Monday, December 12, 2011

Worship and Justice Must Dance Together

How does a believing community navigate the tensions that surface when we seek to emphasize both worship and justice?

It is an interesting juxtaposition needing more serious thought and reflection because the gravity within our communal heart seems to pull us closer to one over, and many times against, the other.

Justice pulls us. We cry out to our God, like the slaves called Israel in Egypt, who we believe will rescue us from our afflictions and from the injustices done to us! We seek to right the wrong. We desire the respect that comes with being created in the image of the living God who chose us as His people, His possession.

Worship pulls us. We lift up our song, like Moses and Miriam, to testify to the true and just God! We tell others about the highest mountain of the Lord where everyone can learn the ways of the Lord to walk well in His light (see Isaiah 2:2-5). We stream to Zion as His servant receiving from Him what only He can provide: salvation and just judgments. We draw near to God in worship!

Worshiping God is good and right. However, in its zeal worship can pull us too close to itself. Rather, it can pull us too far from justice. Without care, an intense focus on worship can cause our concern for justice to become stagnant, deformed, and even misguided. We may draw near to God presumptuously and forget the slavery from which we came. We can, like all nations, find security in ourselves. We can, even unconsciously, think that our privileged state came from our own power, our own cunning, or our own alliances. We may begin to wrongly think that God "graciously" overlooks our rebellion, sin, and ever-increasing works of injustice. Our minds may begin to justify our agendas of oppression, acceptance of bribes, and worship of idols.

Thus, we rightly hear the seemingly faint background music of Isaiah 1-39. These songs (or sermons, really) reveal that worship must remember justice. Orphan and widow are important. As we seek to establish ourselves in a society bent toward pious and personal experiences of worship, we know that worship must dance in step with justice. We live with reverence before a God who created the world. There is no other besides Him who works justice. He alone is God!

To do justice is good and right! However, in its zeal justice can pull us too close to itself. Rather, it can pull us too far from worship. Without care, an intense focus on justice can cause our concern for worship to become stagnant, deformed, and even misguided. We may readily run to another nation to perform justice in behalf of the poor while forgetting our own poverty each week in communion as we proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. We can, like some great non-profits, focus on making this world a better place failing even to acknowledge in worship with other believers the God who made the world. We may begin to dismiss worship at church as irrelevant to God's "true work" in social activism and lose the prayerful reverence that true justice requires. Our minds may begin to justify our absence from communal worship, selfishness in good works, and badges of "righteousness."

Thus, we rightly hear the seemingly faint background music of Isaiah 55-56. This text (and Isaiah 58, especially) reveals that justice must remember worship. Fasting and sabbath are important. As we seek to establish ourselves in a society bent toward wonderful works of justice for the marginalized minority among us, we know that justice must dance in step with worship. We live with reverence before a God who created the world. There is no other besides Him whom we worship. He alone is God!

How does a believing community navigate the tensions that surface when we seek to emphasize both worship and justice?

We begin to dance.

2 comments:

Denise J. Hughes said...

"...justice must dance in step with worship."

This is so true. I love how Oswald Chambers said that we need to worship a Person, not a cause. That person being, of course, Christ.

Today, I wrote about the need for the church to care for orphans (I married one) and widows. There is so much pain most people don't recognize in these individuals. But God sees and knows and commands us to live a life of compassion.

Great post.

Chris Blair said...

Thanks Denise! I just read your article for today (http://denisejhughes.com/2012/01/23/the-nephew/)! Wow! Words escape me.

I guess it is just refreshing to hear you begin to capture the complexity associated with understanding a normally unexpressed side of being an orphan. Thank you for that!