Isaiah 1:11-17; Mark 1:14-2021-30

January 24, 2021

— Glorifying God and enjoying God forever

As you might imagine, this is the preacher’s nightmare.  I have had nightmares in which I was travelling to lead worship in different churches as a pulpit supply and I arrive just as worship is starting or get lost in the church somewhere between the office and the sanctuary so that I am late for worship.  Yes, that is a real nightmare I have from time to time.  I think only once the nightmare also included missing clothes, but the real nightmare – the mother of all preacher nightmares – is the horrible warning from Isaiah and other prophets who bring down the judgment of God that our worship is worthless, even more than worthless, actually abhorrent to God.  When you get to the point that the worship we offer actually offends God, then you are done.  Pack it up and head home.

After all, isn’t that the point of our life?  Isn’t this the reason we are on this planet, to worship God?  Isn’t that the reason God created us to begin with?  I am calling on all of you who studied and memorized the Westminster Shorter Catechism when you were younger.  Even if you don’t remember the other 106 questions and answers, you probably still remember the very first one: what is our chief end?  What is our reason for existing?  What is the meaning of our life?  We are to glorify God and enjoy God forever.

At face value, that may sound like worship.  That may sound like the reason God made us is so that we might get together in churches and worship God.  If we are meant to glorify God, what better place to do that than in church worship?   I’m not sure what that means for all of the years people existed before there was a thing called church, though.  There are also people all around the world today who do not have access to churches or for whom churches are illegal.  Certainly, their lives are not pointless or meaningless if they cannot make it to church.  Or closer to home, while many people may feel their week is off or missing something if they do not make it to church a Sunday or two, I have a hard time imagining those weeks do not lose their value in God’s sight.  The meaning and value and purpose of our lives is not tied to our church attendance or what we do in church.  And I think that is another way of expressing what Isaiah is saying.  Our religiosity is not what God is seeking.  The forms and liturgies and religious acts are not what deep down glorify God.  They are not our purpose, but we can be a thoroughly corrupt and evil people and still come to church every Sunday dressed to the nines, with big offerings, loud voices, and outstretched arms. We can worship to our hearts’ content and still be lousy people.  And the God who knows the heart will not be happy with us at all.

So the question is how to respond to that quandary.  If our worship fails to meet the test of truly glorifying God, we could give up and go home, or we can figure out what drives our glory to God.  Maybe it is not our liturgies and forms and religious acts.  Maybe what glorifies God is bigger and more beautiful. Maybe God gave us hearts for more than coming to church and doing churchy things.

That probably would have helped William.  He was stuck in bed one Sunday morning and refusing to get up for church.  His mother came in and scolded her son, “Get up, William, you need to go to church.”  “No, I don’t,” William replied pulling the covers up, “for two reasons: they don’t like me and I don’t like them.”

“Well, you are going whether you like it or not,” his mother said.  “I’ll give you two reasons, too.  You are 42 years old and you’re the pastor.”

Well, we are not giving up, yet, and there must be more than just coming to church.  At least Jesus had it figured out.  I wonder if you have ever noticed that whenever Jesus went to the synagogue in the gospels (synagogue is somewhat like church today), he seemed to get into trouble.  Jesus never seemed to just go and sit in the back and listen and pray and do religious things.  There was always something going on when Jesus went to synagogue, and I would imagine it was because he was there.  He was not one to sit by when people were in need and people were ALWAYS in need.  We still are.  Regularly, he healed people from illnesses and from the influence of demons, as in the passage from today.  He could not resist helping people, and this was a wonderful gift, but, but, but just doing that in the synagogue on the Sabbath day would have been a sin.  He was violating God’s law as they interpreted it by doing things (works) on the Sabbath day – in the synagogue nonetheless; he had nothing to hide.  So it is no surprise that this is one of the big things that lands Jesus in hot water later.  Still, he does it.  He does it because of who he is – as the demonic presence admits in the passage from Mark.  I know who you are.  You are Jesus, the Son of God.  You are the one who has come to restore the world for God.  You are the true and right King of all.  You are the one who glorifies God.  You are the Christ.  I know who you are.

You must admit that the story would have worked out very differently if Jesus had refused to help or do anything because it was the Sabbath day.  We did not hear Jesus say, “Nope, sorry, I cannot help you today because it is the Sabbath day and to do the work of healing today would violate our interpretation of the fourth commandment.”  Instead, he flies right into the face of the controversy with his mercy, something he even extends at the home of Andrew and Simon Peter, with Simon Peter’s mother-in-law.  Jesus always errs on the side of love, God’s love for us, our love for God.  He has no interest in being confined by what the human powers think is right.  He knows firsthand what is good and right and loving, and that will always take precedent at church so-to-speak and everywhere.  He knows what we are meant to be and to do – the reason for our existence – and he came to show us.

One of the great blessings of the internet has been the ability to learn how to do just about anything.  This is the gift of YouTube, the video website where we also have a church channel, but YouTube has videos on just about anything.  I learned how to replace a window actuator for my old truck by watching a video.  I have also watched how to replace specialized lightbulbs in cars and brakes.  I think the last thing I used it for was how to build bluebird houses.

But I am not sure I would go to YouTube to discover what you need to know about glorifying God without beginning at the source: Jesus.  He went to the synagogue with the purpose of showing them a truth they had never heard before from their religious leaders.  He confronted the powers of darkness in his love for the man who was stricken.  He healed on the Sabbath because of his heart for the people of God.  He gave everything he had for the good of others, even to the point of giving his life.

This is what glorified God, my friends.  This is what we can never forget.  The moment we neglect our service in love for all of God’s children, then we are done as a church.  We could have the most magnificent worship you have ever seen or heard, but if we are not here to serve, to give, to love, then it is all just a show and God will reject our worship.

Our church family is facing a turning point with a new year and a coming new pastor.  We already have new music leadership, and we are in full faith that new opportunities are coming in the coming months as the pandemic recedes.  This is our time to recommit to glorifying God in the ways that count and enjoy the Lord our God together.  It is vital that we can say will full servant hearts, “Thanks be to God.”  Amen.