Real Worship Looks a Lot Like Working Toward Justice

A sermon idea based on Isaiah 58:1-9.

Isaiah 58:1-9 NRSV

[1] Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet! Announce to my people their rebellion, to the house of Jacob their sins. [2] Yet day after day they seek me and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness and did not forsake the ordinance of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments, they delight to draw near to God. [3] “Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?” Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers. [4] Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high. [5] Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD?

[6] Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? [7] Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? [8] Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. [9] Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,


The relevant topic I would be addressing, based on this text…

Real worship isn’t about the prayers we say, the songs we sing, the fasts we declare, or the feelings we feel. Real worship is ultimately about being agents of God’s good news and creating a just world where all people are free to flourish.


The heart of the message, a potential outline, key truths to share, special notes for interpreting the text, etc.

Rick Warren once said, “It’s easier to change a church’s doctrine than it is to change their worship style.” And that’s because we have a culturally-produced, consumer-centric view of what worship is supposed to look and feel like. We make it about the music, or the liturgy, or the feelings we experience as we draw near to God with our praise and our prayers.

The prophecy of Isaiah addressed God’s people and their mistaken notion that fasting faithfully would somehow manipulate God into responding to their prayers even if they had become apathetic and complacent about the suffering of their neighbors. So he gives them an “if / then” message that takes up all of chapter 58 of Isaiah.

He begins with an indictment, as prophetic writings often do.

You fast and pray AS IF you were already practicing righteousness.

And then he points them in the right direction.

IF you will loose the bonds of injustice, free the oppressed, feed the hungry, clothe the naken, THEN I will answer your prayers and show up with the power of my presence. 

The lesson for us is obvious.

You can sing louder, attend church more often, give bigger offerings, fast and pray and weep and beg God for a fresh spiritual experience. You might even be moved in your emotions as the result of all of that activity and walk away believing God showed up powerfully.

But what God really responds to far more than our singing, praying, and fasting is our doing the work of creating a more just society where the people whom he created and whom he loves can flourish freely.

For us, as New Testament Christians who follow the Way of Jesus, that means we get to love God, ourselves, and our neighbors well.

Yes, let us lift up our voices, but only when our voices have also spoken up on behalf of those without a voice in society.

Yes, let us lift up our hands in praise, but only when our hands have served a cup of cold water to the thirsty and food to the hungry.

Yes, let us pray about all of our needs, but only when we’ve allowed our hearts to be broken over the needs of others to the point that we have acted on their behalf in some way.

Real worship may come in a variety of styles, culturally speaking, but it always looks a lot like working toward justice.


The big call-to-action in the message…

You can’t help everyone or fix every problem, but you can always become love to people around you and invest yourself in some way toward making a more just society around you.


Appreciate these notes?
Feel free to chip in $5.

About the Cover Art: Photo by Ismael Paramo on Unsplash.

My Other Favorite Source of Sermon Ideas

Creative Sermon Series Planning Resources

MinistryPass offers excellent sermon series ideas, graphics, and resources for pastors and teachers, including expository, topical, textual, and lectionary-based ideas, plus calendars for organizing it all. MinistryPass is, in my opinion, the best all-around, complete sermon series planning resource on the web.

Check It Out! »

Get Free Preaching and Leadership Ideas

Fresh sermon ideas, leadership tips, and articles to help you be a better shepherd.

Thanks so much for subscribing!