God in conversation about Christian festivals
Isaiah 1: 10-20 (NRSVA)
10 Hear the word of the Lord,
you rulers of Sodom!
Listen to the teaching of our God,
you people of Gomorrah!
11 What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?
says the Lord;
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.
12 When you come to appear before me,
who asked this from your hand?
Trample my courts no more;
13 bringing offerings is futile;
incense is an abomination to me.
New moon and sabbath and calling of convocation—
I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity.
14 Your new moons and your appointed festivals
my soul hates;
they have become a burden to me,
I am weary of bearing them.
15 When you stretch out your hands,
I will hide my eyes from you;
even though you make many prayers,
I will not listen;
your hands are full of blood.
16 Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
remove the evil of your doings
from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
17 learn to do good;
rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan,
plead for the widow.
18 Come now, let us argue it out,
says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be like snow;
though they are red like crimson,
they shall become like wool.
19 If you are willing and obedient,
you shall eat the good of the land;
20 but if you refuse and rebel,
you shall be devoured by the sword;
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
Today’s reading got me thinking about the summer Christian festival scene that’s grown over the years into a plethora of wide ranging gatherings, each with their own particular theological emphasis. There is a great deal of good fellowship and teaching that can be encountered at these events. However today’s reading invites us to be discerning about the things that influence us.
We may not be sacrificing bulls and goats, but have we bought into something that has become tiresome and wearying to God? By this I mean when we return home do we find ourselves more critical of our local church/minister (if we have one) and even our fellow Christians? Has the experience of the festival made us a critic of the local church of which we are part or a contributor to its mission and witness?
I’m having this conversation about festivals because the prophet Isaiah is the one who brought it up in the first place. Picture a man, Jack, talking to God about 21st century festivals…
JACK: So I guess you must get consulted about the content of the festivals?
GOD: Look Jack, The organisers and contributors spend so much time preparing I can get a little lost in the mix…
JACK: The preacher was great though…
GOD: Jack he’s not supposed to be great. It’s the message that’s great! It’s not the style. It’s the heart. When you speak from my heart - justice is served.
JACK: So do you like festivals?
GOD: I’ll tell you what I don’t like… the religious games, the performances where people turn it ‘on and off’. What I like is the conversations they have. Especially the ones I’m invited to join…
Real lasting Christian fellowship is forged in the struggles of the local Christian community, not in the highs of the worship songs of a national convention. We need to be wary of attending events in search of quick fixes and answers that we know only come from being faithful in the small things of faith. Also mindful of how we can undermine the best efforts of our local worship leaders when we get seduced by the big sound systems, tents, lights and celebrity speakers and musicians.
Christian festivals have their place but we remember that it is meeting with you
in the secret places of prayer that we find the sacred places of power.
It is the personal conversations with you the Almighty
about justice and humility and fairness that give you pleasure.