Uniform 08.09.2015: A Choice to Be Just

Uniform_MA15_Coracle

Jeremiah 7:1-15

The 1984 film Mass Appeal is the story of a veteran priest and his young associate. The older priest is a “Don’t rock the boat” sort while the younger man fervently believes that the boat really needs to be rocked–if not sunk. The young priest is getting ready to deliver a homily. He has a pretty scathing message in mind, but his mentor advises him to tone it down. The young man tries to follow that guidance, but when he ascends the pulpit and starts talking, the words that come out of his mouth are pointedly critical.

The congregants, who are accustomed to the soothing messages of their pastor, are not pleased. The older priest stands at the door of the sanctuary, trying to soothe the ruffled feathers of his parishioners.

One very upset lady says to the pastor, “I don’t come to church to be preached to!”

The people who were at the Jerusalem temple on the day that Jeremiah delivered the sermon contained in this week’s lesson text probably didn’t expect to get preached to, either—but they did. And what they heard was a sermon criticizing them for their loyalty to the temple! Simply put, Jeremiah criticized them for being committed to the temple without being committed to the Lord.

So, at the risk of sounding like I’m preaching to you, let me ask: are we ever guilty of valuing loyalty to our church more than loyalty to our Savior? Do we ever let ourselves inappropriately believe that attending Sunday School and worship (valuable disciplines though they be) covers a multitude of sins?

Listen to how Jeremiah put it in his sermon in the temple:

Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your doings, and let me dwell with you in this place. Do not trust in these deceptive words: “This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD.” For if you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly act justly one with another, if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, then I will dwell with you in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your ancestors forever and ever (vv. 4-7).

It’s not hard to imagine those folks having “Follow Me to the Temple” bumper stickers on their donkeys as they ignored the needy on their way to worship.

Have you ever heard the phrase “Saturday night sinners and Sunday saints”? I don’t hear it nearly as often as I once did. When I was young, I think I took it literally, as in “Folks ought not drink and dance (or go to movies or play cards or whatever your particular tradition thought was especially sinful) on Saturday night and then come to church on Sunday morning and sing the hymns and pray the prayers and sleep through the sermon and figure that everything was all right between God and you.”

When I was a child, I thought as a child. As I grew older and (hopefully) more mature in my ways of looking at the world, I came to understand that there is also a social dimension to sin. Better put, there is a social dimension to righteousness, and if we violate our social contract, that’s sin.

Jeremiah was talking about people who were Sunday–Friday sinners and Saturday (since their Sabbath was on Saturday) saints.

“Whew,” you might be thinking. “I’m glad that’s in the Old Testament and doesn’t have much to do with me.”

When asked what the greatest commandment was, Jesus said that it was to love the Lord our God with everything we are. And he went on to say that the second greatest commandment, which was right up there with the first one, was to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

So Jesus said “Amen” to Jeremiah and the other prophets. We can’t separate our Sunday life from our Monday–Saturday life. We can’t separate our love for God from our love for people. We can’t separate personal righteousness from social sin. We can’t separate worship from service.

How do we need to amend our ways and our doings?

Discussion

1. How can we think about the relationship between the biblical teaching that we are saved by grace through faith and the biblical call for us to live our lives in certain ways?
2. How would your congregation respond if your pastor preached a sermon in which he or she said that unless you start treating people more justly in your daily lives, you might as well stop coming to church?
3. Jeremiah said that the Lord would dwell with the people if they did not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow. To put it positively, they were to help them so as to lighten their load. How can your church do a better job of that? How can you do a better job of that?
4. Much of the burden of helping the alien, the orphan, and the widow in our society falls to the government. Should Christians advocate for government programs that help those in need of help? If so, why? And how?
5. When Jesus drove the moneychangers from the temple, he quoted Jeremiah 7:11: “Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your sight?” What is the connection between Jesus’ action and Jeremiah’s words?

Reference Shelf

Deceptive Words

To his announcements of judgment, Jeremiah no doubt often faced this mantra-like response: This is the temple of the Lord (the Hebrew, “they are” [NRSV footnote], probably refers to the various temple buildings). Nothing evil can happen to us (as the prophets kept reminding them, 5:12; 6:14)! God will protect us, come what may! But Jeremiah twice pronounces these words “deceptive words”; they conceal a lie (vv. 4, 8; the judgment also placed on the words of the prophets, 14:13-16). That is, the words deceive people into thinking that they are secure, protected from any disaster, regardless of what they say or do (see the comparable formulation in Mic 3:11). Verse 14 reinforces v. 4 in identifying the “deceptive words” in which Israel had come to “trust” (so also v. 8). Israel had come to “trust” in the temple as “a safe place” (see v. 10), as a point of “eternal security,” rather than in the God who had deigned to dwell in that place.

The admonition of v. 3 is spelled out in more detail in vv. 5-7, and the phrase “deceptive words” of v. 4 is repeated in v. 8, with the additional claim that trust in such lies about the efficacy of the temple will gain them nothing.

Terence E. Fretheim, Jeremiah, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2002), 133-34.

Michael Ruffin is husband to Debra and father to Joshua (Michelle) and Sara (Benjamin). A graduate of Mercer University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he has previously served as a pastor and as a university professor. He lives on the Ruffin Family Farm in Yatesville, Georgia. You can visit and communicate with him at MichaelRuffin.com. He is the Uniform Series Curriculum Editor.

*****

For further resources, subscribe to the Uniform Teaching Guide and Commentary.

Additionally, the Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary series is a scholarly but accessible means for enhancing your study of each lesson. To purchase the volume quoted in today’s Reference Shelf, please click Here.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email