Isaiah 1:10-18 (NRSV)
Verse 10Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom! Listen to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah! Verse 11What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. Verse 12When you come to appear before me, who asked this from your hand? Trample my courts no more; Verse 13bringing offerings is futile; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and sabbath and calling of convocation- I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity. Verse 14Your new moons and your appointed festivals my soul hates; they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them. Verse 15When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.
Verse 16Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, Verse 17learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. Verse 18Come now, let us argue it out, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.
I cherish our liturgical tradition and the rhythm of the church year, especially the festivals with their inspiring music and once-a-year traditions like Easter lilies, Christmas trees, and the vibrant red flowers of Pentecost. Praising God by offering our best hymns, anthems, and visual arts is a very pleasing worship experience for me, but is it pleasing to the Lord God?
These traditions are roughly parallel to the liturgies at the temple in Jerusalem in the time of Isaiah—the very practices that Isaiah equates with the proverbial wickedness of ancient Sodom and Gomorrah.
Like Isaiah’s contemporaries, we can easily fall into the fallacy of thinking our worship traditions completely fulfill God’s expectations of us. Isaiah reminds us that true worship of God does not consist only of songs of praise in the sanctuary but must be accompanied by daily seeking justice in our society, especially for those who are most vulnerable.
Lord God, help me to daily remember The Great Commandment—that loving you and loving my neighbor are two sides of the same coin. Amen.