Wednesday, April 8, 2020


“House of Worship” or “Den of Thieves?”
On that first Palm Sunday, as Jesus entered through the gates of Jerusalem riding the colt of a donkey, he was also riding high in popularity with the people. So admired was he by almost everyone, that no one at the time could have imagined that in less than one week, those shouts of “Hosanna” would be changed to cries of “Crucify him!”
But Jesus knew. He understood that these were a capricious people and that the depth of their commitment was based only upon what immediate benefit they might receive from him. What outwardly seemed like adoration and worship to him, was actually, at its deepest level, an adoration and worship of themselves. In seeing Jesus riding into Jerusalem, they saw themselves benefitting in some manner from his presence among them.
It was the very attitude that Jesus came to oppose.

He came to demonstrate that true worship, at its heart, is not because we might benefit from it in some way, but because of the profound and abiding fact that God must be worshiped.
But neither is worship to God motivated by the fact that he demands it, or because he is somehow buoyed by it as we humans may be. Worship to God is simply a recognition of the fact that He is the Creator and Sustainer of all that there is. It is proper and right that we acknowledge this.
As Jesus dismounted his small colt, the people crowded around him, each one vying for his attention:
“Jesus, heal me from my infirmity!”
“Jesus, restore my blind eyes!”
But Jesus could not be delayed quite yet. He was on a mission. At the moment, he had a task that he was driven to fulfill.
Despite the people crowding around him, as quickly as he could manage to make his way forward, Jesus went directly to the temple area. As he entered the courts of the temple, he could see that the place looked more like a marketplace than it did a house of worship.
Men were seated at tables selling all types of goods that they tried to convince people that must have in order to have a “proper worship experience.”
“You must buy these things from us.”
“Oh, and in case you have come with the wrong currency, have no fear, I can exchange your foreign silver for the local coin.”
When Jesus first paraded into the courts followed by a great multitude of people, the merchants looked up from their tables, their eyes bright with anticipation.
“This is going to be a profitable day!”
They were at first happy to see Jesus and his crowd walk directly toward their tables, but as Jesus came nearer, the shop keepers saw the look in his eyes. The business that he had come to do was not the business that they welcomed!
Jesus immediately grasped the first table that he came to and violent turned it upside-down, sending anything that had been lying on it flying across the floor. He then strode from table to table, overturning each one as he progressed.
“Get out!” he demanded of each one. Jesus drove them all out of the temple. The merchants did not resist. They remembered him from a previous incident when he similarly drove them out. That time he had first made a whip out of some cords and used it to hasten their exit. 
Then he said these words recorded in the gospel records: “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of thieves!”
Jesus wanted to make clear that the purpose of the temple was worship, not for the purpose of profit or for personal benefit.
It is important to make this distinction, because it is a distinction that is still missed by many today. We may not be so crass as having currency exchange booths in our churches, or tables full of merchandise to buy (am I wrong in assuming this?), but we must take great caution that those things that we bring actually are for the purpose of worship to God.
They are not so we ourselves will benefit in some way. These things that we bring may not be physical items, in fact they usually are not. But they are nevertheless still things for which we may hope to exchange for some type of personal benefit.
As surprising as it may seem to some, preaching is one of these items. Of course some people have been given the gift of preaching from God, and one will always feel fulfilled by using a talent given to them by God. But if one’s motivation for preaching is simply because he or she likes to do it and enjoys the attention of a crowd of people, then it is better if that person sit down. Preaching is not for self-adulation.
Of course teaching is an important aspect in preaching. An essential purpose in preaching and teaching is so that we all can continually grow in our understanding of the knowledge of God.
But this purpose is actually secondary. If the teaching only reaches the intellect, then it has fallen short of its intent.
Nor is preaching for the purpose of entertainment. Of course there is nothing wrong with having a speaker who is entertaining. We all like a good joke (I think), but preaching is not stand-up comedy. That belongs in a night club.
This distinction is not only important for the preachers to understand. It extends also to the other elements of what we bring with us to the service.
For instance, the music that we present is not so we can highlight our talents and later have people tell us what a beautiful voice we have, or how well we played our instrument. It is for worship to the Creator and Sustainer of all.
All speaking, all music, each and every aspect of the service must be for worship to the one who is Creator and Sustainer of all. That is the primary purpose of all of it. In the end, if God is not praised, then all the tables of entertainment and self-gain should be overturned and the entertainers and other merchants driven out of the temple area.
And for each who attend, for each who sit in the church to observe and to listen to all that is being presented, it is good to remember that it is a place that is set aside for worship.
It is not an auditorium where we go to hear a Ted Talk, and it is not a civic center where we go to hear a great concert. Nor is it a party where we go to hang out with our friends.
It is a House of Worship. It is where we go to pay our homage and respect to the One who has created each one of us and who sustains us in our every breath. It is proper and it is right that we acknowledge this.
In these days of the coronavirus, maybe God has put us in this hiatus in our ability to attend church during this time of quarantine so that we can reassess our very reasons for attending in the first place.
Perhaps it is time for us to remember how to worship.

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