Sharing a couple pages from my journal after reading the selections from the Daily Office Year Two (Book of Common Prayer). I started the book of the Prophet Joel and continue reading from the Gospel of Luke. My reflections follow:
“Cleansing the Temple”
A terrible thing has happened… the people of God have failed to live in right relationship with him. We know this because Joel calls the people to repentance; “Turn back to God…” (see Joel 2:12-14). What I read that is most tragic to me is the curse and devastation is so massive and far-reaching that it completely prevents the people from worshiping God in the way they have previously known and the way worship has been prescribed for centuries. There was a certain protocol for worship; there were certain sacrificial offerings for the remittance of sin requiring grain, oil, wine, and specific animals. Because of the devastation that had befallen the people, this form of worship and sin offering was not an option.
8 Weep like a bride dressed in black, mourning the death of her husband. 9 For there is no grain or wine to offer at the Temple of the LORD… 10 The fields are ruined, the land is stripped bare. The grain is destroyed, the grapes have shriveled, and the olive oil is gone. 13 …For there is no grain or wine to offer at the Temple of your God. (Joel 1:8-10, 13)
I am familiar with the Book of Joel, so I know the people are called to repent and turn back to God…and the LORD makes provision to do this despite the people’s inability to follow Temple protocol. The heart-breaking observation here is the realization of how disorienting and disheartening this loss of identity…this stripping away of self must be to the Hebrew people. Not only are their lives disrupted to the point of famine and ruin, but the thing they “know” to do (go to the Temple and offer sacrifices in a show of repentance), they cannot do.
I wonder if this is an example of and call to “die to self?” Is this God helping his people to strip away and remove a false identity? I think it is possible.
The people of God had relied upon their Temple worship as a means of supporting their relationship with God for generations. It seems the relationship that came with sharing the Dwelling Place of God had been taken for granted and was being used as a means to an end. When the people were backed into a corner or they felt “God was angry,” the thing to do was find a priest, offer sacrifices, appease the “angry god,” and move on. It is true that God had been the originator of the rules for Temple worship, but it was the people who had subverted what God had intended for good. In the process of subversion, the people had lost the thing that set them apart from the surrounding nations; they had lost their relationship with God.
I wonder if this might be a foreshadowing of Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple.
…For there is no grain or wine to offer at the Temple of your God.
“Give us this day our daily bread.”
“Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” Exclaims a man who is listening to the teaching of Jesus (Luke 14:15).
Jesus taught his disciples to pray; “Lord give us this day our daily bread…” It seems to me, that one of God’s greatest delights is the communion of fellowship. The unity and fellowship of the Trinity, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit is (I think) the greatest example of this perfect unity and communion, but God also reveals His passion for relationship and desire for communion with humanity in number of ways. The Bible teaches us about the joy God derives from walking with man as His friend (think Enoch, Abraham, and Moses as a few examples). We are taught about God “dwelling” in the tents of men (Moses and the Tabernacle in the wilderness). God enjoying sharing meals (with Abraham, providing manna for the Israelites for 40 years, Jesus’ delight in sharing food and wine…). Clearly, ours is a God of relationship, One who enjoys creating memories, traditions, a living history and shared heritage—feasts, festivals, dancing and singing with His cherished Creation. There really seems nothing that gives God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit greater joy than to “hang out” with His children… and it seems He also likes to provide “fresh bread” for the most of these gatherings.
“Give us this day our daily bread, we pray”
In the reading of Luke 14:15-24, I see a tragic parallel to our contemporary world. I hear a man exclaim how great it is to “eat and fellowship with God.” This doesn’t seem too far removed from conversations and the words of Christians in our world today. We might find ourselves in a Christian gathering or a church potluck and proclaim how wonderful it is to be in the presence of God, eating and sharing our blessings together, but Jesus offers a raw look into what is all-too-often our real world.
Jesus tells the people at his table about a man (God) who has prepared an elaborate banquet—a great feast—for which he has sent out many invitations. When the time draws near for the date of the banquet, many RSVPs are returned with excuses and reasons for people unable to attend; “They all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.'” (Luke 14:18-20).
This parable is some two-thousand years old, but it seems that not much has changed. When I have the opportunity to spend devoted time with God, how often have sent him my RSVP with words like, “I’d love to go to church or read my Bible, but I have to work; I have chores at home; it’s my only day off; I have family obligations…”?
“Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!”
God has provided us with a banquet of fellowship fit for a king and unrivaled by anything imagined in the history of humankind. We have unparalleled access to God through the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit and His written Word to us. How can we justify not taking the time or making the time to fellowship with the Creator of All Things?
I think an even greater tragedy is how easy it becomes for us to take for granted this access to God and the “daily bread” He has prepared for us. As the people in the time of Joel took for granted their access to, and relationship with, God, He took that access away from them.
“…For there is no grain or wine to worship in the Temple of God.” Joel 1:13
In Jesus’ parable, so it happens also. If we fail to enter his fellowship… our fellowship, our access to the banquet and Bread of God may result with us being denied entry.
“For none of these I first invited will get even the smallest taste of my banquet.” Luke 14:24
May we never take for granted the gift of daily bread from our Heavenly Father. Blessed are those who eat bread in the Kingdom of God. Amen.