Stage 4: The Edge of Isaiah, part 1
If there was a stage you’d probably prefer to skip, it would be this one. Isaiah seems at his grumpiest height. Sure, that’s the rep that prophets have. But it seems excessive here. Yet, as a crusader for justice, you have to ruffle a few feathers from time to time. To get something done, you need a “just saith the Lord” now and again. And Isaiah is ready to step up to the plate for this one.
And we can’t wriggle out by saying he isn’t talking to us; he’s talking to the rulers; there’s a list of kings at the beginning of the book reminding us that Isaiah had staying power. He outlasted all of them. But when you get to the detail of the rant, he’s asking us to take a look at how we worship.
No, it isn’t about worship styles, instrumentation, or screens. It’s about the heart. It’s about whether our words in worship match our words the rest of the week. Whether what we pray for is what we work for. Whether what we hope for is what we live for. This is a service of worship for examining our hearts. What do the words we say, recite, repeat mean to us? Anything?
This would be a great time to take your time working your way through the liturgy and the hymnody of worship. Invite participants to read the words before praying them or singing them. Ask them to take these words into their hearts and to sing them and pray them as if they really mean them. It seems obvious, but is it? Even something as common as the Lord’s Prayer can become words that we just say without thinking after so many repetitions. Maybe pray the Lord’s Prayer more slowly, pausing after each phrase, and let the power of the words sink in to the soul of the congregation. Live into the words that we pray. And ask if we are brave enough to really pray that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
There is, of course, another layer to this text. It isn’t just about what happens in worship, but about what happens where we live and work every other day of our lives. Worship can be an inspiration to live for God’s justice in the world. There can be invitations to corporate acts of mission and service, witness, and challenge to the status quo. Doing justice is hard, but it becomes possible when the whole community works together. There should be more than just getting out there and doing something. It should be more like, “Here is what we are doing; come and join us.” That’s the only way we can learn to do good, as Isaiah pleads with us to do.
Rev. Dr. Derek Weber, Director of Preaching Ministries, served churches in Indiana and Arkansas and the British Methodist Church. His PhD is from University of Edinburgh in preaching and media. He has taught preaching in seminary and conference settings for more than 20 years.