by Martin Oldfield
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‘You’re interested in religion; I’m interested in people’ (Zechariah 7:6).
Today’s reading goes to the heart of what it means to worship God.
Here is the backstory: Solomon’s temple was destroyed in 586 BC, and rebuilding began 70 years later. The Jews established several festivals commemorating various aspects of the fall of Jerusalem. None of these festivals was commanded by God, and they had been celebrated for the past 70 years.
The second temple was now under construction, and the Jewish leaders came to Zechariah to ask if they still needed to celebrate these festivals. He asked them the most basic question: are you celebrating these festivals to glorify God, or are you doing it as an excuse for a party?
The fact that they even asked the question suggests that the festivals had become a meaningless ritual. They had elevated these non-commanded festivals above the things that had been commanded regarding justice, mercy and compassion.
This begs the question: do we ritualise things that are unimportant to God and avoid those things that we have been commanded to do? Look at the western church. Do we see rituals being glorified – liturgical forms, music choices, dress codes, motivational speakers/preachers, beautiful buildings, great programs, etc?
If you ask someone in the street what they think of when they hear the word ‘church’ or ‘religion’, it is highly likely they will speak of a building, rituals or traditions associated with a particular group of ‘religious’ people.
Do we think that well-attended church services on a Sunday measure the success of the church? Or is God looking for clear evidence of our heart to obey his commands out of a joyous response to his incredible love toward us? Have we muddied the waters by glorifying things that are not important and forgotten to do those things that are important – like loving God, loving our neighbour, and making disciples? Amazing things will happen when we listen to what God wants and then do them! What do you think the results might be?
Dear Dad, you know that bright and shiny things are attractive to human hearts and minds. I’m no different – there are lots of things that I hang onto because they are familiar and comfortable. Please show me the things that you want me to be comfortable in doing as part of your plan for me, and give me the courage and willingness to do them. Amen.