I wonder what you’re like at obeying rules? Some folks just seem to be better disposed than others at following them. I read the other day that one conservative estimate would put the number of laws that exist in the world today at over 32 million. I cannot begin to fathom at how that figure was arrived at, but one thing is for sure .. mankind has created a huge number to adhere to! God created 10. Just 10, and they cover ‘all the bases’, providing that we do not disconnect ourselves from the first: ‘You shall have no other gods before me.’ They are, a statement of God’s values and principles for a happy, healthy and prosperous life and they begin with a right relationship with Him.
In John’s gospel account we read of the reaction of Jesus when he sees these principles being ignored and the effect that this is having upon the Temple as a place of worship. The Religious leaders and the stall holders had turned it into a significant money-making business in which worshipers were being charged extortionate rates and the poor, in particular, were being made to suffer. A place which should have provided open access for all who wanted to worship there, had, instead, erected and instituted considerable barriers. One example of this was in the inspection service provided by the Temple in which all animals brought for sacrifice were scrutinised to ensure that they were of a high enough standard. Cynically, many who had brought their own animals instead of purchasing those from licensed stall holders in the Temple, were rejected and then charged as much as 18 times more than the realistic price if they wanted to worship there. After many had travelled considerable distances to be present, they were effectively being held to ransom, short changed and blackmailed in to compliance.
It’s easy enough for us to muster some righteous indignation at the barriers being placed in front of the faithful by the approach of the temple authority’s, but if, as Paul states, our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, (1Cor.6:19) then how many of us, I wonder, are accountable for a whole clutch of barriers we might raise and place in front of our worship? They can come in lots of different shapes and sizes, and without even realizing it we can very easily create new laws and rules that we think we, or usually others, should adopt. Our attitudes, our preferences, our prejudices, even perhaps, our understanding? Where might we be short changing God in our worship I wonder? How welcoming are we to God’s Holy Spirit in our lives and our worship and where might we be creating barriers to those who visit our places of worship? Are we keeping the main thing … the main thing?
I heard a story of a lady who was lonely and so went to a pet shop to buy a parrot. Being persuaded that this particular one was a good talker she made the purchase and headed home. After a week she returned to the shop complaining that it wasn’t speaking but was told that this was probably because it needed a ladder in the cage. She bought one but returned the following week with the same complaint. This time she was persuaded to buy a swing. She returned again the next week and was advised to buy a mirror. The following week she appeared to tell the shopkeeper that the bird had unfortunately died. “That’s very sad to hear,” said the shopkeeper. “Did he not say anything at all?” “Yes, he did” she replied. “It said, ‘Have you any food?’”
We can put up all sorts of activities in our worship lives – ladders, swings, mirrors – but we need to keep asking ourselves; are we are keeping the main thing the main thing or are other things becoming a distraction and a barrier to us and to others? Is God first?
Rev Dave Clark
Vicar of the Benefice of Upper Wensleydale