Posted by Craig Borlase on 1 April 2013

There’s a myth doing the rounds. It’s nothing new, though – it’s been in circulation for thousands of years, and it goes a little like this: God likes it best when we’re doing the religious ritual stuff really, really well. The Lord – so this myth would have us believe – has a discerning eye. Like an ageing monarch he knows exactly how things should and should not be done, and only the very best servants are able to carry out the routines with the requisite flair and care.

Rubbish.

You know it’s rubbish, don’t you? At some level we all do – we all know that Christianity has nothing to do with being impressive and a great deal to do with living obediently, sacrificially and with great love. But while we know this there are times when the temptation to consider the Sunday service as the high point of our ‘spiritual’ week can be pretty strong.

Living Scripture

The Bible is practical. OK, so we might not be talking about tips on how to improvise an asparagus steamer or everyday stain removal in three easy steps, but when it comes to the important things – the life and death issues – the Bible’s got it all in black and white.

1. There was no social security back in the days of tents, shepherds and papyrus scrolls. So God made it clear that the responsibility for relieving the crushing oppression of poverty lay with his own people. Have you ever heard of the Year of Jubilee? See the Digging Deeper section for more info, but meanwhile take a look at Deuteronomy 24:19-21. It explores the law of gleaning, a system where crops that were not collected at the first harvest were to be left for those who were in greater need. Why would God suggest this? Why does poverty matter to him?

2. Have a read of the following verses: Amos 5:7,11 and 12. Who of the usual suspects could these words be describing? The Philistines? Ninevites? Egyptians? The answer is ‘none of the above’. It is God’s people, the Israelites at whom these words are spat. How could they have let things drift so far off course? 

3. Isaiah 1:10-20 offers yet more insight into the mistakes made by God’s own people. Read the ten verses out and talk about what it is that particularly angers God. Should we be surprised by this?

4. Hypocrisy gets an even more thorough critique in Amos 5, verses 21-24. Have a read of them and ask yourselves whether their behaviour is at all understandable to you. The chances are that it won’t appear totally alien. So many of us act likewise - we get the sequence wrong much of the time. Our religion becomes a place of refuge not for those in need of protection but for those too short-sighted to find their way outside. We hide behind our services and if we are not careful our faith can become more about what we do in church than out of it – much like it was for those on the receiving end of Amos’ words.

5. God likes our worship, but it’s not just about the songs. As Amos makes clear our words are meaningless and putrid if they are not backed up by our actions. Surely – and I’m just guessing here – God likes our worship partly because it comes with some significant bi-products? Surely at its best our worship goes beyond pleasant harmonies and musical appreciation? Surely true worship is the sight of a life lived devoted to God and His cares and concerns – with lives transformed as a result?

6. Think about people you know who lives their lives in ways that you admire – the ones whose actions and care for others surely makes God pleased. What is it that motivates them? What do they do practically that makes an impression on you? Are there any lessons from their lives that you could apply to your own?

 

Touching God

The Bible is clear that what is required of us is ‘to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God’ (Micah 6:8). Those three verbs – act, love, walk – cover a multitude of expressions, a huge and dynamic array of possibilities. Our worship, whether in song or action, in church or beyond it, cannot be without the three essentials of justice, mercy and humility. If we cut them out our faith will be horribly thin and dangerously weak.

Words like those offered by Micah make sense. Yet in the church today we can get things so out of sync that we can easily do the opposite of what they suggest. It’s the same with James 1:27:

‘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.’

All these thoughts and words are fair enough, but what about the action. How can we help people connect their worship and their faith on a deeper level? How can we get people asking their own questions?

There are many, many answers to those two questions, and here are just two simple ideas that might work with a group. Have a go…

 

A Creative Response

Get a large sheet of paper and a whole array of paints, brushes and pens. Bring in a collection of newspapers, scissors and glue. Create a collage based around this verse from Micah, which you might like to write out in full on your paper. 

Start with silence. Candles might help draw the focus, but a few minutes of total silence is what you’re aiming for. Encourage people to let their minds slip into neutral. For some this is harder than others, so meditating on a mental image of Jesus can be a good alternative.

After a few minutes, say this prayer:

‘Father, if we spent our lives pouring out our words to describe you,

We could still never come close to defining you.

All our words and songs and homemade beauty cannot do you justice,

Yet you are kind and gracious in accepting what we give.’

Then have people add their own creative responses to the Micah verse. Whether it is through images or verse, montages of newspaper clippings or free writing, give people time to respond in whichever way (or ways) work best for them.

 

 

An More Logical Response

Leviticus 25 lays out the blueprints for a unique approach to wealth and society. Have a look at it and get your head around the details (the bulk of the info appears between verses 8 and 17). 

The concept has never really been put into action. There have been years called ‘jubilee’ over the centuries, but none have ever been as radical as Leviticus suggests.

What would society look like today if we followed such a pattern? How do you think our church services would differ if every 50 years we were all brought back to an economic level playing field?

Verses 18 and 19 are worth reading too. What do you think about them? Are there issues that we are facing today that might not be so serious in a society that practiced this type of jubilee?

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