The Justice of Worship

Jan 18th, 2019 | By Beth Turner | Category: Blog Posts

This year’s theme for the International Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is “Justice, and Only Justice, You Shall Pursue,” and the biblical text from which the theme comes is Deuteronomy 16:11-20.

“Rejoice before the Lord your God — you and your sons and your daughters, your male and female slaves, the Levites resident in your towns, as well as the strangers, the orphans, and the widows who are among you — at the place that the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his name. Remember that you were a slave in Egypt, and diligently observe these statutes.

“You shall keep the festival of booths for seven days, when you have gathered in the produce from your threshing-floor and your wine press. Rejoice during your festival, you and your sons and your daughters, your male and female slaves, as well as the Levites, the strangers, the orphans, and the widows resident in your towns. For seven days you shall keep the festival to the Lord your God at the place that the Lord will choose; for the Lord your God will bless you in all your produce and in all your undertakings, and you shall surely celebrate.

“Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Lord your God at the place that he will choose: at the festival of unleavened bread, at the festival of weeks, and at the festival of booths. They shall not appear before the Lord empty-handed; all shall give as they are able, according to the blessing of the Lord your God that he has given you.

“You shall appoint judges and officials throughout your tribes, in all your towns that the Lord your God is giving you, and they shall render just decisions for the people. You must not distort justice; you must not show partiality; and you must not accept bribes, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of those who are in the right. Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue, so that you may live and occupy the land that the Lord your God is giving you.”

The passage concludes by instructing the faithful to pursue justice and only justice. But to pursue justice, Christians must first ask and answer the question what is justice?

Justice is to give each one what he deserves, or what he is owed. Children might mete out justice by ensuring that each child in the group receives the same number of pieces of candy, because each child deserves a portion of the gift given by his parents. It is just for a man to assist a woman who bears his child, because a woman deserves help when she is bearing pain on behalf of some of the weakest members of the human race. Justice requires that someone who has stolen money make restitution by paying it back, because the one wronged likely did not deserve to have his possessions taken.

But Deuteronomy 16 has precious little to say about justice between persons. Instead, it devotes itself primarily to outlining how the faithful are to worship of God. What does worship have to do with justice?

As it turns out, the answer to that question is everything. Worship has everything to do with justice, because before we owe any service, material possession, or honor to anyone, we owe it to God. Worship has everything to do with justice, because God deserves our love more than anything or anyone. Without God, we have nothing, not even our lives, nor the earth, nor anything in the earth, and therefore it is right and just to worship Him.

Deuteronomy 16 instructs the faithful of Israel to offer worship to God as a matter of justice, because worship is owed to Him as the Savior, the one who saved them from slavery in Egypt. Christians, likewise, owe it to God to worship Him, because He has saved us from the slavery of sin. But how can our worship be an expression of unity when we do not believe all the same things, follow the same leaders, and read the Scriptures in the same way? When our worship services are so different, and we do not have the same understanding of communion with one another and with Christ?

One way Christians can be united in worship is in calling on the same name. We begin our worship by invoking God in the Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We are united in calling on the same God. Also very importantly, we all call Jesus “God with us.” As we work towards agreement about what the faith is, what baptism means, and how to dwell as one body on earth, let us at least acknowledge that there is “one Lord…one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:5-6). Being united under the name of Christ in our public worship services, at mass and on Sundays, in public witness, and being called “Christian,” is a good beginning.

Another way Christians can and are united is in offering petitions to God for the salvation of souls and the coming of His kingdom. Catholics offer prayers daily to Our Lord in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and many ask the most perfect of God’s creations, Mary the mother of God, to pray for the needs of the world daily through the Holy Rosary. Protestants pray quietly on their own, in Bible studies, at church on Sunday. We pray for our children to stay faithful, our poor to share in the riches of the earth, our leaders to be righteous and wise, our ministries to bring Christ to this group or that community, and for relief for those affected by disasters all over the world. We pray for sinners, for those who do not trust in God, for those who hate Jesus, for those who hate us, for their conversion.

The last, and perhaps most important, way that Christians can be united in worship is in repentance. We must repent, for ourselves and for our children, or we and all the world will be cut off forever from the life and love of God. Many Protestant worship services contain a rite of confession or repentance, and all Catholic masses do, too. Catholics also acknowledge their personal sins to God in the sacrament of confession. We must confess to killing the unborn, pillaging the earth of its resources at an unsustainable rate, sexual immorality, wages that are too low to sustain the poorest workers, failure to go to church and worship Him as He deserves, eating sumptuously while some of the world starves. We must confess to the evil words we’ve spoken with our tongues, failing to visit the sick and assist the poor, offering excuses instead of prayers, filling our hearts and minds and homes with stuff instead of with children and with friends.

During this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, let all Christians meditate on Deuteronomy 16 and on our duty to worship God. Let us pursue justice by worshipping God in a Christian way: calling on the name of the Holy Trinity, praying for the salvation of souls and the coming of God’s kingdom, and repenting of our sins.

Tags: Unity, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

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