SECOND SUNDAY BEFORE ADVENT
The Scandal of Worship
Luke 21.6 The time will come when not a
single stone here will be left in its place; every one will be thrown
It has been fashionable amongst
Christians for some decades now to reflect somewhat bitterly that
Christmas has been hijacked by business.
who should be celebrating in church have been corrupted, they say.
Spending and drunken partying have replaced sober but joyful worship.
Nothing is more important than this worship - which is why Christians pour
so much of their resources into it.
There is some
point to this ongoing complaint. Worship has now virtually disappeared off
the public map after many centuries of being a primary reference point for
The special season of Advent and
Christmas derives from a time when worship was so much part of society
that people hardly noticed it, if at all. So if you or I had remarked to
Jesus in the first century how "religious" the Hebrew people were, neither
he nor his close associates would have known what we were getting at. What
we call "religion" today they would have called "society".
For example, Jesus would certainly have learned the Hebrew scriptures at a
local school. But this would not have been thought of as "religious
education". He would simply have gone to school and there learned what his
elders thought he should know. Similarly, the Temple tax paid by every
male adult was not a "religious tax". It was merely one of several
different taxes which men had to pay as part of ordinary, everyday living.
This unified sense of Christian life has long been lost. Now worship is
separate from the rest of life. It is no longer a community activity. It
is, as one scholar puts it, the expression "of adoration, praise and
thanksgiving to God through Christ" in a church building.
truth is that Jesus again and again stressed that what God requires of us
is the loving service of others. Worship for him was precisely that. It
was part of ordinary life, never separated out, always seamlessly
integrated into every day. Worship as going to church for "adoration,
praise and thanksgiving " would not have occurred to him.
this separation of worship from life bother anyone?
Step back now and
imagine the number of churches which fill and empty each Sunday as the
light of the sun sweeps around our planet. Ask yourself how many buildings
involved in this sort of worship are empty 90 percent of each week? Now
try to compute the amount of money which the Church at large might be
spending on this brief activity, year in and year out.
Then wonder how
many of the poor, the suffering and the dying that money might deliver.
For each hymn that's sung, a child dies. For each fervent prayer that's
said a shaft of pain or hunger strikes a person somewhere. For each
priestly salary that's paid a hundred families go hungry. It may not be
mere hyperbole to suggest that every church building today is built upon
and maintained by the blood and bones of suffering humanity.
along these distinctly unsettling lines, you have begun to uncover the
scandal of worship in the Church today. It is no wonder that so many
reject the pious platitudes of worshipping Christians.
Of course, it's
impossible to wave a magic wand and make it all immediately better. At any
rate, it's humanly impossible. No person has the power and influence to
rapidly dismantle of the cause of this cancerous scandal.
recall the ancient traditional wisdom of Jeremiah as he prophesied in the
Temple to the priests and people: "If you will not listen to me ... I will
do to this Temple what I did to Shiloh ..." (26.6).
referring to the time when the tribes of Israel had no more than a "tent
of meeting" and how even that was destroyed. His words are echoed by
Luke's portrayal of Jesus: "The time will come when not a single stone
will be left in this place" (21.6).
If we take this tradition seriously,
the smaller the chance of removing the occasion of this scandal, the
greater the chance of eventual collapse.