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Worship Charades

October 28, 2019

Quit your worship charades.  I can’t stand your trivial religious games.  Monthly conferences, weekly Sabbaths, special meetings—meetings, meetings, meetings—I can’t stand one more!  Meetings for this, meetings for that. I hate them! You’ve worn me out!  I’m sick of your religion, religion, religion, while you go right on sinning. When you put on your next prayer-performance, I’ll be looking the other way. No matter how long or loud or often you pray, I’ll not be listening.”  (Isaiah 1: 13-15, The Message).

A charade is defined as “an absurd pretense intended to create a pleasant or respectable appearance.”  The Scripture texts this week point out the futility of faith play-acting and “prayer-performances.”[1]

In the opening chapter of his book, Isaiah reports the words of God that he received in a vision, warning people against going through the motions of a pretend faith by putting their faith in rituals and meaningless exercises instead of God: “Stop bringing meaningless offerings!  Your incense is detestable to me.  New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—I cannot bear your worthless assemblies. Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals I hate with all my being. They have become a burden to me . . . When you spread out your hands in prayer, I hide my eyes from you; even when you offer many prayers, I am not listening.” (Isaiah 1:13-15, NIV–New International Version).

But Isaiah ends Sunday’s Scripture lesson on a hopeful note.  There is no reason that we need to go through life stained by our sins.  The truly faithful will have all of their sins forgiven: “’Come now, let us settle the matter,’ says the Lord. ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson they shall be like wool.’” (Isaiah 1:18).

Jesus is constantly calling out those who just give lip-service to their faith—those who put their faith in rituals rather than God—those who think that going through the motions of going to church and praying without faith will somehow win them God’s approval.  The Gospels contain example after example of Jesus recognizing those with genuine faith and calling out those who put on a show of faith.

In Sunday’s Gospel lesson, we find Jesus in Jericho on his last journey to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover.  Jericho, known as the city of palms, was the Palm Springs of its day—the wealthy desert resort of the ancient world.  It was the logical place for pilgrims to stop for the night before beginning the 17- mile uphill climb to Jerusalem.   As he was passing through the city, he saw Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector, climbing up a sycamore-fig tree, which is about 6-7 feet tall with umbrella-like branches.  Zacchaeus was short, and wanted to see Jesus, so he put aside his pride and climbed the tree to see him.

Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus so badly that he climbed a tree to get a glimpse of him.  He was hurting internally from his life of deception and greed. It was eating him up.  He wanted to catch a glimpse of this healer who reportedly healed the sick in mind and body.  Could he heal him?  Jesus immediately saw the need in Zacchaeus.  He saw that he was hurting and that he was ready to move forward in faith. Zacchaeus was overjoyed that Jesus had chosen to stay with him.  Tax collectors were known to skim off much of the tax collected to keep for themselves, and the people began to mutter disapprovingly among themselves that Jesus was hanging out with an infamous sinner.

Sensing the doubts of the crowd, and eager to show Jesus his sincerity, Zacchaeus “stood up and said to the Lord, ‘Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.’  Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.’” (Luke 19: 8-10).

While the world disregards the lost, Jesus looks to the heart of each individual and knows immediately whether a person is play-acting at faith, or has an authentic faith—a real thirst for the things of God and love of his fellow man.  Jesus came to save the lost.

Paul points out that God’s judgment is always right—he will see those who are genuinely growing in faith and showing their love for their fellow man instead of playing a game of charades: “We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters, . . . because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing . . . All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering” (Excerpts, 2 Thessalonians 3-5).

Zacchaeus literally put his money where his mouth was.  He followed up his expression of faith with concrete actions. Genuine faith results in action, not just lip-service.  If you honestly want to serve God, your actions will reflect your faith.   God doesn’t recognize empty, ritualistic actions without faith, or empty, ritualistic words without faith. The key is an authentic faith.  Zacchaeus climbed a tree to see Jesus.  How badly do you want to see Jesus?  Are you playing a parlor game of charades or are you expressing your faith by meaningful and genuine actions?

Pray the prayer that the pilgrims sang as they trudged up the hill to Jerusalem for Passover and for the other festivals.  Pray from the depth of your heart. And follow up with meaningful actions.

Prayer: “Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord; Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.  If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand?  But with you there is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, serve you. I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope.” (Psalm 130: 1-5)

Diane Cieslikowski  Reagan

[1] Isaiah 1:10-18; Psalm 130; 2 Thessalonians 1:1-5 (6-10) 11-12; Luke 19:1-10.

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