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A Worship Service God Hates?

It is possible to think we are worshiping God when we’re not.


(Read Amos 5:21-6:7)

Imagine that you move out of state. In that new place, you must find a new church, which can be challenging. Finally, you visit one where:

  • The building is attractive.
  • Praise songs are rich and singable.
  • Beautiful instrumental music.
  • People giving generously in the offering.
  • And not only is there energy and excitement on the big holy days of the faith; there are also solemn assemblies.

You’d think, This is amazing! These people know how to worship! Maybe. Maybe not.

Just because it looks like worship to God, doesn’t mean it’s pleasing to God. In fact, it might be a worship service God hates. “Hate” is a strong word. Rarely does the Bible say that God hates something. But that’s the word God uses when he speaks through the prophet Amos to the worshipers of that day.

(Read Amos 5:21-23)

Let’s recap. God looks at this worship service, And says:

  • I hate.
  • I will not accept.
  • I won’t even notice.
  • Away with!

This is surprising. God is the one who commanded his people to worship! Whole chapters of the Bible spell out how to bring God offerings. Psalm after Psalm says, “Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.” And now God says, “Although you’re doing those things, they’re not working for me. At all.”

The painful truth, friends, is this: It is totally possible for people to THINK they are worshiping God, when they’re not. We can think we’re pleasing him, when we’re not.

This bothers me. I don’t ever want to offer worship that is worthless. Or be part of a church that does. We put a lot into our worship, and we want to please God with our worship. So what exactly is it, that would ever cause God to say of worship, “I hate.”?

We have to know, so we can make sure we are bringing God worship that delights him and gives him joy. The prophet Amos tells us how. He tells us what God is looking for in our worship. Two things.

God Is Pleased by Our Worship when We Worship Him Alone.

(Read Amos 5:25)

Wait, wait, wait. During those 40 years, the people of God did worship God. They carried a portable sanctuary, called the Tabernacle, and worshiped God in that.

But what God knows is that the whole time, their hearts also “served your pagan gods—Sakkuth your king god and Kaiwan your star god—the images you made for yourselves.” Sakkuth is the Assyrian god connected with the planet Saturn, that bright dot in the sky. Kaiwan is his nickname: “star god.”

So God’s people look like they are worshiping God, the one true God, but they’ve also got something going on the side. They’re like the guy who says, to his wife, “I’m so in love with you,” while he’s cheating on her.

God will not accept that. God is pleased by our worship when we worship him alone. God alone.

In polytheism, you worship many gods. In monotheism, you worship one. But what’s going on for these worshipers in Amos’ day, is also what’s most popular in our own day. It’s called Henotheism. With henotheism, you have one main god, say, Yahweh, but you also have other gods. It’s not God-alone. It’s God-plus.

God is pleased with our worship when we give up our henotheism and come with hearts that say, “I worship you, Lord, and you alone. I turn away from, and leave behind, those other attachments that compete with you.”

It’s right here where we preachers struggle. It’s hard to translate the old form of idolatry, where the gods are physical, made of gold or carved out of stone, to the kind of idolatry we have today.

So you may hear preachers say that our car or our job can become an idol. That may well be true. For what it’s worth, the idols in my life are often more subtle than that. They start with something good—something I want, and really, everyone would want. Like attention from others. Or health. Or an easier life.

Below my awareness, the way I feel, is, “How would I ever get by without THAT?” And in my heart, I feel that one duty is to make sure I never lose that. But what happens, is, life has a way of bumping into my idol, and making it wobble. When I see it threatened, I freak out. I get out of sorts. I get mad at God.

It’s at that moment you and I have a choice. Are we going to let go of that other security, that thing that tells us, “As long as you have me, life is okay,” And continue to worship God. Alone?

This is why giving up our idols is so hard. It requires something that feels like a death. It turns out that following God is this lifelong process of letting other things go, until we stand alone before God and can say, “Yet will I praise Thee.”

Are you willing to let go of your idols, as you become aware of them? Am I? If the answer is yes, then God is pleased with our worship.

