Summary: Does our worship honour God by including by being devoted to his glory?
No source is known for a compendium of ’12 reasons why I don’t wash (or go to church), though it sounds as though it must have come from a small boy. It goes like this:
1. I was forced to wash as a child
2. I’m not dirty
3. I’ll wait until I’m older, then I’ll be dirtier
4. There are too many brands of soap to choose from
5. People who wash are hypocrites
6. None of my friends bother to wash
7. Washing is boring
8. I’m too busy to wash
9. The water is always too cold
10. Washing is a soap manufactures’ conspiracy to make money
11. There are other ways of dealing with dirt, and I sometimes wash on special occasions
12. You have to get up too early.
None of this was, of course, true in first century Israel. Or at least, on the occasion of the Feast of the Passover, all males who lived within 15 miles of Jerusalem were required to go up to the city to celebrate the feast, and all Jews’ lifetime ambition was to be in Jerusalem at least once for Passover. In many ways it was the highlight of the Jewish religious year, when they remember (as required in the Pentateuch) to remember their forefathers’ deliverance from captivity in Egypt
Our reading this morning tells of when Jesus went up to Jerusalem for Passover and of how, when he entered the Temple he found the tables of the money-changers and the sellers of animals in the outer Court- the Court of the Gentiles. Immediately he was roused to anger. And if we would query the teaching of God’s wrath let’s remember this incident. There’s nothing to suggest that Jesus actually struck anyone, but his anger was such that, as other Gospel accounts tell us he overturned the tables of the money-changers. But what caused this anger? William Barclay suggests three reasons for this anger, and lying behind it all there was a more basic cause. But, it’s instructive to look at what Barclay says, and see what it has to say about our worship and our approach to worship.
Firstly, God’s house was being desecrated.
The artist Edward Seago tells of an occasion when he took two gypsy children on a visit to one of England’s cathedrals. If you’ve ever come across gypsy children you’ll know that they are wild, unruly children- hardly the sort you’d take into a cathedral. But, the moment they entered the cathedral they became unusually quiet and only on returning home did they resume their normal boisterous nature. A sense of reverence had touched their uninstructed and normally unruly natures.
Reverence is an essential element of worship, and one which is missing from so much of today’s church. Our worship can be formal; familiar words can be repeated without any feel for their true meaning. It can become very ordinary, very mundane. We can so easily become too ’pally with the deity’. I sometimes wonder how much we lose in the modern habit of sitting for prayers. When we address our Lord and Creator, is it not more appropriate to be on our knees? What have we lost by addressing God as "You" rather than ’Thou’?
Yes, our worship should reflect the fact that we are God’s children. Scriptures do tell us that we may approach God with boldness- but never with irreverence. And should we not come to worship with hearts and minds prepared, not rush in at 9.59 with a whole load of clutter and unfinished business. I know all about the pace of modern life, but doesn’t the Bible tell us to be still and know that I am God?
Secondly, Temple worship had become exclusive
To see what was happening here, we need to understand the Temple courts. The Temple was built with a series of courts. The outermost court, the Court of the Gentiles- will, this by name, anyone could enter. God intended that all nations should have the opportunity to worship him. Then came the Court of Women, The Court of the Israelites, then the Court of the Priests and at the very heart the Holy of Holies. Mark’s account gives us an insight into what upset and enraged Jesus, where he says that My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations. But you have made it a den of robbers (11:17)
How could any Gentile enter into an attitude of prayer or worship with all the commotion and clutter of the trading that took place in this their outer court; beyond which they were not permitted to go. They were effectively excluded! Is there a trace of anything in our worship, in our attitude to strangers and visitors which makes them feel excluded; that they’ve strayed unbidden into a closed clique? Does our mode of worship; maybe our plethora of books make them feel they have come somewhere which is like foreign country; where they feel out-on-a-limb. They feel like intruders!