Summary: A sermon about being the Church God means for us to be.
“Instead of Playing it Safe”
By: Ken Sauer, Pastor of East Ridge United Methodist Church, Chattanooga, TN eastridgeumc.org
Do you notice any similarities between what Jeremiah had to say about the Temple and what was going on there, and what Jesus had to say some 600 or so years later?
It’s pretty similar, is it not?
For in both cases, the Temple was not being used for the reasons God had intended.
Also, Jeremiah’s speech at the “gate of the Lord’s house,” was a dangerous and courageous one.
Jeremiah would later be arrested for making this speech.
And it wasn’t long after Jesus overturned the tables of the money changers that He too was arrested!!!
So, what was going on to cause both Jeremiah and then Jesus to risk it all?
It must have been some pretty serious stuff!
Jeremiah’s sermon is an open and scathing attack on the idea that God can be… ‘paid off’ … in a sense by any sort of Temple worship or ritual sacrifice…
…and thus, that the Temple can be some safe place to “hide out” until the coast is clear.
As you have probably noticed, both Jeremiah and Jesus use the phrase “a den of robbers.”
And back in those days a “robbers den” was usually a cave to hide out in.
Kind of like a “Crack House” or a “Meth. House” of today.
Notice what Jeremiah accuses the Temple worshippers of doing: “oppressing the alien, the fatherless or the widow, shedding innocent blood, worshipping other gods, stealing, murder, adultery…”
My goodness, they are breaking 5 of the Ten Commandments right there!
“and then,” says God through Jeremiah to the people, “[you] come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say ‘We are safe—safe to do all these detestable things?
Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you?”
You see, the people weren’t necessarily performing these misdeeds inside the Temple; it’s more likely that they would go outside the Temple walls to kill, steal, and destroy…
…and then go to the Temple as if the mere fact of their presence there would cancel out any recompense for their behavior.
“Well, that isn’t going to work,” says the Lord.
They must “reform their ways and…actions.”
They must be transformed from within!
This outward, hypocritical religious mumbo jumbo isn’t going to cut it.
And that is the same sort of thing Jesus is getting at in Matthew Chapter 21.
Jesus’ brother James tells us in James Chapter 1, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
For he says, “What good is it…if a [person] claims to have faith but has no deeds?
Can such a faith save [that person]?”
Jeremiah, Jesus and James are all on the same page!
Again, the “den of robbers” refers not to the place where the thieves do the plundering but to the hideout to which they take their booty and where they feel safe.
So Jesus’ indictment is not so much about dishonest business practices in the Temple as it is charging the people with using the Temple as a robber’s hideout!
The Temple is to be a “house of prayer,” and thus of transformation and worship rather than some place where people go so that they can “seem” or “feel” religious.
Is the Church ever used this way today?
Does our behavior “outside” of these four walls match our behavior “within”?
Do we take the way we are serving one another inside the building—outside as well?
Is our faith transforming us, or are we trying to transform our faith—and thus trying to make it fit our needs…
…using it as a security blanket…
…or a magic rabbit’s foot?
Do we turn to God only when it is convenient for us, or do we worship God in everything we do?
How real is our faith?
I would imagine that many of us struggle with questions such as these.
I’ll tell you though I have been pretty impressed as to how this Church steps up to the plate when you are invited to put your faith into action.
A good example of this is this past week’s housing of the homeless.
The Interfaith Homeless Network is a fantastic organization, helping folks get back on their feet…
…women and children, that is…
…sort of like widows and orphans…
…very much like that.
Sadly, there are not enough churches involved in this ministry to operate more than one or two IHN programs at a time.
And IHN only houses about 2 families at a time—when there are hundreds and thousands in need.
When Jesus pronounces that the Temple Worshippers and the Religious Leaders are making His “house” a “den of robbers,” the word for robber can also mean “a revolutionary.”