Worship. Opiate or Engagement?

How engaged are you with the world around you? We have gadget upon gadget to help us “engage” the world.  We are in information overload. We know more about people and the world and each other than we ever have, but are we truly engaged? We eat lunch and dinner with friends but while we dine we log more time on our phones checking texts, tweets, and Facebook statuses of friends we barely know or barely see. We are loaded with television, movies, and sports. We are entertained and amused. The reality is that as much information as we have, we are less engaged than ever. We can’t see our friends for our Facebook.

I am not claiming that these social tools are bad, obviously since I am currently using one of these tools to engage, but I am wondering how much our information seeking, entertainment watching, and social media posting is used to keep us one step removed instead of one step closer to our surrounding life. Instead of engaging the world outside we are collecting information to catalog and control the world outside.

If this consumerist escapism is as deeply engrained in our cultural worldview as I think it is, I wonder how much it has transformed our ideas of our worship of God. Has our worship and relationship with God turned into an opiate? Has our faith withdrawn us from society, caused us to disengage from our neighbors? Has the practice of our faith simply been a trade in of one coping tool for another? Or does our faith in Christ and Christ’s work in us result in something more.

Karl Marx said the following:

Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and the protest against real distress. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness. The demand to give up the illusion about its condition is the demand to give up a condition which needs illusions.

Is he right? Is religion the “opium of the people?” I wonder sometimes if Christian worship on Sunday mornings in western culture has become what I like to call “worshiptainment.” I wonder if Christian small group studies have diminished into surface self-help psychology. What Marx observed was people using religion to disengage the world around them. The people were overwhelmed by the injustices and hardships of their circumstances that faith became a mental coping mechanism that helped them “hold” on, until they were dead and in “heaven” as they understood it.

I believe this approach to the Christian faith is not what God intends. Ephesians 5:1 says,

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

To be like Christ is to do the things Christ did and does. God became flesh. God engaged the world, he did not withdraw. The letter to the Ephesians was a call to community in Christ for the sake of us being united in God and united in one another. (Ephesians 1:10). Paul goes on to outline the main places this mission is played out; marriage, parenting, and work. The over all mission is to engage one another in acts of love in service in all parts of our living as grounded in Jesus Christ.

If our worship withdraws us from life, we’ve missed the point of worship. Do we need a break from the destructive forces of the world? Yes. Did Jesus withdraw to be alone with God? Yes. But these were all done with the purposes of continuing engagement with the lives around us. Worship without mission is pointless and mission without worship is powerless.

This Sunday is Pentecost Sunday. Pentecost is considered the birthday of the Church, the day the Holy Spirit filled the lives of the disciples and all those who came to call Jesus as their Lord. Pentecost is the day that God empowered people to go on mission into the world to reveal the hope of the Gospel of Christ.  Pentecost was the act of worshipping God, being commissioned by God to engage the world with his love, and the gift of the power to do so.

Today we stand with that same mission, promise, and power. We do not become Christians to escape hardship, but to engage hardship with the power of God.

Romans 8:37-39:

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

In Christ we are more than those things that seek to conquer us, or degrade us, belittle us, and devalue us. In Christ we are given mission to move into the world in strength, to no longer have to disengage the world. We have nothing to fear, but can face the fears of the world with power and love. In Christ we can be change agents in the world we live. It’s not just a possibility, it’s a calling and mission given to us all.

As you prepare for worship this Sunday, look over these verses above, read through Acts 1 & 2, and Ephesians. How does your worship of God transform your life? Are you engaged in the world with the power and love of Christ?

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