On Sunday at the noon SLT service we dedicated our new cathedral building and also took the opportunity to rededicate ourselves by renewing our baptism vows. The service was led by Helene Milena and Able Shepherd.
Imagine arriving at church only to find someone there turning you away with the message that God refuses to listen to you! What a shock! Yet this is what was happening to the people of Israel in Amos’ day. He was telling them that God would not accept their sacrifices or their music which was offered in worship of him. The problem was not the sacrifices but the hypocrisy of the people. They were observing the requirements of their faith outwardly but it was having no impact on the way they behaved. What God wanted was justice and righteousness because when they are in abundance, the people flourish.
The message applies to us also as I said in my reflection which is given below. The readings of the day were Psalm 70, Amos 5:18-24, Matthew 25:1-13.
Yesterday, as you will probably have noticed, we erected a new cathedral onEpiphanyIsland. Obviously it took Cady some time to get things into place with it being such a huge project. One thing those of us present noticed was that it wasn’t possible to walk through the doorway – there was a barrier. Cady reassured us that she would sort the issue out (meanwhile we walked through the sides of the doorway, which was quite fun!).
Imagine if you had come here today and the barrier had still been in place. Even worse, imagine that there was someone there standing in the way and he was denouncing you for turning up. What if, on arriving to pray and worship, this griefer told you that your prayers were a waste of time and that God wanted absolutely nothing to do with your worship, that he detested it and refused to listen to it? I suspect you would hope that one of the Leadership Team would quickly eject that avatar, as has happened occasionally in the past, and allow us to get on with our service.
If you listen to the words of Amos I have just read, he was doing much the same as my fictitious griefer. He was telling the people that their turning up for worship, making their offerings, singing their songs, was not something which God wanted. That is quite staggering.
In the book of Leviticus a system of sacrifices and offerings is described in great detail. Burnt offerings picture dedication or total submission to God’s will, shown by the fact that the offering was totally consumed. It was to be a bull, goat or pigeon. This offering was made every morning and evening, a continual offering, and was to burn all night. Double quantities were offered on the Sabbath.
The grain offering comprised fine flour, oil, salt and frankincense. It represented the works of the worshipper’s hands, an offering of all that the person possessed to God’s service. It was in recognition of the divine source of everything.
Another offering was the peace, well-being or fellowship offering. It could be a bull, sheep or goat. It was offered as thanksgiving, on making a vow to God, or simply as a freewill offering given out of love for God. It was eaten with the priest rather than being consumed completely in the fire, although the fat and some of the inner organs were burnt. In this way it spoke of communion with God through his priest.
Amos didn’t mention the other offerings, the sin and trespass offerings, which concerned times when the people had done something which was outside the will of God, the first for confession and the second for cleansing.
So what was wrong with the worship that Amos observed? If those offerings were being made regularly by the people, as it seems they were, they cost a lot. Offerings were always of the best, the unblemished animals, the pick of the crop. Why was Amos giving such a harsh message from God?
Perhaps there’s a clue which is hidden due to translation. ‘I take no delight’ actually means ‘I do not inhale with delight’. The idea of the sacrifices was to make a pleasant aroma for God. As the meat burnt in the burnt offering or fellowship offering, or as the frankincense drifted on the air from the grain offering, a pleasant smell was made. It seems that what God smelled was not a pleasant aroma but the stench of hypocrisy. Perhaps the very fact that Amos didn’t mention the sin offerings suggests they were no longer made. That might indicate that the people thought they were doing nothing wrong, but God knew better.
God was rejecting the practice of religion in Israel not because the institutions were wrong. He had after all set everything up himself, giving very detailed instructions on how worship was to be conducted. The problem was with the worshippers. They were coming to God under false pretences; their outward observance was not impacting their behaviour. They were disobeying God’s laws. As Isaiah also pointed out: These people come near to me with their mouth and honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.
Amos then showed the people what God actually required of them instead of their sacrifices and music. To be accepted, by God the people must give justice and righteousness priority in their lives. Justice and righteousness without the sacrifices would be enough; sacrifices without justice and righteousness resulted in rejection by God. In a dry country, an ever-flowing stream is something to be earnestly desired for the flourishing of plant and animal life. Likewise, justice and righteousness which never fail are essential for the flourishing of human life.
There may not have been a griefer standing outside the Cathedral today and preventing our entry but the message of Amos is for us as much as it was for the people of Israel. We may meet often to worship and pray but outward observance is not enough. God wants our hearts to be right; he wants us to be fully dedicated to his will inwardly. He asks that we see our possessions, talents, money as gifts he has given us. As we often say at the offertory in the Eucharist: All things come from you and of your own have we given you. Only by asking God to bless our efforts will good come of them. God wants us to be in fellowship with him, working in the way that he plans and giving to him out of love, not obligation.
In the book of Revelation we are told that the angel uses the prayers of the saints as incense in heaven. Only if we are offering genuine prayers from a heart fully dedicated to God will that incense make a sweet smell before God, something he can inhale with delight.
It is obviously our hope that this ministry will grow and develop but growth in numbers without growth in depth of commitment, both as individuals and as a ministry, is not worth having. Today we have the opportunity to dedicate this new building to the glory of God. We can also rededicate ourselves, we who together build a living temple, to God’s service.
I pray that God will respond to the sincere prayers and worship of this community, today and always.
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor