By Barrett Owen
It’s been a bad month. People are angry. Humans are dying. Cultures are dividing.
These are the talking points we have to discuss: Depression is a disease. Ukraine is in turmoil. ISIS just beheaded two American journalists. Refugee children are detained at the U.S. border. Airlines stopped their Liberian flights. Ferguson, Mo., feels more like 1960s Birmingham. Thousands of Palestinians have limited food and water. Police aren’t soldiers. Entire planes go missing. Gay Christians still aren’t accepted. Suicide is all too common. Race is still a divide.
Lately I’ve stood in the pulpit thinking about who we are and what we’re doing, and I hear God saying,
I hate, I despise your festivals,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them;
and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals
I will not look upon.
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
In other words, I’m standing in the pulpit wondering, “Is God satisfied with our worship?” Then I think, “How could God be? I’m not satisfied with it.”
I’m not satisfied with the space I’ve created for parishioners to lean close to the Divine in a month that’s brought so much death, so much separation, so much destruction and pain. I’m not satisfied with my response (or lack thereof) to Robin Williams, Ukraine, ISIS, Malaysia, refugee children, Ebola, Ferguson, Gaza, gay marriage or racial profiling.
My response has been yet another solemn assembly, yet another noisy song that does little to alleviate the brokenness we all feel. It’s just a business-as-usual worship service.
It’s as though I believe God honors loyalty over anything else, so I keep showing up each Sunday thinking God will be pleased with me. But who am I kidding? Worship should make others feel the rolling waters of justice and the righteousness of an ever-flowing stream.
Yet our worship is similar to the ancient Israelites’, and our lack of intentionality incubates the world’s brokenness even more.
Worship must be better. It must be built around the things that matter. It must listen to the spirit of God in the midst of the brokenness. It must move us to action. But how?
Rachel Held Evans said in a recent Sojourners blog that we should 1) Lament, 2) Listen and Learn and 3) Loose the chains of injustice. This is a good start. Our worship needs to grieve the plight of the world. Our worship needs to create space for the spirit to move. Our worship needs to address the craziness in the world.
My soul can’t facilitate another worship service that turns a blind eye to the pains and sufferings in the world. My soul can’t pretend that God’s anything more than frustrated with how I’ve worshiped. My soul can’t read another blog or see another news story and compartmentalize it as if it were a Netflix Original Series, gripping but insignificant to my daily routine.
So I offer this as a lament. My Lord and my God, I’m sorry. I can do more. We can do more. You need us doing more.