Worship Understanding from Pope Francis


justicePope Francis returned to Rome Sunday evening after spending nearly a week in America. He challenged our people, our religious leaders, our political leaders and even world leaders to break out of autogenous cycles of paralysis. His challenge was to use our power to heal the open wounds of a planet torn by hatred, greed, poverty and pollution. In other words, when we do justice that honors God it is an act of worship.

The prophet Micah condemned Israel’s dishonest, corrupt and meaningless worship much in the same way by pointing out what God considers good worship and what he really requires, “He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).

Politicizing justice is really just the fear of losing control of something that Scripture says is not ours to begin with. Godly justice as worship diminishes the political overtones through the realization that loving my neighbor as I love myself is an act of worship.

Justice as worship is not just what we do in here on Sunday, it is who we are out there during the week. It intentionally considers those who are often neglected and easily ignored and affirms that, “He oppresses the poor shows contempt for their maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God” (Proverbs 14:31).

Mark Labberton wrote extensively about the relationship of justice and worship in his book The Dangerous Act of Worship: Living God’s Call to Justice. The following quotes are taken from that book.


“Worship turns out to be the dangerous act of waking up to God and to the purposes of God in the world, and then living lives that actually show it.”[1]


“Worship can name a Sunday gathering of God’s people, but it also includes how we treat those around us, how we spend our money, and how we care for the lost and the oppressed.”[2]


“What is ironic and especially pertinent is that many debates about worship are just indirect ways of talking about ourselves, not God. Our debates can readily devolve into little more than preference lists for how we like our worship served up each week. It’s worship as consumption rather than offering; it’s an expression of human taste – not a longing to reflect God’s glory.”[3]


“The heart of the battle over worship is this: our worship practices are separated from our call to justice and, worse, foster the self-indulgent tendencies of our culture rather than nurturing the self-sacrificing life of the kingdom of God. We are asleep. Nothing is more important than for us to wake up and practice the dangerous act of worship, living God’s call to justice.”[4]


“The real crisis over worship, in the history of the church and perhaps especially today, is this: will God’s people wake up to worshiping God in such a way that we demonstrate we are awake by loving our neighbor in God’s name?”[5]


“The world is meant to see and know something about God through the lives and actions of faithful worshipers. As we live out, carry forth, and demonstrate in character and action the life of the One we worship, they see God.”[6]


“Where is the evidence that we are scandalized before God when we hunger for worship that almost never leads us to have a heart for the hungry?”[7]


“The question of many secular people is not, ‘Why doesn’t the church look more like us?’ Rather, their perceptive question (and God’s too) is, ‘Why doesn’t the church look more like Jesus?’ Safe worship never gets to this point. The risk is too high.”[8]


“The God we seek is the God we want, not the God who is. We fashion a god who blesses without obligation, who lets us feel his presence without living his life, who stands with us and never against us, who gives us what we want, when we want it. We worship a god of consumer satisfaction, hoping the talismans of guitars and candles or organs and liturgy will put us in touch with God as we want him to be.”[9]


“Our central lie is in the discrepancy between the language of worship and the actions of worship. We confess ‘Jesus is Lord’ (Romans 10:9) but only submit to the part of Christ’s authority that fits our grand personal designs, doesn’t cause pain, doesn’t disrupt the American dream, doesn’t draw us across ethnic or racial divisions, doesn’t add the pressure of too much guilt, doesn’t mean forgiving as we have been forgiven, doesn’t ask for more than a check to show compassion. We ‘sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs’ (Ephesians 5:19) expressing our desire to know Jesus, but the Jesus we want to know is the sanitized Jesus that looks a lot like us when we think we are at our best. Despite God’s Word to the contrary, we think we can say we love God and yet hate our neighbor, neglect the widow, forget the orphan, fail to visit the prisoner, ignore the oppressed. It’s the sign of disordered love. When we do this, our worship becomes a lie to God.”[10]


“The white, middle-class American church especially seems to be asleep to these things, which Scripture says matter most to God. We rancorously engage in worship wars that have more to do with form and our quest for cultural relevance than with our desire to be conformed to the life, character and actions of Jesus Christ.”[11]


“In the documentary movie Mother Teresa, a priest who had known Teresa from her early days as a nun says, ‘People say Mother Teresa went to Calcutta and was moved by the plight of all those in need and felt called to respond. That was not it! She knew the love of Jesus, and it was specifically because of that love that she responded as she did.’ Worship changed her, and the consequences changed the world.”[12]


[1] Mark Labberton, The Dangerous Act of Worship: Living God’s Call to Justice (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2007), 13.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., 21-2.

[4] Ibid., 22-3.

[5] Ibid., 33.

[6] Ibid., 37.

[7] Ibid., 38.

[8] Ibid., 51.

[9] Ibid., 66.

[10] Ibid., 71.

[11] Ibid., 188.

[12] Ibid., 77.


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