As we gather to worship this morning I believe we need to allow God's Word to challenge us beyond our normal thinking and routine. As we gather we should seek what pleases God, not what satisfies us in our self-justification. The Word tells us that the only "religion" that our God finds acceptable is the one that places the same value on people that he does:
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (James 1:27)
To respond to the needs of our neighbour, the most vulnerable of our society, is what leaps out at us from Jesus' teaching. Jesus did not reveal anything to us that we did not already know about our Father from the Old Testament scriptures. Speaking to the people of that generation and this, God speaks through the psalmist:
How long will you defend the unjust
and show partiality to the wicked?
Defend the weak and the fatherless;
uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed.
Rescue the weak and the needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked. (Psalm 82:2-3)
Is this not the example that Jesus set for us and then he told us to love as he loved, to do as he did? The Father chastised his people for bringing to him empty and meaningless offerings. They did it from habit and obligation, not provoked by love and adoration, or even thankfulness. For our God, it is always a matter of the heart. Just check out the "Sermon On The Mount" that we find recorded in Matthew's gospel.
Our Father does not want the empty and meaningless praises of a people who have no understanding of what it is to follow his Son. He is not interested in our nice buildings and fine sounding music or the great sermons people will quote but never act on. He is only interested in seeing the Word played out in our lives by the actions of the Holy Spirit through us. He wants to see us act upon the love that compels us to respond in compassion to the needs of the suffering world around us. Our suits and dresses look great but the real question is: What is the condition of our hearts? And don't forget about the second part of the verse quoted from James.
The religion that our Father accepts as pure and faultless is for us to keep ourselves from being polluted by this world. Looking around I would say that we have failed pretty miserably in both of these aspects of acceptable religion. Honestly, what is the difference between us and our Christ-less neighbour? Maybe our language is a bit better and we go to church on Sunday but we watch the same TV, go to the same movies, work toward the same retirement, pretty well have the same values, give just as much to charity, in fact he probably gives more. What is the difference? If we can't see a major difference then we are doing something wrong. We have allowed the values of this world to become our values instead of looking to what our Father has placed as our values. We have allowed our favorite TV shows to form our heart, our opinions, our values. We come into agreement as people fall in love and have sex without marriage. We cheer as the down trodden rises up and exacts revenge on the oppressor. We start giving into the idea of same-sex relationships as we watch it played out as normal on our television screens. We are entertained by vampires, zombies and witchcraft. We call things that are not good, good. All this shaping and forming in the comfort of our home.
Something has to change. It really does. There needs to be a new breaking in the Church, where all of God's children fall on their face and repent for what we have made it into. We need to examine our own hearts and freely invite the Spirit to convict us of what is not acceptable to God. We need to turn and look into the face of our God once again and allow his holiness to strip the values of this world away from us so that his thoughts become our thoughts and his way becomes our way. Seriously though, as we gather today let us desire and expect a spiritual renewal in the Bride of Christ, call it revival if you want. If you listen closely enough you will hear him calling our names, calling us back to him, calling us back to the Word, calling us back to his heart, his calling, his purpose and design.