S (Scripture): Matthew 23:16 Jesus said to the legal experts and Pharisees, “How terrible it will be for you blind guides who say, ‘If people swear by the temple, it’s nothing. But if people swear by the gold in the temple, they are obligated to do what they swore.’ 17 You foolish and blind people! Which is greater, the gold or the temple that makes the gold holy? 18 You say, ‘If people swear by the altar, it’s nothing. But if they swear by the gift on the altar, they are obligated to do what they swore.’ 19 You blind people! Which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift holy? 20 Therefore, those who swear by the altar swear by it and by everything that’s on it. 21 Those who swear by the temple swear by it and by everything that’s part of it. 22 Those who swear by heaven swear by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it.”
O (Observation): Jesus is caught up in straightening out the misguided thoughts of those who established and interpreted the laws for the Jewish people: the Pharisees. Many things the Pharisees do (and have done) frustrates Jesus, as he saw these legal experts contorting the laws of God towards selfish and self-serving means.
Jesus saw that the Pharisees were constantly navigating adventures in missing the point.
The gold in the Temple – as beautiful and attractive as it was – was not the point. The point was the reason for the special nature of the Temple and the altars upon which the gold resides: God promises to be present in the Temple around the altar.
If you make a solemn oath at the Temple, you don’t swear by the gold, but you swear to the one for whom the gold exists: God!
A (Application): What is the gold upon which we pledge loyalty in our congregations? Is it the carpet or the walls or the decorations or the lack of decorations? What do we get caught up in?
What is the most important part of our worship space? Font? Altar? Pews?
What makes our buildings holy? Is it the stone or marble floors or stained glass windows?
All of these things can help…but let us not infer that the “stuff” that makes up our worship spaces – as beautiful as it all is – ever takes the place of the fact that where we are when we worship and confess and receive forgiveness… is Holy Ground. And it is such, not because we wear the right stuff or hang the right pictures. That ground is Holy Ground, because when we gather in the name of the Lord, God promises to be present. And that is all we ever need.
P (Prayer): Lord, strip us of all pretense and make our gathering spaces holy. Amen.