Resisting the Death of the Temple
“Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.’” (Jer 7:4)
Why does the prophet seek to dislodge trust in the temple? The sacred building sequesters the people from their social obligations — and eases their conscience about that betrayal.
What social obligations? To act justly with each other. To welcome the stranger. To care for the orphan and the widow. To make a community whose priority is the well-being of the poor. These are the ethical expectations the prophet urges to no avail.
The temple makes a deal with the people: security and significance in a society where such goods are scarce in exchange for sacrifice that is within reach and without consequence for the status quo.
The temple and the people seal the deal with righteous rhetoric, including the customary critique of the world outside the temple. So the people get the honor of piety and reassurance of their special status — threatened and protected at the same time — all for a bargain price.
The prophet sees through the sham. The prophet says do not trust these deceptive words: “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.”
But the deceit captivates. The people believe they are safe: absolved of their little indiscretions and affirmed in the whole, which is their identity formed by their counsel, so beyond reproach. Thus, the prophet knows the religious structure must die. It must be dismantled if the people are to be truly free and faithful in freedom.
Of course the structure is not merely a building; it is a way of being that stands in for and attempts to contain the always creating, always decentering, always outward-moving force of the Divine.
That structure must die for all people to have life. But the temple and its audience are bound to resist death at all costs.
Why? The alternative — an option without that structure, without the deal, without the seeming peace hard-won through habit — is unthinkable.
The alternative is not even desirable, at least at the conscious level, according to the way the religious system forms desire. So desire, too, must die. And this feels like giving up all hope, which is exactly what it is when hope means trust placed in the structure.
Congregational Death/Community Life, Sympara's online conversation between cofounder Daniel Pryfogle and pastor/professor Rick Mixon on the challenge and opportunity in institutional death, continues August 18 and 25. Learn more and register for the free webinar here.