February 25, 2024.

First Mennonite Church

February 25, 2024

Let Worship Flow and Justice Roll Down

Text: Isaiah 29:13; Amos 5: 18-24

Last Sunday, we saw that the transformation worship effects in us is not for our hoarding, pride, or personal self-refinement. The transforming power of worship lies in the fact that God gives of himself to us to become living examples of his power, goodness, and holiness. That is why Paul affirms that true and proper worship becomes a “living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God.”

I also said, last Sunday, that this kind of worship as a living sacrifice offered to God is very costly because it will make our lives go against the grain of the world. A worship that makes us living examples of God’s will and purposes in the world will not be pleasing to the world. That was exactly what Jesus warned his disciples about on the night of his arrest when he said:

18 “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. 20 Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also (John 15:18-20).

Everything about Jesus, his words, his deeds, his simplicity, and his dedication to fulfill his purpose, all pointed towards God. His life was a living example of God’s power, love, goodness, wisdom, holiness, and everything that is the essence of God. The apostle Paul summarized it when he writes, that “in Jesus dwelt the fullness of God” (Colossians 2:9).

Interestingly, only once in the gospels do we hear Jesus praising God as reported in Matthew 11:25 and Luke 10:21. However, Jesus’ life was a life of ongoing worship through the way he lived. In Matthew, twice a voice from heaven is heard saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (3:17; 17:5).

The Father found pleasure in Jesus because he loved without condition, he welcomed the lowly, the sinner, and outcast. God was pleased with Jesus because he spoke truth to power either political or religious. God was pleased with Jesus because he surrendered his life for the sake of the world.

The true kind of worship that pleases God is one that in the sanctuary gives honor and glory to God through prayers, singing, and the surrender of self. But true worship of God also includes the enactment of God’s love, mercy, kindness, and desire for peace and justice in the world. It is this aspect of worship that is costly and oftentimes avoided. You see, very often and by default we encourage and seek the kind of worship that suits us, the kind of worship that caters to our spiritual and/or emotional needs. We want to participate in a worship that brings us internal peace and comfort. We want to participate in the kind of worship where we are reassured of God’s protection and steadfastness.  And, I must admit, there is nothing wrong with wanting such kind of worship. We all have our own inner struggles and traumas. We all wrestle and strive to achieve our dreams. We all have fears of some kind. We all desire protection from the chaos of the world. We all get absorbed by the personal, local, and immediate. For that reason, the kind of worship we seek is one where we seek God’s goodness, power, and grace to minister to us. But the problem with this kind of worship lies in the fact that we become consumers only of what God gives us in return for worshipping him. When instead, the purpose of the empowering nature of worship is that we become witnesses of God in the world. When personal benefit becomes the goal of worshipping God then we become indifferent to the world’s need of God.

As I said earlier, sometimes, we by default seek to make the worship service something to soothe our spirit and to allay our fears. The problem with that is instead of worship making us aware of God’s heart for the hurting world, for those who suffer domestic violence, for those struggling to keep their marriages together, for those who can’t make ends meet, for those who need to hear the gospel message, the worship service becomes a soothing moment to make the church go asleep.

The problem Amos was addressing during his prophetic ministry was not that Israel was not worshipping God with the proper sacrifices. God’s displeasure, hate, and rejection of Israel’s sacrificial offering was not because the calves or rams offered were unclean or unfit to their God. God’s closing of his eyes and ears to the music and singing of Israel’s worship was not due to their poor quality of the lyrics or the harmony in the singing voices. No! In fact, the sacrificial bulls were handpicked and fatted ones, admitted Amos. The songs might have been theologically sound and harmoniously and beautifully arranged. The grain and oils offered were of the choicest in quality. In other words, Israel was giving the best of what it had to God, at least in terms of the sacrificial elements.

The problem of Israel’s worship was the inconsistency between the external elements of their worship and their actions of worship. Words and deeds did not match.

Jesus quotes the words of Isaiah when he rebuked the Pharisees. In Matthew 15, verses seven to nine, Jesus said,

“You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:

‘These people honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
    their teachings are merely human rules.’”

The Pharisees were zealous observers of rules and the external aspects of religion. They considered themselves the champions for God’s causes. However, they did not care for those God cared for. Instead of seeking to do what was right, Jesus says, “They devoured widow’s houses and for a show made lengthy prayers” (Luke 20:47). Instead of being sympathetic to the sinners, they avoided and despised them.  

When our worship only seems to demonstrate the spiritual sovereignty and the holiness of God but fails to demonstrate his righteousness and heart for peace, we negate the true identity of the God of the Bible. When we go about in life concerned only for ourselves and not for what is happening in our neighborhoods, we fail in our witness that God is a God of righteousness and justice. Our indifference to the world’s pains and injustices is interpreted by the watching world as God’s indifference too. And that is making of our God a distant God, an indifferent God, and a God who has abandoned humanity.

The God we worship is the only God. He is the God who loves us, but he is also the God who also loves the unreasonable boss, the angry protestor, the terrorist bomber, the crooked politician, the undocumented field worker, and every breathing man and woman in this 7.5 billion-inhabitant planet. This God is concerned for our well-being, but he is also for those who do not know him yet

Our worship should include prayers of confession and prayers of intercession. The urge to pray for the world’s troubles begins when we worship God and he reveals to us his love for the world.

There is an overlooked truth when Jesus said, Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.

The world will hear our message when it can see God’s presence, love, desire for peace, and example of what salvation looks like. God empowers us with all these possibilities when we worship him. So, let us worship God with heart, soul, and mind. Let us allow God to infuse in us his purposes and will for our lives and the world. And, let us go to the world that desperately needs to be touched by God. Amen!

Pastor Romero