The recent lectionary readings from Matthew narrate Jesus’ encounters with those who would “test” him. Religious leaders want to know about competing claims; how does one live in the empire yet serve God? Jesus manages to silence his critics with nuanced understanding of human obligations in an oppressive political environment; however, he reminds them that they also have accountability to render to God what is God’s.
The Gospel reading for this coming Sunday offers another conversation, this time between Jesus and certain Pharisees who were concerned about his treatment of the law. With legal precision, one asked: “Which commandment of the law is the greatest?” Jesus responded: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). This is what we are called to render.
I have just returned from a gathering of the Alliance of Baptists in Dayton, Ohio. The focus of the meeting was worship in the progressive church. Carefully crafted liturgy invited participants to love God through worship. It was a bracing and renewing opportunity, and I felt that we were loving God with our whole selves—heart, soul, and mind.
We know that humans are created for worship; it is just that we usually worship the wrong things. Donald Hustad described worship as “rehearsal for life.” It is hardly necessary to argue the proposition that as persons we tend to be changed by what we idolize, what we worship. We begin to resemble what we worship.
Aquinas said certain things were to be used, and only God to be enjoyed—yet we tend to use God as a means to some supposed greater end. A utilitarian view of God is hardly worship. So what are we to render to God?
We are to give our whole selves to God. The worship service is practice for a lifetime of giving to God; our “living sacrifice” is what God desires—not because of divine vanity, but because God wants us to understand our place of dignity and humility in the cosmos. We become like the Triune God as we worship—more loving, more generative, more hospitable, and more joyful—for we are dwelling in the richness of community, divine and human.
Worship is essential to our humanity. I love the venerable proverb: “More than the Jewish people have kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath has kept the Jews.” So it is with Christian worship—it will keep us; God will reveal divine glory, and we will reflect God’s likeness as we rehearse together for the performance of Christian living.
Molly T. Marshall
Central prepares women and men for seeking God, shaping church, and serving humanity.