Blue Coat School 13/11/03
It's one of life's strange ironies that the more religious a person becomes, it seems, the further away from God they get.
That's certainly the message in today's reading, where God says how much he hates all the fancy religious ceremonies the people are putting on for him; he can't stand all the sacrifices people are making for him, however wonderful they are; he puts his fingers in his ears when the religious people start singing songs to him.
You get this from Jesus also. He didn't have too much time for the people who thought themselves holy and sussed-out, headed for heaven. He tended to choose his closest companions from the seamier side of life, he got really criticised by the respectable religious types for - I quote - "Eating with taxmen and sinners" - ie, society's most hated and feared people: today's taxmen and sinners would be perhaps drug dealers and paedophiles.
This of course confuses religious people like me, so we tend to ignore it and carry on with our fancy ceremonies and charitable activities and lovely worship services.
But we ignore it at our peril. Because the message is plain and clear - sacrifice is not what God wants to see. Justice and righteousness are what God wants to see.
"Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream" God says through the prophet Amos.
What he's doing is challenging hypocricy.
It's all very well turning up to church - and calling that a sacrifice - when this week in work you laid off ten staff, took on five casuals at reduced wages and awarded yourself a pay rise.
It's all very well putting aside some of your money for children's charities - and calling that a sacrifice - when at home you're always beating up your brother or sister.
It's all very well singing songs of praise and worship to God - and calling that a sacrifice - when the same afternoon you sit in a football crowd singing racist chants.
God wants to see people living lives that make a difference rather than making little sacrifices which make no difference at all. Jesus would rather spend time with people who everyone thinks are no good, but who at least know they're no good themselves, and who are prepared to make a difference by changing their ways.
God knows that it's through people like that that the world itself will be changed.
Mind you, there's a twist in the tale. Because living life to make a difference isn't easy. It means changing behaviour, doing different things with our time and money, spending time with people we wouldn't previously have done. It's a sacrifice in itself. The good news is, you don't have to be in any way religious to give it a try.