Lectionary Readings for August 25. Isaiah 587:9b-14, Psalm 103:1-8, Heb 12: 18-29, Luke 13:10-17
These readings are a call to proper worship. While they don't prescribe elements or order of service, they are descriptive of the intended character of the community of faith.
When I was a child, there were certain unwritten, very firm ideas of what was proper for Sunday worship. Men wore suits (or at least shirts with ties), women wore dresses. The idea that one wore their "Sunday best"applied to more than clothes. It was also for language, habits, and topics of conversation,during worship. The intention was worthy, to show respect for God and the church, but it could easily lead to feelings of falseness and a "dress-up" righteousness, a Sunday faith. When what is "proper" becomes too much of a focus, it can make gatherings into places where poor people feel embarrassed about their thrift store look, or where people with problems (relationship, addiction, etc...) feel unwelcome. While it is important to be respectful of each other and God in our clothing choices, behaviour, etc...I am happy to see jeans and shorts mixed in with the suits and dresses on Sundays. It's good to see people caring for each other in their hurt and shame and/or talking openly about difficult issues. We still, however, easily get stuck in our "proper" ways of doing things and occasionally we need to be challenged.
Isaiah challenges what we think is proper.in worship. He is disgusted with acts of humility and religious practice that are all about looks. He calls for action. The whole point of worship, according to this piece of scripture, it that it results in feeding the hungry, doing what is just, and caring for the poor. Everything else is secondary.
I can't help but think of the disagreements that divide churches, and wonder if we are too caught up with what is "proper". I heard a report on CBC, an interview with a Catholic priest who has long supported and campaigned for women to become priests. He was defrocked for his improper views. Many other priests have told him they share his view, but they do not speak up for fear of punishment. I wonder about drawn out discussions on theological topics and Biblical interpretations. While I think these are important and relevant discussions to have, the reality is that our "forever" discussions mean we may put off the doing of justice and the showing of compassion. If we are so terribly concerned about getting things right and righteous before we act, we may never act at all.
Maybe it's time to be a little improper, to be radically welcoming and inclusive in our worship. In Luke 13, Jesus heals a crippled woman on the Sabbath. It is completely improper-after all, he could have waited a day till the Sabbath was over. She had been crippled for 18 years, what's one more day? But Jesus was making a point. The Sabbath is about justice, about being set free. Jesus didn't say that one more day was okay-he said it's been too long already. The entire crowd is said to have rejoiced at what Jesus was doing. That would include those leaders who had originally chastised Jesus.
Is it possible for churches to live respectfully in some disagreement with each other, while still working together on the many things where we have agreement? Can we let these scriptures challenge us to make our worship more present and practical and real on Sunday mornings and all week long?