St. John’s, Kirkland
Feb 5 2017, Epiphany 5A
In case Micah and Jesus wasn’t clear enough for us last week this week we get Isaiah and Jesus once again hammering home our marching orders.
The cliff notes version is this for anyone who missed last week’s lessons: God cares about justice, mercy, love for neighbor and stranger, and the building of peaceful just communities among humans. God does not care about sacrifices, or worship, or fancy ceremonies.
Done. We can all go home! Maybe not, because right about there we start getting a little uncomfortable. If you’ve spent any time around religious people at all (just about any religion) then you’ve probably gotten the idea that worship is seriously important. Muslims pray five times a day as an obligation to God. Christians come together at least weekly to break bread and participate in the mystical feast of Jesus’ body and blood. Jews gather to worship God and read the Torah on a weekly basis as part of their required Shabbat celebration. And that’s just three of the thousands of faiths on earth.
Early on in my seminary career one of my colleagues was really, really upset by something that happened in worship, we’d changed something, or a mistake got made I don’t even remember what it was now. But one of our professors sort of blinked at us in that owl like way all professors develop and said “why are you upset, we aren’t doing this for God, God doesn’t care.” Or something to that effect. If you know anything about baby priests in training you know that a number of us got really worked up about that: of course God cares! God wants us to say the creed and do Eucharist and… Nope. This is where your professors with their PhDs will really mess with the religion you were raised with and will say things like: read scripture, God literally doesn’t care if we worship God. Any God that needs or worship isn’t worthy of it.
And because we’re human beings at least one of us was like “then why the hell are we even here??? Why are we in church on Sunday if none of this matters???”
“Because,” Professor Jennings said very quietly, “we are the ones who need worship.”
The Israelites were fasting and praying to get God’s attention, to be seen by God as righteous, to be seen by one another as righteous. To do things right. They were going about this stuff for all the wrong reasons. The people Jesus has been talking to in this sermon on the Mount fell into two camps: those that wanted to fight the Romans with swords and clubs (the Sadducees) in order to usher in God’s Kingdom on earth, and those who wanted to make religion something personal and private that defined your private life (the Pharisees) until God instituted God’s Kingdom on Earth. Jesus and Isaiah both point out that both those groups have it wrong.
Jesus and Isaiah would have agreed with my professor. We don’t worship God for God’s sake, and religion is not a personal and private matter. Worship, my professor went on to say, is practice for our lives in the world. Worship isn’t something we do to make God happy, it is something God has given us to change who we are.
So two things: if you are coming to church every Sunday and have been for years and that hasn’t changed who you are and how you live your daily life then something’s wrong. Either we your clergy have failed, or your community has failed, or you’ve been doing what the Israelites were doing in Isaiah’s day. That’s all OK, and human, but something to work on. And second, if we start doing this worship thing right then things around us will change, because we will.
In the last month or so I’ve had a number of people say to me “now what?” What do we do? So here it is:
First, we come together. We process into this place as people from all walks of life, from different backgrounds and ethnicities, with different incomes and preferences and politic parties. And we come together in one place for a shared purpose. We don’t do it for the sake of worship, we do it because if we can do it here we can do it out there in thew world too. We don’t have to agree, we don’t have to live the same way, or see eye to eye but we have to be able to sit down together, see the dignity of God in one another, and work for something greater than ourselves.
We listen to scripture and preaching. We listen to wisdom that transcends our own beliefs, our own preferences, that makes us uncomfortable, that challenges us. We listen to truth and we are trained that there is in fact truth in this world and that God has a call for us.
Then, we pray for the other and each other. Sometime I want you to come early, or stay late and open the prayer book to the prayers of the people, you can find it in the index. And you’ll see there are set prayers, but also instructions on how we can write our own. Those instructions will tell you that we must pray for our world, for our leaders (no matter who they are), we must pray of the church around the world, whether we’re mad at any of them right now or not. We must pray for those who are in danger or oppressed. We must pray for those other than ourselves who are in need, challenging us to see beyond our own little bubbles and our own little cliques to the bigger family of God.
We repent. Every week we admit that we’ve screwed up, and we ask for not only forgiveness, but also for strength to do better.
We offer one another peace. It’s no coincidence this comes after we’ve confessed the ways we’re broken, all of us. This is the healing balm we offer one another. And there’s no test as to who you offer peace to, but the person you have the most trouble with would be a good start.
And finally we do what Jesus taught us to do. We bring back to God the gifts God has given us in bread and wine, acknowledging that everything we have to offer is already God’s. We believe that God transforms those things into the Body and Blood of Christ and that in the partaking of them God transforms us as well. All of us, in all our diversity and difference become one people. One Body with Christ as the head.
And then with God’s blessing our deacon sends us forth to do what we have practiced here.
Worship changes us, at our core. It’s why we do the same worship every week, every year. Because the transforming of our lives takes time. And every week we are offered once again the chance to become something new, to become a little more the dream God has for us. And every week we are given our marching orders, out those doors and into the broken world, not to conquer it, and not to withdraw from it: but to share with it the Kingdom of God that God is building right here and right now.