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.
I hate your new moon celebrations and your annual festivals.
They are a burden to me. I cannot stand them!
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.
Wash yourselves and be clean! Get your sins out of my sight.
Give up your evil ways. Learn to do good. Seek justice.
Help the oppressed. Defend the cause of orphans. Fight for the rights of widows. (NLT)
Words like this are like a bucket of cold water over the head of those who spend lots of time getting Sunday church services “just right”. It is possible to get things “just right” but end up being all wrong.
Back in Isaiah’s time, much emphasis was put on observing the proper rituals. No problems with that. As indeed there are no problems with arranging and conducting contemporary church services with due care and respect. The problem is not so much the meetings themselves, but what happens or does not happen between the meetings.
In short, the faith expressed in the religious rituals was not lived out in everyday life. Much easier to get caught up in the wonder and praise of corporate worship than to roll up our sleeves and get involved in the lives of the poor and needy. Much easier to sing and speak of a just God than work for his sort of justice when the meeting ends.
Our Christian meetings are to be times of praise and penitence, learning and sharing. But they need to express some sort of everyday reality and not just be a watertight “religious” compartment in our lives. Our gatherings are to be the means by which we better engage the word rather than a means of escaping from it.
God’s response to our regular meetings is not shaped so much by what we do when we gather, but by what we do when we scatter.