The Tainted Offering

Matthew 21:12-13 “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it a ‘den of robbers.'”

Not one person in the small country church saw it coming. Not my mother. Not my father. Not Reverend Fast. Certainly not Old Lady Crouch. I’m not even sure my brother saw it coming. But there it was, for all to see. In a moment’s time, the sleepy congregation came out of their coma-like state. Their eyes were opened wide. They were shocked into an appalling consciousness.

It began as a typical Sunday morning. All 20 of the aged congregation had gathered. And then our family walked in. We shook hands. We took our usual places. We prayed the invocation and sang the doxology. Some announcements were made. The three required hymns were sung. The pastor’s prayer was followed by the Lord’s Prayer. And then it was time to collect the offering.

Reverend Fast called my brother and me to the front, handed us the oak offering plates, and rested his fat, soft hands on our young shoulders. In humility, in reverence, in offertory silence, the prayer began.

And then it happened. Without warning, my brother projectile vomited into the offering plate, on the altar, down his shirt front, and on Reverend Fast’s shoes. It was everywhere and there was no hiding it. The term, “A Fragrant Offering” took on a whole new meaning.

The service came to a sudden halt. No one moved. No one knew what to do. The shock and awkwardness made it impossible to continue. That and the awful stench that filled the sanctuary. Taking the offering was never the same.

Two thousand years before, Jerusalem was in the midst of a typical, lazy day in the Holy Seat. People in the Temple were about their usual temple business. People were coming and people were going. In one corner a group of elders were gathered, discussing the finer points of the law. Some were preparing for worship. Others were gossiping in a back room. Just another day in the house of God.

And then, Jesus enters. He walks up to the table. It was a table where doves were held in cages. Goats were tied in place. Grain, wine, and sheep were all available for a price. Why bring your dove to the temple when you could buy it there? Why pull the finest grain from your field when it was at the Gift Shop just outside the Sanctuary?

And in that moment, Jesus brought everyone out of their sleep. Jesus became enraged. He threw one table to the right. He tossed another to the left. He pointed an accusatory finger at the salesmen, perhaps even the temple leaders, for allowing it to happen. And he proclaimed the verse found in Matthew.

The people were shocked. The people were offended. “Why, I never!”

Jesus was angry. Jesus was hurt. “Why would you ever?”

God states very clearly His desire. The temple, our churches, your life is intended to be a house of prayer, a place of worship, a holy sanctuary. But so often it becomes corrupted. We cause a stench to rise and it is offensive to God. Our gifts are not pure. Like vomit in the plate, our gifts, our prayers, our offerings stink in the nose of God.

They are not true and right. Instead, they are quickly pulled from our pockets. They are hastily thrown together. They are acts of religion, not gifts of love. And God’s heart breaks.

Dear God:
Wake us up. Get our attention.
Bring us out of our sleepy religious state.
And forgive us when we bow our heads to pray
but become distracted by the schedules running through our minds.
Forgive us when the song you place in our heart

is replaced by burdens and pain.
Forgive me for the times I have given from duty and not from love.
Purify my prayers.
Make my motive clear.
May my devotion be a pleasing,

fragrant offering to you. AMEN.

copyright 2005 C. Curtis Austin a 2BlackDogs Production

Join us next week as we think about All Dogs Go to Heaven

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