The visiting preacher told the congregation that their worship was all very fine but they were so inward-looking that they failed to see on their very church doorstep the sort of needy people they were always singing and praying about. “Take the noise of your songs away from me; I won’t listen to the melody of your harps.

Instead, let justice roll down like the waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” The local priest, Amaziah, was not thrilled; he told the preacher, Amos, to push off.

Amos was never one to pull his punches. He told it like he saw it. And what he saw was a bunch of people who took refuge in a dangerous complacency. They had a lovely building to worship in; they had the finest of vestments, mellifluous music and all the latest prayers that tripped off the lips. But it all took place in an atmosphere of comfortable self-congratulation.The constant danger with liturgy is that because it is centred on worshipping God

in church, we can end up forgetting about the plight of God’s people outside the church door. Of course, true worship requires conversion, and conversion includes our active care and concern for the world’s needy. So worship doesn’t operate in a vacuum. It presupposes that Christian worshippers are also vigorous in charity, wherever it is required: on our doorstep, in our society and in our world. 

Our churches would be empty if we turned our services into political rallies. But our songs, our prayers and our symbols speak loudly about the central act of Jesus in setting us free by his death on the cross. Liturgy is about liberation. It proclaims that in water, oil, bread and wine Christ offers all people freedom to live as God intended.

The Eucharist should be the liberating adventure of the whole Church, the sacrament that frees us from our unhealthy self-absorption and melts our self-satisfied cold isolation from the cries of the voiceless. Our worship is in spirit and truth only when it unites us into a bond of believers who agonise for a Church of charity and a world of justice.

So what’s the next hymn, then?


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