There is an identified land that God set up for the Chosen People, of course. This happened long ago and will be so forever. The geographic importance and spiritual significance of Jerusalem and the nation of Israel is a worthy study.
The temple of our hearts is designed with the same import and significance as the ancient Temple of Jerusalem.
Image by AkshayaPatra Foundation
By John Pearring
Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel:
Reform your ways and your deeds,
so that I may remain with you in this place.
God wants to be with us. He desires our company. Living within his creation, especially with those made “in his image,” goes way beyond our understanding. Why would God want to live with us? We can identify many people in this world we certainly don’t want to live with.
What we likely hear in this scripture from Jeremiah today isn’t God’s desire to hang around with the likes of us. We listen, “Reform your ways and your deeds.” Our senses hit upon God’s distaste for our behavior. He’s right to expect this of us, but most of us don’t think God should be talking about us. It’s the other guys who are messing things up. If only others cleaned up their act, God wouldn’t be so angry with us.
Jeremiah, of course, isn’t speaking about our modern notion of God “in this place.” The particular setting for Jeremiah is explained at the end of this selection from Jeremiah. A litany of “ifs” outline the limits of God’s patience with the nation of Hebrew people. The place where God joins them is Israel.
Only if you thoroughly reform your ways and your deeds;
if each of you deals justly with his neighbor;
if you no longer oppress the resident alien,
the orphan, and the widow;
if you no longer shed innocent blood in this place,
or follow strange gods to your own harm,
will I remain with you in this place,
in the land I gave your fathers long ago and forever.
The temple centered the lives of the chosen people because God dwelled there. This is not utterly foreign to us. We followers of Christ are the new temples and dwelling places of God’s Holy Spirit. Jeremiah’s reference to the home of Israel goes beyond just a metaphor for our current condition as Christians in community; many of us gather in communities where God’s presence is further concentrated and expressed. It’s the actual “place” where God resides.
There is an identified land that God set up for the Chosen People, of course. This happened long ago and will be so forever. The geographic importance and spiritual significance of Jerusalem and the nation of Israel is a worthy study. The temple of our hearts is designed with the same import and significance as the ancient Temple of Jerusalem.
Put not your trust in the deceitful words:
“This is the temple of the LORD!
The temple of the LORD! The temple of the LORD!”
Three times God emphasizes the supremacy of the temple. The timbre of his voice, loudly repeating “The temple of the Lord,” reverberates in our hearts, also. These verses aren’t directed at an amorphous crowd, some anonymous group of not so holy folks. God is explicitly pointing to those who are the caretakers of the temple. The priests, the prophets, and the kings.
Guess who is the caretaker of our bodily temples? Who are members of the royal priesthood in the Body of Christ, the followers who walk and live among all creation? Yes. It’s us. We are priest, prophet, and king in God’s kingdom of living, holy temples.
The yearning by God is to live within us, his temples. We are being made holy so that he can be among us in this place, our hearts.
Taken in this way, the newly minted coins of God, we are not being rebuked by God. He is not hammering at us. He is calling us. Please, he urges us.
“Has this house which bears my name
become in your eyes a den of thieves?
I too see what is being done, says the LORD.”
God cries to the Israeli leadership that the priests, prophets, and kings act with eagerness to be sinful within the very temple of his dwelling. They steal, oppress, curse God, place other powers before God, and defile the temple he built. In truth, we are similar temples, trampled upon by our misguided and intentional disregard for the maker of our hearts.
We can’t hide from God’s knowledge and vision.
A critical difference between the fixed temple of Jerusalem and our mobile, heart-centered temples today is that the sacrifice for our sin has already been completed. We hold no ceremonial killing in our hearts of innocent animals to assuage God’s justified requirement to compensate evil with destruction. That’s been accomplished by Jesus, and finished with his resurrection. There is no need for flagellations or beating ourselves up. No need for misery in defeat over our transgressions. We have already been forgiven. We acknowledge that mercy in our confession.
All we need to do is turn back to God, take the Eucharist into our hearts to transform our DNA, and do this every week, even daily. And we most effectively do this in communion with each other. We have each other’s back, just as Jesus has ours.
We are not lonely caretakers of our hearts, our temples where God resides. We urge each other, desiring to live with them and they with us. We become like God, holy as God wants us to be. And he is with us.