“God Hates Church”
August 07, 2016
By John Partridge*
Scripture: Luke 12:32-40 Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16 Isaiah 1:1, 10-20
Do you remember playing pretend and actually using your imagination?
Today we’re going to begin by playing a game with your imagination.
This is going to be a little weird.
Imagine… that every Sunday there are church services in your local bank. These are not services to worship God, but services to worship money. Each week people gather to sing songs about deposit slips and ATM’s and occasionally a really old song about real human tellers that smiled. People stand up occasionally to share stories about how their debit or credit cards changed their lives and the bank president preacher delivers a message about the importance of maintaining a healthy balance.
I warned you that this was going to be weird.
But over time, the stockholders of the bank begin to notice that while the worship services at the bank are just as passionate as they once were, there are a lot of people who aren’t customers of the bank and are known to be deadbeats who don’t have any money. They love to sing the songs about money, but they don’t actually want to earn any, or save any, of their own. For them, it’s the passion of the worship experience, and the fellowship of the community that’s important and not the money.
This is weird, first of all because it is difficult for us to imagine that people would worship at the bank (despite the fact that we know a lot of people who already worship their money). But there is a second layer of weird because the people who are worshipping at the bank reach a point where they don’t even care about the money. And we wonder why they would even go to the bank if they didn’t have any money and weren’t a regular bank customer.
But move that story back to the church instead of the bank, and substitute God for money, and this is essentially the story that we have in Isaiah (Isaiah 1:1, 10-20)…
The vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem that Isaiah son of Amoz saw during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.
10 Hear the word of the Lord,
you rulers of Sodom;
listen to the instruction of our God,
you people of Gomorrah!
11 “The multitude of your sacrifices—
what are they to me?” says the Lord.
“I have more than enough of burnt offerings,
of rams and the fat of fattened animals;
I have no pleasure
in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.
12 When you come to appear before me,
who has asked this of you,
this trampling of my courts?
13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings!
Your incense is detestable to me.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—
I cannot bear your worthless assemblies.
14 Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals
I hate with all my being.
They have become a burden to me;
I am weary of bearing them.
15 When you spread out your hands in prayer,
I hide my eyes from you;
even when you offer many prayers,
I am not listening.
Your hands are full of blood!
16 Wash and make yourselves clean.
Take your evil deeds out of my sight;
stop doing wrong.
17 Learn to do right; seek justice.
Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
plead the case of the widow.
18 “Come now, let us settle the matter,”
says the Lord.
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
they shall be like wool.
19 If you are willing and obedient,
you will eat the good things of the land;
20 but if you resist and rebel,
you will be devoured by the sword.”
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
Right off the bat, God refers to the leaders of Israel as if they were from Sodom and her people as if they were from Gomorrah, but then God says that he doesn’t care about their sacrifices, or their prayers, or their offerings, incense, holy days, celebrations, feasts, or festivals. In today’s language, God says, I don’t care about your worship, I hate your church, I despise Christmas and I reject Easter. You come to worship, but I refuse to listen because you only care about your worship. Your actions are evil and your hearts are corrupt.
God says that if his people want to be clean again, their hearts must return to God and when they do, their actions will begin to look like the actions of godly people… do right, seek justice, defend the oppressed, and care for the fatherless and the widow. God makes sure that they know it is not too late to change, but if they do not, they will be destroyed by violence.
The reality that Isaiah tries to communicate to God’s people is that church was supposed to be an expression of their love for God but has become instead simply a travelling show, a performance for its own sake, a custom or a habit with no love. And God says that for him it was never about the show. It was always about love. In today’s language, what God says is that if you can’t live like believers, if you can’t love, then God doesn’t care about church, or Christmas, or Easter, or any of it.
We find this same sentiment expressed by the Apostle Paul in Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16, where he says,
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. 2 This is what the ancients were commended for.
3 By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.
8 By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. 9 By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.11 And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. 12 And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.
13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.
I like to remind everyone around me that in most contexts, when the word “faith” is used in scripture, it can more easily be understood by replacing it with the word “trust.” What Paul is saying then, is that we trust God, we have confidence and assurance that God will do what God has said that he will do because we have tested him and found him to be worthy of our trust. And as such, we, like those who have come before us, live by faith and look forward to something better, a world that is better, because we trust that God has prepared such a place for us. Paul’s description, much like that of Isaiah, reminds us that worshiping God is more about the condition of our heart than about putting on a good show on Sunday morning.
And then in Luke 12:32-40, we hear Jesus emphasize the importance of our heart condition.
32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
35 “Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, 36 like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. 37 It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. Truly I tell you, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. 38 It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the middle of the night or toward daybreak. 39 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”
That really is a powerful message.
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
If your treasure is money, your heart will love money. If your treasure is in pleasure, then that’s where your heart lives. And if your treasure is in looking good, or even in worship and on making Sunday morning worship services look great, or in overflowing offering plates, then that is where your heart will be also.
But that isn’t what God wants.
That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do what we do on Sunday morning with as much excellence as we can muster, but what it means is that if our only goal is to put on appearances, then none of it matters and God doesn’t care about any of it.
Jesus says that he will come at an hour when no one will expect him and we must be ready, our hearts must be ready, because on that day there will be no ‘do overs’ or second chances. Our hearts, on that day, today, and every day, must be focused on God and God alone.
Church is supposed to be an expression of our love for God. No matter what we do, love has to come first or church will instead become nothing more than a performance for its own sake, a custom or a habit with no love. God doesn’t want church to be full of people who don’t have an account with him or even care who he is or what he wants. No matter how passionate, God doesn’t want a church without love.
Without love, God hates church.
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Love… must… come… first.
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