Summary: 1) True worship is persistent, not sporadic. 2) True worship is done for others, not for oneself. 3) True worship is beneficial, not futile.
I have a confession to make. I haven’t eaten a tasty store-bought or restaurant-made pizza since coming to Canada. The crusts are consistently too dry or too doughy. The pepperoni is too greasy and too salty. And the pizza sauce is too sweet. It’s not as bad as the pizza I had in Australia though. They used ketchup for tomato sauce so that when my fellow backpacker took a bite he looked up and said, “You call this pizza?” As far as I’m concerned you haven’t had real pizza until you’ve eaten a Chicago-style stuffed pizza. I mean look at this picture (show picture of stuffed pizza from Giordano’s). Do you see all that cheese and the generous slathering of pizza sauce? How can you not! Now imagine biting into tasty pieces of sausage, mushroom, and pepperoni as you chew. Do you now understand my frustration with Canadian pizza?
I might find pizza here disappointing but that’s nothing compared to the dissatisfaction God expressed over Israelite worship practices in our text this morning. Unlike many today who don’t bother worshipping God at all, the Israelites of the prophet Isaiah’s day went as far as fasting, that is refraining from eating in their bid to honor the Lord. But God wasn’t impressed. He said: “…on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. 4 Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists… 5 Is this the kind of fast I have chosen?” (Isaiah 58:3, 4a, 5a)
“You call this a fast?” God may never ask that question of us because we’re not in the habit of fasting. As Lutherans, however, we do take pride in our Christ-centered worship practices. Could it be, however, that God looks at what we do and thinks: “You call this worship?” True worship, as we’ll find out, is persistent, not sporadic. It’s done for others, not for oneself. And it’s beneficial, not futile.
I went to an all-boys college where girls were not allowed in our dorms except for regulated times on the weekend. So when do you suppose we picked up our dirty socks and vacuumed chip crumbs from our couches? That’s right, usually only just before those perfumed visitors took to our halls. The rest of the time it didn’t bother us to live in the sweat and grime of collegiate bachelorhood. Our housekeeping routine, you could say, was sporadic.
That’s what Israelite worship practices were like. Many only came to the temple and fasted when they wanted something from God. The rest of the time they didn’t give much thought to the way God wanted them to live. Accordingly God said: “Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for a man to humble himself?” (Isaiah 58:5a) God did not want his people to clean up their act only when it suited them. He wanted persistent, not sporadic worship.
We certainly can be guilty of sporadic worship if we only show up to church at Christmas and Easter but every-Sunday church-goers who say, “Religion is the most important part of my life” may also unwittingly be guilty of sporadic worship. You see, God doesn’t just want to have a part in our life as if he has to compete with the internet for our attention and with our bank account for our affection. Worshipping God is what we are to do with all of our time and with all of our being. I’m not suggesting that you spend 24/7 sitting in one of those chairs in front of this pulpit. You might do that and still be guilty of sporadic worship. The Apostle Paul explains what persistent worship is. “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).
Yes, it’s OK for you to surf the net. But as you do, ensure that all the websites you browse glorify God. The same is true of the hymns that you sing here and the words of encouragement that you speak to fellow members. Don’t do it to draw attention to yourself but to praise God and help others. That was the problem with the fasts during Isaiah’s day. They weren’t done to God’s glory but to earn God’s favor. Isaiah reported: “‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?’” (Isaiah 58:3a) The irony was that God had noticed their fasts. He noticed how hypocritical they were. Is that what God observes about our worship? Does he see us just going through the motions when coming to receive Holy Communion? Does he perceive people who think that by being in church this morning God owes them? If so, listen to what God said to Isaiah. “Raise your voice like a trumpet. Declare to my people their rebellion and to the house of Jacob their sins. For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways as if they were a nation that does what is right…” (Isaiah 58:1b, 2a). “You call this worship?” No matter how good the singing is. No matter how big the offerings are, it’s all rebellion and sin if we don’t persistently do this to God’s glory.