Religion & Relationships
“God is not impressed that you are here at church today.” These words echoed through the sanctuary from the pulpit last week. I knew when I prepared the message that this statement might surprise some in the audience. Placed within the context of the rest of the message, this declaration encapsulates a vital point of true Christianity.
The statement evolved from applying Jesus’ message in Matthew 5:23-24. He said, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First, be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” You can picture it, right—a first century Jew, handing over his lamb to the priest before the altar in the temple? Just as the rope falls from his hand, he remembers the relational wall between him and his friend. The wall formed over a simple disagreement, but it formed none-the-less. As the offerer remembers this conflict, his mind journeys back to the Galilean hillside where he heard these words of Jesus: “If you are offering your gift . . . and there remember that your brother has something against you . . . leave . . . and go. Be reconciled.”
He sighs. He knows what he has to do. Turning to the priest, he informs him that he has some business to take care of and leaves the altar. He gathers his belongings and begins the eighty mile journey back to Galilee to reconcile with his friend.
This is taking Jesus’ words seriously. With these words, Jesus challenges how we think of worship. For the original hearers, worship took place at the altar in the sacrificial system. For the modern hearer, worship occurs within the gathered church. For Jesus, worship was not focused on a place (John 4:19-24); it was focused on a person. What you love you worship, and what you worship you serve (Matt 6:19-24). Therefore, to love the Lord your God and to love your neighbor as yourself are the two greatest attitudes of worship (Matt 22:36-40). If you love God, you will love others. Therefore, seeking reconciliation to personal conflicts reflects a heart of love to God—a heart of worship you might say. Worship is all of life (Rom 12:1-2), not a cultic ritual taking place every Sunday.
Therefore, God is not impressed that we go to church. He loves when we do, even commands it—just like he commanded the Jew to go to the altar. But don’t be fooled. He wants our hearts, more than our lifted hands in worship (although I think we could use a little more hand lifting at GLC). True religion cannot be separated from your relationships. If you are at your seat on Sunday morning, singing to the Lord and remember that your _____ (fill in the blank—friend, spouse, child, acquaintance, fellow church member, etc.) has something against you, leave the room. Go, be reconciled. Worship God.