There are times when God can be right narky - seen in some of the scripture passages. For example Isaiah 1 verses 10 to 15 God seems to be having a full on rant! Fed up with the sacrifices and offerings of the people - in fact the very practices of worship He prescribed back in the Exodus times. We might think such a rant can't apply to us, since in Jesus we have moved on from primitive animal sacrifices to the sophistication of our worship songs. But not so fast - read Amos 5 verses 21 to 24. Away with the music too!
Let's pause and check the contexts of these two passages. Both fan out to the issue of social justice - to do right by God by doing right to other people. A poignant concept, since in our present day society is brimming over with social injustices too. Justin Welby was right on the news only last weekend to highlight the 'idolatry of wealth' in our society.
Our heart being truly open to God will directly connect with how we treat others: the vertical (to God) and the horizontal (to others) are always linked. That is why our Countess Free Church motto is Seeking to Worship, Seeking to Serve - capturing that link between worship and community activity. Our true worship is therefore expressed (shown in practice) by how we are with others - and seen through what we do in relation to those around us. One way to look at this is fruit - what is produced in our lives. Remember that of the 9 fruit listed in Galatians 5, at least half are about how we relate to others. Not surprisingly Jesus said about true disciples 'You will know them by their fruit'.
This lockdown has been fascinating. The first thing it did was strip everything away - our meetings, our singing together, it all went within a week! But does that mean we can't worship? No!
Worship starts with an audience of one, i.e. just us and God - our heart before Him, being caught in His gaze, and gazing on Him. It develops to declaration, us telling about God ... but it is then expressed in practice with the actions we take, especially among the last, the least and the lost.
The audience of one thing means that you can start whatever the circumstances. In solitary confinement, in lockdown, on our own with just yourself or your family? In all these situations you can worship! It begins by recognising that God is God, and we are Not!
Do the Isaiah and Amos passages mean that the sacrifices and even the worship music are wrong? No - but remember this principle: for any thing that we might put together as an act of worship ... we can (if not careful) make it become an idol in itself. We can swap it in to be worshipped instead of God, putting the created above the creator. It is all put together by humans who can subtly allow it to become a substitute for the real thing ... until it is stripped away and our true hearts are laid bare.
The true heart of worship, in whatever circumstances, asks 'What would you have me bring to you, and to those around me?'.
Worship starts with just us and God: me as created, God as creator ... it moves on to declaration and then develops to practical expression to those around me. Note the declaration is in multiple directions: it is to God (the audience of one thing), but it is also to myself (me reminding myself the wonders of God). When we meet it is to each other. And it is also to the heavenlies - the unseen spiritual powers.
It can use any form: art, poetry, music ... they can all usefully help express the mood and surge the senses. Yet all these forms are merely vehicles, they are means to an end, not the end in themselves.
Eventually lockdown restrictions will lift and we will be able to gather (I look forward to it!). When we come, let us not come to worship, but let us come worshipping. Let our gatherings be a coming together, where each of us overflows from our own hearts already set towards God. Let us desire to declare together, to corporately gaze on Him and declare to God, ourselves, each other ... and to the heavenlies the wonders of God.
We will commission our musicians to help lead us, to aid the collective expression of mood. But let us not sub-contract to the musicians, somehow letting them 'do the worship' for us. And let us recognise that no matter how spiritually uplifting those gathered times are, no matter how spiritually intense, they are but one component of our worship - a worship that must be expressed through how we are with others outside the gathering, through the whole week.