How much of what we do for God is for God, and how much is actually for ourselves?
That was the second point of the sermon we heard on vacation a couple Sundays ago, based on the first chapter of Isaiah. Here’s the text:
“The multitude of your sacrifices —
what are they to me?” says the Lord.
“I have more than enough of burnt offerings,
of rams and the fat of fattened animals;
I have no pleasure
in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.
When you come to meet with me,
who has asked this of you,
this trampling of my courts?
Stop bringing meaningless offerings!
…They have become a burden to me;
I am weary of bearing them.
When you spread out your hands in prayer,
I will hide my eyes from you;
even if you offer many prayers,
I will not listen.
Your hands are full of blood;
wash and make yourselves clean.
Take your evil deeds out of my sight!
Stop doing wrong,
learn to do right!
encourage the oppressed.
Defend the cause of the fatherless,
pleased the case of the widow.”
— Isaiah 1:11-13a, 14b-17
Pastor Noble paraphrased God as saying: “you know all those offerings you bring? In the words of Shania Twain, ‘that don’t impress me much’“.
I can’t help but wonder what God might say this about today. The amount of time we spend arranging flowers and candles in the sanctuary? Apostolic succession among clergy? Setting up Sunday morning coffee hours? Saying the mass or the prayers “beautifully”? Attending church meetings? Singing in the choir? Becoming ordained as elders, deacons, vestry members, or whatever governing board members are called? Performing great music / drama / liturgical dance? Offering a “seeker-friendly” service? Having 90% of the congregation in small group Bible studies? Having the perfect order of worship? Having a pastor who is female / handicapped / a minority / young / old / has a doctorate? Offering programs for all age and demographic groups? Being emerging / non-emerging / anti-emerging? Being Calvinist / Arminian?
All of these things can have meaning in their place — but they can also, all too easily, become ends in themselves. And ultimately, in the light of eternity, none of them are required of us by God.
So what does God require? Very little, and all we’ve got. From Micah 6:8…
Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.