Smoke Screen Religion 2-24-19

Call to Worship:  Psalm 103: 1 – 8  

Scripture:  Isaiah 65:  1 – 5

By Bobbie Hunt

Thank you, each and every one of you, for being here in worship today.  Worship is a sacred time, time set apart for the specific purpose of praising God.  It is time also to hear His Word so that we can gain insight, apply it to our lives, and become better equipped as disciples who make new disciples, to receive the benefits of the sacraments, and to be reminded of the assurance that our sins are forgiven through the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ.  Our response to the redeeming love of Christ is to grow in obedience (also called sanctification in church speak).  In that journey we are reminded of the first and greatest commandment cited in various places of scripture which include Deuteronomy, Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  Mark 30 quotes Jesus as saying, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’    Within the ten commandments listed in Exodus and Deuteronomy we are told to keep the Sabbath day – the day of worship – holy.  And there are at a minimum 7 other scriptures that tell us to keep the Sabbath holy.  So we have gathered here, in Irwin Presbyterian Church, to keep holy the Lord’s day, and to praise His name and to hear His Word.

We are all on a journey of faith, hopefully growing more in love with Jesus as we mature in our relationship with Him.  But we live in a fallen world, and because of that each one of us is imperfect.  So the purpose of today’s message is not to condemn anyone, nor to point an accusing finger at anyone.  Today’s purpose is to call to our attention that it is possible to pursue a path of worship that is counter-productive to our spiritual growth or that is actually false worship.  

In all things it is possible to do what is right, but do it for the wrong reasons.  Therefore, we need to examine behaviors and motivations that are not pleasing to God when it comes to worship and our personal faith journey.   If when we examine our hearts, we find that our worship motivations are not God honoring, do not despair.  Our sins and shortcomings are already forgiven.  But in loving God well and living a life that is true to Christ’s example, our aim is to make progress.  When the love of God overtakes us, our hearts, minds, and souls are consumed.  Mark’s gospel includes the words “with all our strength”.  The strength that we seek is the power of the Holy Spirit who is the perfector and enabler of our very faith.   We are not here to judge each other’s worship motivations, we are here to lift up and encourage each other in our faith walk, and to acquire knowledge as protection from ways of false worship, false faith, and false religion.

What are some specific things our hearts need guarded against?

  • Praising God with our mouths, but not our hearts. “their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote.”  Quoted in Isaiah.   When our hearts are focused on our love for God and His love, grace, and mercy toward us, the tradition is secondary.  Worthy worship extends beyond the memorized motions and responses.   Tradition has its place, but it should not override heartfelt expressions, it should serve to trigger heartfelt emotional response.  God does not need our lip service, he needs our heart, soul, and mind service.
  • Tithes or offerings that are insincere or miserly.  From Mark 12:  “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury”.   The amount of our offerings is less important than how much gratitude for all God has done influences the gift. 
  • False doctrine is worship that surely provokes God.  From Mark 7 quoting Isaiah:   ‘But in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’   It is to your   protection to know if the message from the pulpit is NOT trustworthy.    Our elders are charged with the spiritual protection of this congregation.  The leadership of this church has committed to the authority of God’s word in the past and present.  However, it is every Christ follower’s job to be able to recognize false teaching.  When the precepts of men are presented falsely as biblical truth, we must have the ability to recognize it.  We follow Christ, but there are people and church leaders whose concept of Christ and Jesus has been watered down and crafted to suit popular cultural norms.   The precepts of men cannot replace the authority of God’s Word.
  • Worship that is all flash and no substance. From  Matthew 6:5  “When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.”   Before we moved into a post-Christian culture membership in a church was a prerequisite to being viewed as an upstanding citizen.  And people without true faith attended church as checking off an item on list of required behaviors.  Sadly, society has moved away from church attendance as being a mark of good character.  But church is still a place that can be miss-used for personal gain.  Of course attending church is the right thing to do and being embedded in the life of a congregation has the capacity to move us forward in faith even if we attend for the wrong reason.  But it is a mistake if we try to use faith as a cover for our sinful natures.   We are insincere in our worship if we are using God to make us look more important, or if we are being puffed up with pride by the very faith that calls us to humility.  In our discipleship, we are to become less so God is more.  Always it is His name that is being glorified, not our own.

And under the hypocritical worship, is our inability to apply God’s Word to our living.  We can’t profess love of God on Sunday and accept His grace and mercy without extending that love to others.  Worship on Sunday so you can release anger and grudges on Monday.  Neither can we hear the Word on Sunday and ignore obedience to it on Monday.

It is the hypocrisy of the Pharisees that began the quest to destroy Jesus.  They were so focused on rules that were so complicated and legalistic that love and mercy were absent from their leadership.  It is a lesson we must take to heart.  We cannot be so prideful in our faith journey, that we withhold love and mercy for those who struggle.  Our worthy worship lifts up others in truth and love, because all of us fall short of perfection.

Today’s text reminds us that we must remain humble in our faith:  “All day long I have held out my hands to an obstinate people, who walk in ways not good,  pursuing their own imaginations— a people who continually provoke me  to my very face….Such people are smoke in my nostrils”   We are called to live a life of unending worship that gives glory to God in all that we do and say.  We all need God’s love, grace, and mercy and accepting that will change the way we live and the way we worship.  Rote religious habit is empty action without offering our unending gratitude and love to Christ for purchasing our pardon from sin.  And false doctrine and misplaced worship becomes a smoke screen that obscures the truth of the gospel.  God sent Jesus Christ as our only hope.  He is provoked when our worship is about us and not about Him.