Today's readingss: 2 Chronicles 29-31; James 4“But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, “The good Lord pardon all who set their hearts to seek God, the Lord the God of their ancestors, even though not in accordance with the sanctuary’s rules of cleanness.” The Lord heard Hezekiah and healed the people.” 2 Chronicles 30:18b-20
When Hezekiah came to the throne of Judah, he immediately charged the priests with cleansing the temple and re-establishing worship. This went so well and so fast that he then proceeded to celebrate Passover. However, many of the people who came to celebrate Passover had not followed the traditional rules of preparation and therefore were ceremonially unclean. They could not slaughter the Passover lamb themselves, so the Levites, who enthusiastically prepared in advance, did so for them. However, Hezekiah realized that this was not the accepted practice. He wanted everything done in strict accordance to the traditional rules, but he was also moved by the heart of the people seeking God. He prays to God to accept all who came to worship, even though they had not followed the temple rules first.
Which comes first, following God’s law or seeking to meet God? Sometimes we act as if there’s a list of things we have to do to be acceptable to God before we even set foot in worship. And we expect everyone who comes in the door of the church to have also taken those steps. We want our visitors to ‘play by the rules’ even if they don’t know what those rules are.It happens, but it shouldn’t. We judge people who come to our church by their clothes, their actions. We complain when the neighborhood kids show up and can’t sit still in worship. We nervously glance at the disheveled man who slips in the back. We ignore the couple whose ethnicity is not the same as ours. We expect that everyone who comes to our church will automatically know the rules – the way things are done.
We expect everyone who comes in our doors to also know how “Christians act.” We expect newcomers to follow our rules of ethical conduct. The reading in James is full of ethical instruction, directed at the community of believers. Sometimes we forget that such teachings are for those of us who already believe, who are claimed in the waters of baptism. Until God works in the hearts of seekers their attempts to follow ‘the rules’ will be even more unsuccessful than ours.
Jesus said that he was sent to the sinners – the sick need a doctor but the healthy do not. We act as if everyone should heal themselves first and then come to meet the Great Physician of our souls. Jesus routinely socialized and ate with people we would be scandalized to have sit next to us in church.
If even in the law-oriented temple worship, people who earnestly seek God can be pardoned and healed, how much more in our churches of grace and mercy can everyone be welcomed to join the community in meeting with God?
God of Grace and God of Mercy, help me to see past the outward appearance to recognize the hearts seeking you in everyone I meet. Amen.