Unfortunately, most preachers choose to avoid the Old Testament prophets – too much doom and gloom! But the prophets present us with some good questions concerning the nature of our worship and the exercise of justice, and they usually leave us with a sense of hope. The prophets are best understood as calling us back into a right relationship with God.
When Amos conveys God’s message, we read: “I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
“Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (5.21-24; NRSV). Sons and harps cost us very little; justice costs a lot.
We find a similar message in the Revised Common Lectionary reading from Isaiah. Addressing the rulers of Sodom and the people of Gomorrah, Isaiah utters the word of the Lord: “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices . . . I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats . . . bringing offerings is futile; incense is an abomination to me . . . Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” (Isaiah 1.11, 13, 16-17; NRSV).
In Psalm 51 (King David’s prayer of repentance following his sin with Bathsheba) we find similar sentiments: “For you have no delight in sacrifice, if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased. The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Vss. 16-17; NRSV).
In his book, “Prophetic Imagination,” Walter Bruegge-mann notes that prophets possess extraordinary spiritual and moral insight which enables them to imagine a far better world – one which reflects the Kingdom values of love, peace, and wholeness. Many are unable to grasp this vision. Many who do reject the vision for it interferes with their worship of false idols – wealth, power, and prestige. In the Revised Common Lectionary reading from Luke 13, Jesus notes our unwillingness to act on this vision: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it.
“How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Vs. 34; NRSV).
We remain unwilling. We make our “sacrifices” and keep God at a safe distance. What worship practices would God have us abandon? What if we could offer God a broken spirit and a contrite heart? What might the Church be and do if we could offer such a sacrifice?