God Is Pleased by Our Worship when We Care for Those Who Have Less.

The second quality of God-pleasing worship comes in verse 24, the most famous words Amos ever spoke.

(Read Amos 5:24)

When I hear these words, I hear in my head the voice of Martin Luther King, Jr., declaring this verse: “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

In the Middle East, there are dry riverbeds, called wadis, that are dry most of the year, but when it rains, they fill with water. God is saying, I don’t want to see a wadi of justice, once in a while, I want to see an endless river of justice.

God is pleased by our worship when we care for those who have less.

Amos speaks to people who aren’t doing that. Amos 6:1 says, “What sorrow awaits you who lounge in luxury in Jerusalem, and you who feel secure in Samaria! You are famous and popular in Israel.” So, these worshipers have:

  • Luxury
  • Security
  • Fame
  • Popularity

But what they don’t have is concern for the poor. As Amos says in verse six, “You care nothing about the ruin of your nation.”

Their money, which is a good thing, is being spent on excess—the elegant furniture carved and inlaid with ivory. Vintage wine not by the glass, but by the carafe. Meanwhile, the poor of their nation are being neglected. And continuing like this will only lead to judgment and the nation coming down.

So, God is telling us, through Amos, that God is pleased with our worship when we “let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

The pastor of a United Methodist church in Ohio, told me what families in his church were doing. Various parents had been saying, “How in the world are we ever going to afford to send our kids to college?” It seems impossible, whether your kids are 13 months or 13 years.

Well, here’s where Amos comes in, and the justice rolls down. The church was working with under-served teens in the community, and one thing that helps kids escape the poverty cycle is being able to say, “If you study hard, we’ll figure out the money for your college, tech program, whatever.”

So, a group of 10 or 20 families created a College Savings Club. It worked like this. Every month, each family would put aside something for their own kid’s college fund. The Club helped them get going or stay consistent. But they would also put in, to a church education fund for underserved kids, 10% of what they’d just put in their own kid’s college fund.

So, if they were saving $50 this month for their own kid’s college, they gave $5 to a kid who would probably be the first in that family to go to school. Amos would like that. God is pleased with worship from people who use what they have to care for others.

Here’s where I have to stop and affirm you, Friends of the Savior. In just the past few years, you have given generously to: job-training programs for the hard-to-employ, shelters for the homeless, housing and life skills for teen moms, trauma counseling for immigrants and refugees, food pantries for those struggling to buy groceries, oxygen concentrators for COVID victims in Nepal, relief for victims of wildfires in California and hurricanes in Houston, clean water run to a family home in the Navajo nation, and start-up funds for church planters of color.

I could go on, but I see your heart, and God sees your heart. It should encourage you to know: God is pleased by our worship when we care for those who have less.


We might say, Amos has two I’s: Idolatry and Injustice. He sees those, and he calls those out.

Jesus gives us the solution with the two L’s: Loving God and Loving Others.

To defeat idolatry, we determine to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. To defeat injustice, we love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Loving God and Loving Others is not just our mission statement, it’s what God is looking for In those who worship him.

One time I was talking with Bishop Todd, and he mentioned Elizabeth O’Connor’s book,

Journey Inward, Journey Outward. I knew of the book, because it’s given us our language of the inward journey, meaning loving God; and the outward journey, meaning loving others.

The phrase was Elizabeth’s way of describing life at her church, Church of the Savior in Washington, DC. I said to Todd, “Our church, Church of the Savior, was actually named in honor of them. They combined evangelical belief and social justice, back when that was unpopular. And Todd said, “I think that’s still unpopular.”

It may be unpopular with people, but it’s loved by God. God is pleased by our worship when we worship him alone. And God is pleased by our worship when we care for those who have less.

When we come to worship with lives like that, thanks to Amos, we know what God will say: I love your religious festivals and solemn assemblies. I will accept your offerings. I hear and I delight in your hymns of praise!”

Kevin Miller is pastor of Church of the Savior in Wheaton, Illinois,

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