Sunday morning, and off to church we go.
But what if, when we arrive at the door, instead of being greeted by a friendly outstretched hand, there is a grim figure who checks the list on a clipboard and tells you, “No. God will not hear your prayers today. Your offerings are meaningless, He’s sick of your worship, and He wants no more of your pious posturing. What made you think you were welcome this morning? Leave. You’re not invited.”
Such a rebuff would shock most of us. Jolt us out of the mindless manner in which we sometimes attend church. Stun us enough to wonder why we have been rejected.
Although I’ve read these denunciations in Scripture before, the last reading of Isaiah 1:10-20 stunned me with the strong language, so much so that it has stayed with me for almost two weeks. These are exactly God’s words to the people of Judah, the ones who have forgotten who raised and cared for them and who have rejected God and turned their backs on Him (verses 3-4).
Yet apparently they were still going through the rituals of worship. God addresses them as “Sodom and Gomorrah,” and says the ceremonies, the prayers, the offerings all disgust Him. “I want no more of your pious meetings … I cannot stand them!”
Maybe it wasn’t just the vehemence of God’s rejection that bothered me. Maybe I cannot get the passage out of my mind because it is something we need to pay attention to today. God gives His reason for refusing to listen to prayers, tells Judah why He is sick of their worship:
…for your hands are covered with the
blood of innocent victims.
Wash yourselves and be clean!
Get your sins out of my sight.
Give up your evil ways.
Learn to do good.
Help the oppressed.
Defend the cause of orphans.
Fight for the rights of widows.
God says all their worship is sinful and false (v. 13) because their dealings with others have not been good and just.
The indictment against them is based on how they have treated others!
Ouch. How have I treated others this week? Do I go to church this morning with any victim’s blood on my hands? And for disciples of Christ, that is not only the blood of innocent victims, that would include my enemy’s blood! Have I sought to do good? Have I helped my neighbor — anyone I see who needs help?
My slate from this past week is not clean.
How do I wash myself, be clean enough to appear in God’s presence, get my sins out of His sight?
The good news comes immediately. God says though my sins are like scarlet, [He] will make them as white as snow. Now this is a statement for another, and maybe multiple, discussions; because how red is scarlet, and how white is snow? Think about that contrast, and thank God that He can take your scarlet and make it snow-white.
That is what Christ did for us. Because of the sacrifice He made of Himself, our scarlet is snow-white, our sins are removed from God’s sight, and we can enter into His presence completely washed and clean.
When you go to worship, remember this and bring your thankful and humble heart.
Yet God still hates our sins of mistreating others. Christ says we must treat others as well as we treat ourselves. We must forgive others as God has forgiven us. If God has made your neighbor’s scarlet as white as snow, have you also forgotten his sins, as far as the east is from the west?
How have I treated others this week? Is there any chance that when I get to church this morning, God will say, “Who asked you to come worship me? … I want no more of your [piety] … though you offer many prayers, I will not listen.”
Because of Christ, I am confident I will not be turned away as I go to worship this morning. But also because I am a follower of Christ, I need to make a sober assessment of how I’ve treated others this week.