“Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on my altar!” Malachi 1:10
Ten minutes before the service, the organist prepared to offer a prelude. She opened her book, well worn and marked up with pencil from hours of rehearsal. She began to play. Some noticed and attempted to listen but just as many others treated it as background noise with which to contend. People raised their voices over the music to greet each other. They gave quick reviews of their week. The din included laughter, storytelling, and scheduling of social events. The organist played on. When the service began, people opened their bulletins. There were no surprises. Same order of service. Same comfortable routine. One could be lulled by the familiar line-up into a state of passivity.
Three well-known hymns were sung. Many never looked at their hymnals, so acquainted were they with the lyrics. The truth be known, there was a bit of pride in some that these hymns had been committed to memory so long ago. Spiritual arrogance was the disease of the church. Folks could sing the anthems without a hymnal, recite The 23rd Psalm and The Lord’s Prayer from memory, greet others with Christian clichés, and stand a bit taller. They believed themselves to be a feather in God’s cap. At the conclusion of the pastor’s sermon, a generic invitation was given. “Who wants to be a better witness this week?” Most everyone raised their hand to offer a hearty amen. It was the thing to do.
The person in the pew used to be, and might still often be, me. It’s easy, without the edge and the desperate need that suffering inspires, to engage in habit and do what is expected. I may be unaware that the Spirit of God is quenched. I do not discern my great spiritual condition. How often have I placed useless sacrifices on God’s altar.
God spoke through Malachi. His people were creatures of habit; swollen with pride and deluded by their true spiritual state. His words were meant to shake up their routines. “Close the doors!” was His cry.
“What would Jesus do?” has been a familiar mantra of the past decade. If I am to be like Jesus, how would He worship on a Sunday morning? I see Him at the altar during the organ prelude, praying for His people. I see Him singing with His face raised toward heaven; eyes closed, face radiating with glory. This picture alone is enough to introduce some tough questions. If traditions were removed from our services, what brand of faith would be left? Would Christians feel lost, wondering what to do and how to worship? Perhaps a clean slate would spark some authenticity. We would recover some heartfelt beliefs, discover renewed passion, and commence it all with a period of repentance.
When I worship with my lips but my heart is dead, You have strong words. You long to open wide the doors of the temple for those who will worship with body, soul, and spirit. May that be me. Amen