Week of June 16: Worship requires vulnerability, and trust in God's mercy and grace
By Kim Reindl
Lesson for the week of June 16
Scripture: Isaiah 29:9-16
Opening question: In your opinion, what is required of us in order for us to participate in meaningful worship?
I remember several years ago encountering a story in Philip Yancey’s book What’s So Amazing About Grace? that has remained with me to this day. The story was of a young woman, a prostitute and drug addict, who was living in the depths of human brokenness, subjecting herself and her young daughter to horrendous circumstances. When the woman was asked if she had ever considered going to a church for help, her response was full of shock and appall. She replied, “Church!...Why would I ever go there? I was already feeling terrible about myself. They’d just make me feel worse.”
I think what strikes me most deeply about this story is the fact that the woman feared judgment and persecution from the people of God, instead of seeing the church as a place of love and grace. Yancey points out that women like this in Jesus’ time actually fled toward Jesus and not away from him. Those desperate and outcast sought Jesus as a place of refuge. Yancey asks, “Has the church lost that gift?” When a young woman such as this, who so desperately needs the love of Christ, feels alienated from God, what does that say about us? How can we best convey an understanding that people do not have to get “cleaned-up” before they can enter the church?
The truth about people is that we are all broken. When we pretend that we are not, we are not being honest. What God desires from us is honesty. God has little patience for pretense. Today’s passage in Isaiah 29 emphasizes this point. The prophet Isaiah knew that the Judeans were being dishonest with God. On one hand, the people of Judah acted like they put their trust in God by praising God with their lips, while on the other hand they actually placed their trust in themselves and in the powers of the world (i.e., their anti-Assyrian alliance with Egypt). In other words, worship for them was not an honest place of confession and redemption, but rather a show, “a human commandment learned by rote” (Isaiah 29:13).
We do not worship as a matter of routine. Worship is born out of openness toward God that trusts in God’s goodness, mercy, grace, and love. Meaningful worship requires vulnerability. We must trust God with the deepest, darkest parts of our being. We cannot hide our true selves from God. After all, God the Creator, knows us better than anyone. “Shall the thing made say of its maker, ‘He did not make me’; or the thing formed say of the one who formed it, ‘He has no understanding’?” (Isaiah 29:16). Instead of pretending that we have our acts together, we trust God with our brokenness. We know that God is the Great Healer. We acknowledge God as the One who shines light in the darkness, knowing that the darkness will never overcome the light (John 1:5).
Worship carries us through the ups and the downs of life. Worship is not about shiny displays in fulfillment of human expectations. Worship is about grappling with the truth about ourselves as we stand in the presence of God. This truth brings us to a place of humility where our hearts cry out with gratitude toward God and compassion and solidarity toward one another. In our state of humanness we confess, “I believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). We enter worship as both saints and sinners. We are both saved and going on to salvation. We are both baptized and living into our baptism. This humble truth about us is what the world needs to see. Such humility is inviting, letting others know that we journey together through life. None of us have it all figured out and none of us are perfect. We let the world know that we are not saved because of us, but rather we are saved because of God. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). If we are faithful, the world may see God through us, but in the end it is God that the world needs to see!
Questions for further reflection:
• Have you ever felt that you needed to put on airs or pretend to be accepted in church? Do you know or have you encountered others that feel this way? If yes, why do you think that this is so?
• In your opinion, how can we, as the “Body of Christ,” encompass the character of Christ that draws in the lost and the marginalized of society? How can we encourage honesty and vulnerability that exposes the truth of ourselves to the healing presence of God?