Deadly Worship?

Day 41

Prayer for the day

Hear my voice, O LORD, according to your loving-kindness; according to your judgments, give me life.

Scripture for the day

Leviticus 8-10, Matthew 25:31-46

Jesus’ story of the sheep and the goats has to be one of the most disquieting stories in the entirety of Scripture. Many times, in the case of tough passages, there is an easy loophole or quick fix which allows us to remain at a distance from the scriptural command. Jesus doesn’t allow such loopholes in this passage. He claims that the destiny of the nations, and the individuals within those nations, is directly related to and dependent upon their action and inaction. That what WE do in this life, and what we do not do, will directly affect what the next life will look like for us.

This is a remarkably unpopular notion both in and outside of the church. Many Christians like to point to an experience of faith or a prayer in their early life as proof positive of their “converted-ness” and their entrance card into the kingdom of Heaven. Others point to Luther’s justification by faith as a support of the idea that works are unnecessary for our eternal destiny. Still others point to inherent goodness or “not-as-bad-ness,” believing this will ensure their entrance into the kingdom. Jesus seems to allow no such equivocating.

Nor, in fact, does God in the Old Testament. In the Leviticus passage today, Aaron’s sons, recently consecrated priests, servants of the Most High God, offer “unsanctioned fire” – an unconsecrated worship – and are instantly killed by fire coming from the presence of the Lord. This may seem a harsh punishment, particularly when it seems like they were doing something good. Aren’t we all supposed to worship God?

It seems, however, that the mode of worship was (and is) very important. How we serve our God is important, not just that we serve our God. God had laid out very specific modes of worship for the priests. To violate those laws was to call into question God’s wisdom in commanding them. It was to do the right thing the wrong way.

Jesus’ story of the sheep and the goats serves as a reminder: we don’t get to make up the rules of worship. We may think we’re doing better service by playing our guitar than by taking care of the poor. I have no problem with playing guitar, and even enjoy it, but if it’s taking the place of the kind of worship God commands, it’s lousy. Worse, it’s sinful. It’s deadly. Not just to me, but to the poor I’m called to care for.

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