While in seminary, some friends and I did a collective independent study (is that an oxymoron?) on faith and wealth. Though there is much more to the paper I wrote for this class, (especially regarding further explanation of my conclusions which deal with worship practice, especially through music - I'd be happy to pass the full paper along to anyone who desires to read it), I wanted to post some of the conclusions I reached regarding a focus on the poor, and lack thereof, in worship:
As the Christian message becomes more and more domesticated, we begin to remove Christian obligation to do acts of compassion for our neighbor out of the context of a concern for the dispossessed and the oppressed. Whenever Christians have tried to shut out the world and its needs in worship, justice and any sense of care for the poor gets omitted from worship and worship music.
It is at this point that many congregations and pastors begin asking such questions as: Why is a focus on poverty such a big deal? Why spend time in worship concerned about the poor? When we come to worship, God just wants us to focus on Him, right? The answer to these questions is quite frightening, based upon observations from the book of Amos.
In Amos 5, the worship of Israel is condemned not because it mimics the popular music styles of the surrounding culture or because it confuses entertainment with worship; God condemns Israel’s worship due to the lack of focus on justice and righteousness. Put another way, God condemned their lifestyle, which included a lack of focus on justice and righteousness. Thus, their worship was not accepted. According to Amos 5 then, worship is unacceptable to God when the lifestyle of the worshippers does not follow His commands.
At this point, it is important to change the question being asked: What are God’s commands regarding the poor? The Bible is full of explicit commands by God to his people concerning the poor among them. Here is a small sampling:
There should be no poor among you, for in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, (Deuteronomy 15:4).
If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother, (Deuteronomy 15:7).
There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land, (Deuteronomy 15:11).
If you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday, (Isaiah 58:10).
Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. In your hearts do not think evil of each other, (Zechariah 7:10).
Jesus answered, ‘If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me,’ (Matthew 19:21).
‘For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, naked, and you clothed me; I was sick, and you visited me; I was in prison, and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry, and feed you, or thirsty, and give you something to drink? And when did we see you a stranger, and invite you in, or naked, and clothe you? When did we see you sick, or in prison, and come to you?’ The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of mine, even the least of them, you did it to me,’ (Matthew 25:35-40).
But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, (Luke 14:13).
God’s people are called to care for the poor, yet congregations today choose to ignore this in worship practices. It is acceptable to praise God, loving Him with full heart, mind, body and soul, but love for neighbor in this sense is forgotten. If, through song and sermon, awareness of the poor is not being raised, if people are not being encouraged to go out to relieve the poor, then maybe we must ask this very difficult question: Does God accept our worship?
It is difficult to place the blame on the members of congregations. Many of them simply follow the leadership by which they are being led. Yet this is a dangerous ignorance in which they live their Christian lives, and it provides a crucial reason and responsibility for pastors and worship leaders to begin implementing elements focusing upon the poor and social justice within worship services.