Sermon: Worship Meddling

Originally published on Barefoot Theology.

The Rev. Josephine Robertson
Epiphany 5A: Isaiah 58:1-9a, [9b-12], Matthew 5:13-20

The cliff notes version of today’s lessons could be summed up by: God cares about justice, mercy, love for neighbor and stranger, and the building of peaceful just communities among humans. God cares much less 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 education 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 can guess 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 seminary will really mess with the religion you were raised with and will say things like: read scripture, God does not care if we worship God. Any God that needs our worship isn’t worthy of it.

And because we’re human beings one of us said (but we were all thinking) “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 people Isaiah is addressing were fasting and praying to get God’s attention, to be seen by God as righteous, to be seen by one another as righteous.

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.

There are Christians today who want to make our planet uninhabitable and start wars to begin the Last Days. And just as unhelpfully there are Christians who want to turn faith into a personal and private choice with no impact on our public life. Jesus and Isaiah both point out that both those groups have it wrong. (Then, and now.)

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. The Eucharist is a dress rehearsal for what we must do out there. Worship isn’t something we do to make God happy, it is something God has given us to change who we are.

I’ve told the story before of a rabbi friend who has a congregant who likes to, anytime she addresses our common life together in her sermon comment: well rabbi, you’ve gone to meddling!

He means it as a criticism, she takes it as an indication she is being faithful to her tradition. Because here’s what we were lucky enough to inherit from our Jewish roots: the idea that what God cares about most is the way we humans order our lives together (with each other, and with the world entrusted to us.)

The Torah, the law we Christians sometimes mock isn’t a frivolous, out dated thing, the majority of it is about ordering our common life toward a just society one that reflects God’s hopes for us and the whole created world.

May we listen to the wisdom of our ancestors. May we be shaped and changed at our core by our worship and our community life. 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, by our deacon, 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.

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