When Even God Is Not Welcome
Reflecting on the Third Sunday after the Epiphany: One Day After Sunday (Year C)
Psalter: Psalm 119:89-96
Old Testament: Jeremiah 36:1-10
Epistle: 1 Corinthians 14:1-12
Holy God, you gather the whole universe into your radiant presence and continually reveal your Son as our Savior. Bring healing to all wounds, make whole all that is broken, speak truth to all illusion, and shed light in every darkness, that all creation will see your glory and know your Christ. Amen.
The Prophet Jeremiah is preaching to a difficult crowd. The people of Judah don’t like his message. Prophets speak for God; but how does one get the message through when there are always plenty of false prophets that will give the word that is preferred?
But just as God persists in trying to reach the people, so the prophets persist even when the word of the Lord is not popular. Jeremiah is persona non grata in the Temple. Since the prophets speak for God, they also represent the presence of God. In refusing to allow the prophet to enter the Temple, the king and the priests are refusing to let God enter his own place of residence. Is it possible to imagine, God being thrown out of his own house?
Of course, the king and the priests don’t see it that way. They believe that other so-called prophets are the true proclaimers of God’s word. They proclaim the comfortable word, the word that offers the path of least resistance, the word the does not call for change. For the king and the priests, God’s presence remains in the Temple; for Jeremiah does not represent God. How true it is that those who commit idolatry seldom recognize that is what they are doing. As far as the perpetrators are concerned, those who lock God out the lives of others are doing no such thing. It is hard for us see our good intentions as sinful.
Near the end of his ministry, Jesus believed that the guardians of the Temple in his day were excluding others from God’s presence and thus rejecting the presence of God. The money changers had set up shop in the Court of the Gentiles and were preventing Gentile worshipers from offering their praise to the God of Israel. This is so egregious for Jesus, he creates quite the kerfuffle—turning over tables and driving the animals away. Jesus is not opposed to the selling of sacrifices; he is angry that in selling where they were, they were keeping people away from entering God’s presence in Herod’s Temple, just as the king and priests were preventing Jeremiah from entering into God’s presence in Solomon’s Temple.
When people are prevented from entering the presence of God, it is tantamount to a failure to welcome God. But God’s prophets remain undeterred. Jeremiah charges his scribe Baruch to deliver the word of the Lord in the presence of all. That does not mean the king and the priests and the people will receive the word any differently; but it’s not the prophet’s job to convince the people. The prophet proclaims; the people must respond in one way or another.
The question we must ask ourselves today is where have we hindered others from entering God’s presence in worship or fellowship or ministry? Where have we by an unkind word or a careless deed or an act of omission knowingly or unknowingly failed to welcome others into the life of worship and fellowship.
Jesus said, “as you’ve done it to one of the least of these my brothers and sister, you have done it to me.”
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