“The multitude of your sacrifices—
what are they to me?” says the Lord .
“I have more than enough of burnt offerings,
of rams and the fat of fattened animals;
I have no pleasure
in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.
When you come to appear before me,
who has asked this of you,
this trampling of my courts?
Stop bringing meaningless offerings!
Your incense is detestable to me.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—
I cannot bear your evil assemblies.
When you spread out your hands in prayer,
I will hide my eyes from you;
even if you offer many prayers,
I will not listen.
Your hands are full of blood;
wash and make yourselves clean.
Take your evil deeds
out of my sight!
Stop doing wrong,
learn to do right!
encourage the oppressed.
Defend the cause of the fatherless,
plead the case of the widow.
The more things change the more they stay the same. The Israelites lived in a time far removed from our own and served God before the coming of Jesus and yet they are more like us than we would probably care to admit.
Here in Isaiah 1 we find God speaking some harsh words. He is telling them that all their religious activities are detestable and disgusting to him. He cannot abide with them and wants them to stop. It’s all meaningless God says, because they are not changed within. Their hearts are dirty.
What God wants more than sacrifices, more than words, more than songs, more than endless rituals, services, and gestures is a changed heart.
He’s looking for repentance, a seeking of forgiveness, a contrite approach that acknowledges wrong doing. Otherwise to God our presence before him is little more than a “trampling of his courts” he didn’t ask for.
A trampling of his courts. It’s painful to me to think in those terms. I’ve always relied on the fact that God wants to hear me, wants to spend time with me; the idea that he is always inviting always pleased with my efforts. In many ways this is true. God does want relationship with us. So much so that he sent his Son to bridge the gap and offer it to us. But he requires that it not be meaningless. That it not be fake. If we are just going through the motions, going for appearances, going because we have nothing better to do, then he would rather we not go at all.
What God wants form us is meaningful interaction. He wants us offering ourselves, our hearts, our agendas, our “rights”, our insecurities. He wants us seeking him honestly and genuinely. He wants our lives to be lived out for the poor, the oppressed, the helpless.
“Stop bringing your meaningless offerings!”
This is God’s plea to his people. No more meaningless acts and gestures. Make it real. Make it about loving others. Make it about hearts that don’t pretend. Hearts that are open to God changing, God cleaning, God rearranging them. This is the kind of worship God seeks from us.
As you get yourself ready to worship God this weekend take time to examine your heart. Take time to offer to God, to open it to him before you arrive at the gathering for worship. Seek him now so you may be ready to give gifts of worship that are acceptable and pleasing to him.
photo “lifted high” by jonathan liedtke