Mark 12:1-27; 1 Kings 3; Hosea 6:1-7:2
Sometimes I have bad days, and sometimes those bad days are on Sundays. I wake up and I think I don’t want to go to church. I read the Bible to do my writing and I roll my eyes because nothing strikes me as being worth writing, but, I must write daily. So, I slap something together and post it and then rush to church. I get there early because I need to prepare the slides for worship. As I do that, the Praise Band is practicing and I notice that they’re singing a song or two slightly different from the way they usually do, so I sigh and make the necessary adjustments, while glaring at our music minister. It’s easy to do this and go through the motions, and be upset when someone changes the motions.
On days like this I go through the first service and fix mistakes that I find. I get so involved in the technical details, though, that I’m not really worshiping. I do my job, but the heart isn’t in it. I may begin to enjoy the music by about the third or fourth song. The sermon touches me and my attitude begins to change. Sunday School lightens my mood and I begin to focus on the lesson, and by the time I get to the second worship service, I get into the spirit of worship. The slides were fixed during the first service. All I need to do is concentrate on God speaking to me and I start worshiping during each song, and each prayer. I even begin to like the music minister again. Hosea touched on the problems I have on those days by pointing out that going through the motions isn’t enough. “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6:6)
Hosea spoke for God during a time when Israel gained power, yet within a few years after the death of Jereboam II, the power disintegrated. Worship was not heartfelt: the people went through all the ceremonies of worship, but they didn’t have the commitment to God that they needed. They were going through the motions. Perhaps the teaching from the priests dealt more with observing the “right” religious practices and not a true commitment to following God. That may have been self-serving because priests lived off of the religious practices that involved making the right sacrifices. The true commitment and devotion of the people to God didn’t matter to them. When priests, or today’s preachers also, take that attitude, God is seen as a vending machine: If I put the right sacrifice into the coin slot, God will give me what I want. Rather than fostering a devotion to God, people develop a barter system with God based on sacrifices or offerings. While we don’t have burnt offerings today, we can send our offerings to the church or to the guy preaching on TV, and we’ll get what we want.
God has a two-fold response to that. He desires mercy, not sacrifice. God doesn’t need our mercy, He expects us to extend mercy to others around us. There’s no room for bitterness in God’s world, as much as, I try to sneak it in. God wants us to show mercy to others and He gave us an amazing example of mercy by forgiving us in Jesus Christ. The second side of God’s response is that He desires “the acknowledgment of God” instead of any offering. I see this acknowledgment as recognizing who God is. I see this statement as reminding us that God is the Creator and Lord of our Universe and understanding that He can’t be “bought off” by some measly sacrifice. Our family gives more than the average American to further the work of our church, but we don’t see our gifts as making God become indebted to us. We don’t give so that He’ll bless us real good. We give out of thankfulness because we have been blessed so much already. Mercy towards others and acknowledging God…that’s true worship!
Oh Lord, let me always worship You by showing mercy and recognizing who You are, and not by going through the motions.