Evelyn Underhill (Worship, Harper & Row, 1936) has written a classic book on worship. She is not against ritual in worship but warns of the dangers of rituals becoming an end in themselves, similar to God’s complaint in Zechariah:
“At this point the rite assumes, for good or evil, a life and authority of its own; and with it that propensity to become the master instead of the servant of devotion, which is the vice of ceremonial worship. For the immense power of custom and habit—in other words, of tradition—is nowhere more strongly felt than in religious ritual. Here that tendency for any ordered series of acts to crystallize and assume a fixed character, to which even in daily life our whole psychological make-up inclines us, is seen in an extreme form. Departure from the ordained routine always produces a feeling of discomfort, and usually arouses hostility; . . . Hence the two outstanding and opposing dangers, of ritualism and formalism, which dog the history of ceremonial religion; both arising from the same source—a failure to look through and beyond worship to its end” (p.34).
Reading the Scripture
Here is a way you might read the scripture or tell the story:
o The Bible Experience: The Complete Bible includes the Old Testament (“presented by a stellar ensemble of today’s top-name actors, musicians, clergy, directors, and award-winning producers.” Available from Keith).
• The people were obedient in their lamenting and fasting and other religious rituals, but God questioned whether or not they really meant it based on their failure to practice justice and mercy toward widows, orphans, aliens, the poor, and one another.
o Do our rituals ever become rote and meaningless to us?
o Take a look at the order of worship for today. Are there places we need to guard against going through the motions?
o How can we worship like we mean it and allow our worship of God to influence the way we show mercy to others?
• Confession: The people asked Zechariah a question about fasting and lamenting. God did not answer their question but challenged their true motivation. What about confession in worship? Many churches include a designated time for corporate confession and pardon in worship as a way of coming before God. The Psalms, the worship book of the Jewish people and Christians today, include a number of hymns of corporate confession. Though confession is sometimes included in the Invocation and the Prayers of the People in our worship, we do not include a specific prayer of confession. Why not? Would a time of confession in worship be appropriate and helpful for us? Why or why not?
• In this passage God commands the people “to do what is right and just for the widows, orphans, aliens, and the poor” (7:10, Study Guide, p. 26).
o What examples of ministry with each of these groups did you find at the mission fair last week?
o Consider these examples from LABC related ministries
i. Widows: Homebound ministry (for more information talk to Tommy or a member of the deacon body. Tim Dievert has led the deacons to host a widow and widower Christmas dinner each year)
ii. Orphans: Sunrise Children’s Homes (for more information visit our Glocal Minstries page on our web site or see me for a brochure)
iii. Aliens: African Refugee Ministry in Morocco (for more information see me, Shawna Stomberger or anyone who has been on a trip to Morocco. Also see the link on our web page to the Kentucky Baptist Fellowship web site.)
iv. Poor: The Salvation Army (for more information see Ken Wall, Shirley Clark, JoAnn Rice—board members, or Harry Nickens, committee member or visit our Glocal Minstries page on our web site)
o Plan a Sunday School class project related to one of these ministry groups.
I have set aside a shelf in the library with resources for Sunday School teachers. I will place there resources of general interest and some specifically applicable to current lessons.
• For additional commentary on the text see these commentaries in our library:
o Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi: The New Century Bible Commentary, Paul Redditt. Recommended to me by Dr. Greg Earwood, president of Baptist Seminary of Kentucky.
o Mercer Commentary on the Bible (Mercer University Press, 1995)
o Harper’s Bible Commentary (Harper & Row, 1988)
• In Keith and Tommy’s offices:
o The Book of the Twelve: Micah-Malachi, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary, James D. Nogalski (Smyth & Helwys, 2011)
• Bible Atlas of maps: available in my office and hopefully soon in the library.