A Disowned Sanctuary - As Seen On Sunday
We have forgotten your love of people as we fear for our own safety. There are many people whom we should be lamenting for. There are many people we should give a voice to out of our privilege. We are not being neighbors but like those who pass by on the other side of the road. Give us your love for people. Amen.
Every week we circle around Israel’s history of worshiping other gods which eventually led to the destruction of Jerusalem as punishment. Lamentations is not the warnings of a prophet for Israel to change but a reminder to us that God is faithful and just. The Israelites were supposed to be the nation of priests to the nations, but just as Christians today bought into worldly things, so did the Israelites as a people.
The Israelites usually would have a central place of worship for Yahweh. In the wilderness they had the tabernacle and Jerusalem had the Temple. Much of Jewish religion revolved around the Temple because that’s where the sacrifices were offered. In verses 6 and 7, the representation of places we meet with God and rites of religion have been forsaken by God Himself.
"destroyed his appointed meeting place”
“caused feast and sabbath to be forgotten”
“rejected his altar”
“Abandoned His sanctuary”
If you notice, it’s not about how a foreign enemy came and destroyed it all but that God was the enemy and He no longer meets with them at the sacred places. It takes this for fact. Over and over and over again Lamentations presents us with a God that is not fuzzy and feel good. We are presented with a God who keeps His promises, even when those promises mean hardship and death. We find ourselves face to face with the Judge who already gave out several chances and now is going to make an example of us.
Just as the Jerusalem and the Temple were representations of God’s power in the eyes of the Israelites and the surrounding nations, we see our huge auditoriums, which we call sanctuaries, in a similar light. “buildings, bodies, and bucks” say to us “they must be in God’s will, when it doesn't take much to tickle people’s ears to become rich. The church as we know it is vulnerable to changes in society. Huge buildings go away for many churches without tax-exempt status. New disciples become collateral damage in church turf wars. And organizations claiming to be not for profit, look pretty profit-y in the eyes of the world. If the American church is truly in decline I don't think we know how to handle the changes.
When Jerusalem fell, it was so much more real. The God of gods did not protect them. Some might even have wondered if He COULD protect them. But Lamentations is clear. It is God that punished them. He has become like an enemy in order to bring about His wrath. We both take comfort in our extravagance but the bible says that lilies are better dressed than Solomon. Things have equated being in God’s favor so far back that the oldest book in the Bible, Job, debunks it. Eventually, in God’s time, punishment does come and it is important to see where it came from. Lamentations could say that God was helpless and that the gods of the Babylon were victorious because of the destruction, but it does not. This is important for us to see. But we often don't see and the result is the slow and quiet death of the church.
We play the blame game. Many Christians today talk about how wicked this generation is and how horrible it is that many are leaving the church but Lamentations takes responsibility for the part they played.
Maybe God has begun to bend His bow towards us. Maybe He has been warning us that He will not allow us to shepherd people this way for much longer. Maybe in our inability to lament, we have failed to see our own sins. As a result, we blame the generation rather than looking inward to see our own wickedness. We have pretended to be the city on a hill while we worshiped false idols. So is this God’s wrath? It would be grossly negligent for me to say that this is the totality of God’s wrath when we look at what the Israelites went through in Lamentations. Christians are far from persecuted in America. But the smallest thing makes us freak out. but maybe it is just the beginning of our punishment.
I think that this is due to us having the wrong person on the throne. Lamentations sees God still on His throne while we take any excuse to place anyone or anything there instead.
My greatest fear is that we are showing up to church to worship but the God we should be worshiping has abandoned His sanctuary and rejected the altar. I don't want to be worshiping a god who isn’t there, thinking that I am worshiping God.
I would almost rather our buildings be destroyed or taken away so that we would finally turn from our wicked ways. But is it going to take the destruction of the church and Christianity in the West for us to finally reconcile with God?
We are Empty Church because we want people to be able to talk faith and opt-in to following Jesus on the six days between Sundays, when the church buildings are empty, or when they are all gone.