Week of June 9: Remember that God is the audience for our worship
By Kim Reindl
Lesson for the week of June 9
Scripture: Isaiah 12
Opening questions: What is the meaning of the word “consumerism?” Give examples of consumerism in our culture today. In your opinion, what promotes such consumerism?
Worship with thanksgiving arises from knowing the enduring presence of a faithful God.
We are members of a consumer culture. Value is derived by acquisition and production. Our culture teaches us that those who own bigger, better stuff and have a lot of it must be important. We are also taught that the busier a person is the more valuable that person must be. Through media, business practices, and social norms, consumption and production become the standard measures that legitimize our existence. Therefore, it should be no surprise that consumerism often bleeds into the life of the church. It is not uncommon for us to approach worship as consumers.
How many times have you heard, or possibly even said (if we are truthful with ourselves, we probably all have), “I didn’t get much out of that worship service today.” We find ourselves critiquing the music, the visuals, the worship style, and most definitely the preaching. Many of us attend church on Sunday morning expecting our worship leaders, pastors, choirs, and/or musicians to produce something that we find meaningful or enjoyable. The message behind all of this is the belief that worship is for us.
Yet, the truth about authentic worship is that we are not the audience, but rather God is the audience. You see, worship is not for us, but rather for God. We, as a community of faith, come together on the Lord’s day, to offer praise and thanksgiving to the “Holy One,” the God of “salvation” (Isaiah 12:2, 6). Worship is something we do together for God.
The hymn of thanksgiving found in Isaiah 12 arises out of belief in God’s faithfulness. The theological context of Isaiah 12 is that of the Zionist tradition. The prophet Isaiah believes that Zion, which is another name for Jerusalem, is the holy dwelling place of God, and that because of this, the people of this chosen city will never be utterly destroyed. In the context of First Isaiah (chapters 1-23 and 28-33) God has proven this by saving the city of Jerusalem from the destruction of the Assyrians who are the dominant political and military power of the time. Isaiah expresses that although the rulers and people of Judah have been disobedient to God, God will never fail to restore God’s people.
Out of this realization, the people will say, “I will give thanks to you, O Lord, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, and you comforted me” (Isaiah 12:1). Furthermore, Isaiah reaffirms that God will not leave God’s holy dwelling place among the people. Isaiah 12:6 states, “for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.” The worship offered to God in this hymn comes from trust in God’s forgiveness and knowledge of God’s abiding presence.
Our worship, like that expressed in Isaiah 12, should also come from a place of trust in God. Instead of consumers who approach worship for what we can get, we should approach worship as a place where we respond to God’s divine character. If we know God to be the One who saves us, not just one day, but right now in the midst of all life’s disappointments and struggles, we cannot help but to “shout aloud” and “sing for joy” (Isaiah 12:6). Thanksgiving comes from the understanding that God is our ever present comforter who does glorious things among us in the reality of life.
Worship is not something to be done “for” us, or even worse “to” us, but rather “with” us. After all, liturgy is understood to be “the work of the people.” We come together as the people of God to offer worship to God. When our focus is correct, meaning that our eyes are on God and not on ourselves, it is natural that thanksgiving will arise from our hearts. As the collective body of those who love God, we join together with prayers, songs, readings, reflections, offerings and movements as those who acknowledge “the Holy One” who is “great in [our] midst” (Isaiah 12:6).
Questions for further reflection:
• Have you seen or experienced a consumerist approach toward worship in yourself or in others? Give examples.
• How can we as a church shift our focus from an attitude of consumerism toward worship to an attitude of authentic worship that focuses on God as the audience? How can we best embrace worship as “the work of the people?”
Kim Reindl chairs the Discipleship Ministry Team for the North Georgia Conference and leads retreats, workshops, and seminars through Pomegranate Christian Education & Formation, www.pomegranatece.com. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.