Read Isaiah 1:10-17
10 Listen to the LORD, you leaders of “Sodom.”
Listen to the law of our God, people of “Gomorrah.”
11 “What makes you think I want all your sacrifices?”
says the LORD.
“I am sick of your burnt offerings of rams
and the fat of fattened cattle.
I get no pleasure from the blood
of bulls and lambs and goats.
12 When you come to worship me,
who asked you to parade through my courts with all your ceremony?
13 Stop bringing me your meaningless gifts;
the incense of your offerings disgusts me!
As for your celebrations of the new moon and the Sabbath
and your special days for fasting—
they are all sinful and false.
I want no more of your pious meetings.
14 I hate your new moon celebrations and your annual festivals.
They are a burden to me. I cannot stand them!
15 When you lift up your hands in prayer, I will not look.
Though you offer many prayers, I will not listen,
for your hands are covered with the blood of innocent victims.
16 Wash yourselves and be clean!
Get your sins out of my sight.
Give up your evil ways.
17 Learn to do good.
Help the oppressed.
Defend the cause of orphans.
Fight for the rights of widows. (NLT)
Whatever else he was, Isaiah wasn’t a diplomat. He didn’t hesitate to address the leaders and people of Israel as being from Sodom and Gomorrah. In our terms, he was telling them how much he hated their church services. God didn’t just think they could do with a bit of fine tuning: some new songs, a bit more seeker friendly, shorter sermons or snappier notices. He seemed to hate the whole package.
And the problem wasn’t so much with the rituals themselves: after all God himself had inaugurated much of it. The problem was that the rituals had become the sum total of worship. The rituals had ceased to express a broader reality: they had become the only reality. The words they said when they gathered together bore no resemblance to the lives they lived when they scattered.
It was Gandhi who said that it was Christians who turned him off Christianity. He wouldn’t be the only one. Going to church and not living out what we learn and what we declare is the ugliest form of hypocrisy. It fatally weakens our witness to a world which watches us closely to see if we truly do believe what we say we believe.
In our commendable desire to not confuse Christianity with merely doing good works, it would be a terrible shame to think good works don’t matter. True, we can’t be Christians simply by doing good works. But we can’t call ourselves Christians unless we do good works. We are to live out our faith day by day and come together to celebrate it and gain insight into it. God wants us to do both. What God has joined together, let none of us put asunder.