Today was the first day in months I’ve actually been able to attend a church service because I wasn’t scheduled to work. And it was glorious. Besides the fact that my 11 month old made a lot of noise and had to be taken out of the sanctuary a couple times, just sitting in the pew listening to the organ music was exactly what I needed. In my teens and 2os I preferred contemporary worship, but now I enjoy that “old time” music, and a choir that wears robes.
Today I actually won’t be writing about anything in Jeremiah, but a passage from the first chapter in Isaiah. Today at breakfast my husband asked, “Would you walk non-stop for 24 hours to reach [a place of pilgrimage]?” I knew what he meant, since he has told me about his journey before. He is from a country in which there has been a “Marian apparition” (a place where Mary has appeared to a person or persons, and where a miracle has supposedly occurred. Note that not all places that claim to have Marian apparitions have been approved by the Catholic Church). Anyway, hubby has made this pilgrimage twice. He told me he walked all day and night to reach it, and he told me of the many pilgrims who even walked there on their knees as a sign of deep devotion. Now I am not Catholic, so I don’t know if that means deep devotion to Mary, God, or maybe it’s considered devotion to the whole Church as one, I don’t know.
“Would you walk non-stop for 24 hours to reach [a place of pilgrimage]?” No.
Hubby: “I did, and when I reached The Virgin (statue), I promised her I would never do it again [because it was so grueling]. Then I did do it again and I promised her one more time that I would never do that again.”
To my ears, that sounds funny, promising a statue something. I understand that he didn’t see himself as making a promise to the statue itself, but to the Mary herself in a prayer, or something, but that’s not the point.
He continued, telling me that making that trek, volunteering in a various places, doing “good,” left him feeling empty after the fact. Walking that distance, not once but twice, certainly is an accomplishment-a big one! Talk about devotion-to good works! That left me thinking about Isaiah, specifically about worthless religion and good works that are nothing but “rags.”
Isaiah 1:11-15 (CSB): ” ‘What are all your sacrifices to Me?’ asks the LORD. ‘I have had enough of burnt offerings and rams and the fat of well-fed cattle; I have no desire for the blood of bulls, lambs, or male goats. When you come to appear before Me, who requires this from you-this trampling of My courts? Stop bringing useless offerings. I despise your incense, New Moons and Sabbaths, and the calling of solemn assemblies-I cannot stand iniquity with a festival. I hate your New Moons and prescribed festivals. They have become a burden to Me; I am tired of putting up with them. When you lift up your hands in prayer, I will refuse to look at you; even if you offer countless prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are covered with blood.’ ”
God instituted these festivals and sacrifices to Himself in years past, and you can find guidelines for those in Exodus, Leviticus, and probably Deuteronomy, though I’m not going to check at the moment due to time constraints. The footnote in my Bible says this: “The Lord directed the people of Israel to build the tabernacle (Ex. 26-31), established the theological significance of the sacrifices (Lv 1-6), and appointed the nation’s festivals (Ex 34:18-26; Lv 23). But here Isaiah, speaking in the Lord’s name, appears to condemn these God-ordained institutions. Israelite prophets typically expressed themselves in extreme language, so attuned were they to the Lord’s sense of betrayal by the people He had chosen. The institutions of Israelite worship were designed so that the people could sense God’s presence in their midst, confess their sins, and renew their covenant relationship. They were to participate in these feasts in a heart-felt celebration of His past acts of grace. But the nation had grown careless; its worship had become shallow, carried out as popular custom-a casual ‘trampling’ (v. 12) of the courts of the Lord. There was a profound disparity between the people’s professed loyalty to the covenant and the ‘iniquity’ (v. 13) and injustice (v. 15) they tolerated in violation of that very covenant’s precepts. Under such conditions, it is hardly surprising that the Lord found their offerings ‘useless’ (v. 13) and was disgusted by their prayer, incense, festivals, and other religious practices. God does not condemn the practices of worship He, Himself, has instituted, only the false motivation that distorts them. He welcomes worship from those who repent of their sins and come to His house to glorify His name.”
I wanted to mention one more verse of Isaiah before ending this post. It is Isaiah 64:6: “All of us have become like something unclean, and all our righteous acts are like a polluted garment; all of us with like a leaf, and our iniquities carry us away like the wind.” The footnote says: “Isaiah strikingly compared the ‘righteous acts‘ of the people to a polluted garment…ritual uncleanness kept a person from entering the place of worship or from beholding the face of the Lord…Even despicable human beings can do a few good things for people they care about, but God does not look on their good deeds with favor because their motivation is corrupt and self-centered. In this passage, the people were confessing their sins, admitting they did not listen to God (v. 4) or call on His name (v. 7). They realized that the good things they did- their own righteousness- could never compare with the righteousness of a holy God, which is infinitely greater.”
If you’re not in right relationship with God, “good works” are not looked upon by God as righteous acts. He Himself has paved the bridge for that right relationship and those good works through Christ alone.