Monday, February 02, 2009

The Need to Grieve

Imagine what it must have been like for those sincere worshipers in first century Israel who walked such a long way to be in Jerusalem to worship Yahweh in the temple. To their shock and dismay, when they arrive, they do not feel the awe, reverence, fear, and love they expected but, rather, when they enter the holy place it's like someone punched them in the stomach when they weren't ready. The smell of livestock and chaotic noise of ambitious traders and opportunistic swindlers make the place look like more like a 1st century version of Las Vegas than a temple of God.

They stand at the gate, dazed and hardly breathing as they take it all in - the crowd, the animal cages, the sales people, the frenzy of money changers. They see people wearing fine clothes purchase the finest sacrifices while those in humble rags receive only the most common and poorly looking creatures.

Most of all they see hundreds of faces. Faces that appear unconcerned and even annoyed as they stand in lines or hustle from one spot to another. Faces that don't know or care about the people standing next to them. Faces that reveal how normal and mundane this insane violation of God's person and purpose is. The temple of God has effectively been lost and no one seems to notice!

Grief swells in their hearts as they begin to hear themselves think, "How can I worship here when all I want to do is cry out in anguish? How can I praise God when my heart is so angry at what I see? Such self-centeredness and self-deception... This is not the God I worship! This cannot be his temple! And who are these people? Impostors? Victims of some deception? How can these things be?"

Thankfully, here in 21st century America, there is no market in our places of worship (unless you're watching Christian TV). Financially struggling people are not preyed upon by religious representatives (normally). In fact, in many worshiping communities, people hardly give any money at all. It must be nice to live at a time in the world when there is so little need.

We have high quality worship services in which we "get fed." We're served worship like a meal at a restaurant by professionals who make our experience enjoyable and meaningful. If the food and service pleases us, we come back. If not, we go somewhere else.

We're big on community too. No, we don't actually live in community or even see each other all that much; but we do have weekly or biweekly small groups where we read our Bibles and pray and judge the quality of our meetings by how pleased, comforted, or encouraged we feel when we leave. Sometimes we even volunteer, especially when the experience feels "rewarding." We fit these things into our schedules when we can because we're busy people with important things to do.

When we get really serious, we start "sharing Christ." We look for "divine opportunities" at the job, neighborhood, or gym to help people know what they should believe. Of course, the appointments aren't entirely divine because we already chose what job, neighborhood, and gym would be ours without God's input. That's sort of how we live all of life, though. We do what seems best to us and then we ask God to bless it.

Yep. We've come a long way in 2,000 years. Back then, it was all about those few people who had the leverage to make money and exercise power in self-serving ways. Now, we all make money and exercise power in self-serving ways. (Unless you're poor. If you're poor then it's often a lot like it was back then.)

It's great to live in a time when we feel so good about ourselves and our lives. Then again... maybe it's not.

Maybe the reason we feel so good is because we've effectively distracted ourselves from realizing how needy we and others actually are. Maybe we're so satiated by wealth and possessions and comfort and convenience and entertainment and gratification - even in our church experiences - that we've managed to silence the deeper cries of our hearts and the voices of those who suffer outside of our immediate vision. (It wouldn't be the first time. Remember the Tower of Babel and how positive its builders felt about themselves?)

Maybe we need to admit the possibility that we don't naturally see what's wrong in us or around us because we're so good at insulating ourselves from the pain of it. Maybe we need to think more seriously about how Jesus lived, about what he said, and ultimately about what God wants for and from us. Maybe we need to quit living in denial and begin grieving the corruption of God's temple (the Body of Christ) with such desperation that even worship becomes difficult as we cry out for God to save us. And, if we're very, very fortunate, maybe we'll do all that with others who feel the same way.

"And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. And He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables; and He would not permit anyone to carry merchandise through the temple. And He said to them, 'It is written, "My house shall be called a house of prayer"; but you are making it a robber's den.' And the blind and the lame came to Him in the temple, and He healed them." (Mt 21:12-14; Mk 11:16; Jn 2:13)

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