Monday, March 26, 2018

When Going to Church is Good but Not Enough (Jeremiah 7:3-11)

In 721 BC, Yahweh allowed an Assyrian army to destroy the Kingdom of Israel because the people of Israel had stubbornly abandoned him for other gods. With that destruction, those ten northern tribes disappeared from history. When they abandoned their meaning, they lost their existence.

One hundred years later, the Kingdom of Judah faced catastrophe for the same reason. But Yahweh didn’t want to lose them too. To avoid that, he sent Jeremiah to speak liberating if irritating words of truth to his people.

On one occasion, Yahweh sent Jeremiah to the Temple of Yahweh in Jerusalem—the only place on Earth where Yahweh had chosen to be present in a special way. Yahweh told Jeremiah to stand at the gate of the Temple and speak these words to everyone entering it to worship him:

Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, “Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place.Do not trust in deceptive words, saying, ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.’ For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly practice justice between a man and his neighbor, if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place, nor walk after other gods to your own ruin, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers forever and ever.

“Behold, you are trusting in deceptive words to no avail. Will you steal, murder, and commit adultery and swear falsely, and offer sacrifices to Baal and walk after other gods that you have not known,10 then come and stand before Me in this house, which is called by My name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’—that you may do all these abominations? 11 Has this house, which is called by My name, become a den of robbers in your sight? Behold, I, even I, have seen it,” declares the Lord (Jeremiah 7:3-11), New American Standard Version, here and following).

Yahweh revealed to his people that they had become robbers (v. 11). If he had not revealed that truth to them, they would not have known it. They would have continued to be deceived by the Olympian gods. They would have continued to believe the lie that they were acting as witnesses to Yahweh or, worse, the lie that Yahweh was indifferent to their lack of witness.

The people of Judah became robbers because they coveted more than their fair share (v. 5). Powerful people took advantage of marginal people to the point of causing their death (v. 6). They broke the Ten Commandments for the sake of unjust gain (v. 9). They could only justify such Olympian behavior, of course, through their devotion to the Olympian gods like Baal (the Canaanite name for Jupiter) (v. 9).

Like all good Olympians, Yahweh’s own people were pursuing the path of power which is based on falsehood, expresses itself through indifference toward Yahweh and others, and ends in death.

Yahweh, however, refused to remain indifferent to his people and their faithless witness to him. He chose to destroy the falsehood upon which their faithlessness was based. True, Yahweh was present in his Temple in a special way (v. 4). True, his people were standing in his presence in a special way when they came to him there (v. 10). But even so, Yahweh refused to allow his Temple to become a sanctuary for robbers (v. 11). If Yahweh’s people were going to act like Jupiter’s, he was going to have them do that someplace else.

Like God’s people yesterday, we Christians today also suffer from the illusion that we are committed to God while remaining devoted servants of the Olympian gods. We too enjoy more than our fair share, at the expense of others, because of our blind devotion to the gods of politics, war, technology, sex, money, and consumption.

Unlike God’s people yesterday, however, our situation is much more complex. Today we Christians and our churches are inescapably enmeshed in the one Global Technological System (GTS). The GTS is humankind’s greatest act of devotion to the Olympian gods and especially to Vulcan god of technology. It is also the most powerful means the gods have ever had for globally enslaving all societies, cultures, humans, and the rest of God’s good creation.

Today the GTS challenges us, as Christians and churches, in two especially grievous ways. First, it is currently inescapable. We Christians and churches are forced to participate in its gross injustices. We are compelled by necessity to violate the Ten Commandments. The gods are so pleased.

Worse, the Olympian media cast their deceptive spell over everyone daily with increasing rigor. Through the media, the elite minions of the Olympian gods deceive us into thinking that the GTS is awesome and that all sacrifices to it are justified. They even have us Christians enthralled.

Jesus Christ, however, remains the victorious truth who sets us free to love God and neighbor and leads us into fullness of life.

Going to church is good but not enough if we go as thralls of the gods and their GTS.

Jesus has different ideas about Sunday mornings. First, he delights to speak to us his liberating words of truth through the biblical passages we read, the sermon we hear, and the words about both we share with one another.

Second, through these words of truth, he frees us from our thralldom to the gods through their GTS. We may remain slaves of it, for the time being, but we are now aware of our enslavement. We are no longer under their spell. We see their GTS for the evil thing it is and no longer justify its destructive consequences. Once again we are able to affirm the righteousness of the Ten Commandments and witness to Christ’s fulfillment of them. What’s more, Jesus inspires us now to share his liberating truth with our companion Christians.

Third, Jesus frees us to work together as churches in discerning ways of loosening the grip of the GTS. We human thralls of the gods have been slaving on the GTS for over 360 years now. It’s not going to go away overnight. But even now, Jesus is freeing us to develop ways of loving others and nurturing life in spite of it.

As we affirm our freedom for Jesus and from the gods in these three ways, we may truly declare that our Sunday gatherings are the Temple of the Lord that he has desired all along. As we do, our going to church will be good enough.

Copyright © 2018 by Steven Farsaci.
All rights reserved. Fair use encouraged.