that constitute worship? Jeremiah’s audience was entering the temple courts to do just that. We are doing that right now. Or are there certain ways to do these activities that actually constitutes true or false worship?
The testimony we have in the Bible is that people were moved to worship when God manifested himself to them. For instance, when Yahweh appeared and spoke to Moses, he was suddenly overtaken by an overwhelming sense of God’s presence, his mercy and holiness (Exodus 34:6-8). Moses threw himself to the ground and worshipped God.
In the case of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, they all built altars to worship the Lord when he appeared to them. Worship happens when God and his people meet. And the immediate response is either fear, trembling, desire to flee, an overwhelming sense of sinfulness, and a cry for mercy or total surrender to the will of God. John of Patmos was knocked out when the Rise Christ appeared to him. It is the manifestation of God that prompts worship.
When we are awakened in our spirit to the presence of God, we become undone. That is because when we worship God our self-centered life enters a crisis in light of God’s self-giving love in Christ. The true motives of the heart, our dreams and pursuits in life are judged in light of God’s will for human life. Therefore, worship empowers us to love, even sacrificially. In worship, God commissions us to practice mercy, justice, and holiness. And that was precisely what the Judean people were failing to do. They were offering something they learned and practiced out of custom and repetitiveness. Their worship was only the dead shell of something that once was full of life.
When we worship God, we declare that everything else, even our very lives, is dependent on God. In worship we declare God, to be Lord, Master, and Eternal. We are not masters of our lives. In worship our mind and heart are re-oriented and re-centered, thus we reject all the forces that want to claim possession over us, including self. In worship we declare the Triune God to be our Creator and that we belong only to Him. Worship heightens the awareness of our finitude and of God’s holiness and eternity. This heightened awareness of God’s holiness and eternity not only moves us to give him glory and praise, but it also helps us to put in perspective the pursuits we have in life. Therefore, in worship our values and priorities are transformed. In worship, our eyes are opened to see in the face of every person the image and likeness of God; we see a neighbor and the very objects of God’s love as revealed in Christ.
I pray that no one of us leaves here just the way we came. I pray the Holy Spirit may reveal to each of us, even if only glimpses, of God’s holiness and will within our individual circumstances. I pray that as we leave this place, we go empowered to embody God’s mercy by reaching out to someone in need. This week, you might be given the opportunity to give a word of comfort to someone. This week, the Lord might put in the position to help someone in need. This week, someone might be waiting to hear from you. Just follow the Spirit’s prompting.
I pray that we would go out, ready to stand for justice and love in the name of Christ. That would indeed give clear evidence the Lord is with us here and that he is pleased with our worship. Amen!