Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Don't Forget the Purpose

There are a lot of things going around in my head this evening. Probably several that I could, and perhaps should, write about. But, I'm not there. So, an easier post. [As I re-read the post before actually putting it up, this did not end up being the easy post that I thought it was going to be when I started. I think it drew more out of me than I expected.]

I've written before about worship. What I think it is; the rules that I think apply (or don't); etc. Recently I was reading from the book of Isaiah, and found what it said about the topic to be interesting.

Isaiah was a prophet, and I have read that the New Testament quotes Isaiah more than all of the other prophets combined. Although Isaiah was close to a number of kings, it seems pretty clear that he did not pull any punches. In fact, my brief research indicates that although Isaiah outlasted four kings, the fifth had him killed.

The portion of Isaiah that I am focused on now is 1:10-20. It is too long to quote the entire passage here (I just tried it). If you are reading this, I suggest that you take a second to look it up. In fact, I will go beyond that, go to www.biblegateway.com (or a similar site) and look for the New Living Translation version of the passage. It's ok, I don't mind waiting for you to find it and read it.

Ok, now that we are all on the same page, because I know you looked it up - Wow! Sick of your burnt offerings? Stop bringing me your meaningless gifts? Your celebrations are sinful and false? Remember, this is the Old Testament that we are reading. There are pages and pages and pages of the Old Testament that address nothing but the burnt offerings, the incense and the various celebrations. In fact, I think you could read most of the Old Testament and come to conclusion that offerings and gifts and celebrations and rituals is what worship is all about. After all, they are described in very fine detail.

But, I have always thought (ok, I've thought it for as long as I have thought about such things, which honestly isn't that long) that reading the Old Testament in that way is wrong. Sure, there are a lot of rules about the worship practices, but you can't separate them from the point of worship. The best analogy that I can come up with right now is music. Music can certainly be seen and studied as a series of notes, tempos and sound levels to be played by various instruments. But music, of course, is more than that. Its essence is more about expression and emotion and feeling - things that don't really translate well to the sheet music. If you tried to strip all of that away, you would end up with nothing but a complicated set of rules and directions - like you get when you strip the essence of worship from the Old Testament.

This passage from Isaiah really hits me on the head with that and not losing sight of the real point of worship. It screams to me, "Stop focusing on the rules and rituals, focus on the worship! I'm sick of you coming to me out of habit and blindly following a bunch of rules. I'm sick of you acting like you are worshiping, but really just going through the motions! Come to me and mean it. 'Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed.' [1:17a]"

Then, amazingly, despite the frustration, "Just listen and obey and I will take care of you. 'Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow.' [1:18b] But if you don't, there is nothing to be done for you - 'you will be devoured by the sword of your enemies.' [1:20]"

I try hard not to worship for worship's sake. I try not to let myself just go through the motions. I try not to take Communion without thinking about what it means and why I am doing it. I try not to lift up hands in prayer that are covered in the blood of sin. But, sometimes I admit that I probably fall into a routine. This rather pointed reminder about focusing on the purpose of my worship is helpful to me.

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