Places of worship come in all different shapes and sizes. I have worshipped God in huge cathedrals with impressive pipe organs and altars overlaid with gold and stained glass windows. I have also worshipped God in open-air tabernacles with sawdust floors. I have worshipped God in a deer stand, at the beach, on a mountaintop and on a table undergoing radiation. I have worshipped God in loud and energetic services with guitars, drums, and electronic keyboards and I have worshipped him in places with no sound at all except the flickering flame of a single candle.
I believe God loves to be worshipped in lots of ways and in lots of places. Even in the Biblical stories God was worshipped on simple stone altars, in burning bushes, on mountain tops and down in valleys.
Israel was at a critical time in their formation and it was important for them to have a steady reminder of God’s presence. God made his presence visible to them as they journeyed with both a pillar of cloud in the day and a pillar of fire at night. As they continued their journey across the wilderness, God chose to make his visible presence known to them in a portable house of worship. This place would provide structure in the midst of their community wherever they stopped to make camp. The tent of meeting or tabernacle would be an ongoing visible sign that God’s glory was in their midst. And God taught them how to be a holy nation. He used various symbols and rituals of sacrifice and worship as a way to drill home to them his holiness and the consequences of sin.
How God chose to do this is quite interesting. He could have simply built a temple Himself in the heavens and dropped it down fully formed on earth. However, God chose instead to invite His people to become active participants in creating this place of worship.
First, God began with their willing desire to give. “Tell the Israelites to bring me an offering. You are to receive the offering for me from everyone whose heart prompts them to give. These are the offerings you are to receive from them: gold, silver and bronze; blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen; goat hair; ram skins dyed red and another type of durable leather. acacia wood; olive oil for the light; spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense; and onyx stones and other gems to be mounted on the ephod and breast piece” (Exodus 25:2-7). This was not a mandatory tithe that was required; this was an offering to be willingly given and received.
Where did the people get all of these valuable commodities? If you will recall, as they were leaving Egypt they were given many valuable items by the Egyptian peoples – one might say this was payment to help compensate for years of slavery. They had these items in their possession already. Those who were willing could give them to help create the tent of meeting and the prescribed worship items inside of the temple, which included the Ark of the Covenant, the table, the lampstand as well as the material for the tabernacle itself, and the altar, courtyard and the oil to keep the lamps burning. All of the materials were freely donated. The people of God used their own skill to build the items from these donated materials – carpenters, weavers, stonemasons, goldsmiths and others each made their own contributions to the creation of this place of worship. In this way, everyone in the community that wished to participate had buy in to the tabernacle. It truly was a communal place of worship.
Once the nation finished their journey through the wilderness and took possession of the Promised Land, they would eventually transition from a portable tent of meeting to a permanent temple under the leadership of King Solomon. However, this tent of meeting served them well for 40 years in the wilderness and many more during the times of the judges, and king’s Saul and David.
For Christians, we do not worship God in a tabernacle or physical temple and we do not bring sacrifices of sheep or goats or bulls for an offering to God. For us, the Church itself is the temple of God. I am not talking about the building where the Church gathers to worship, I am talking about the actual people who gather to worship, and we are the Church. Jesus said whenever 2-3 gather in his name that he is there in their midst. There is no one single right way or place to worship God. It is wherever God’s people come together. Christian Worship does not have to follow follow a strict pattern. Worship is where we gather to read the word of God, pray, worship, encourage each other and exhort one another to good works, break bread and proclaim the resurrection of Jesus. Blood sacrifices are not necessary because Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world and he entered into the holy of holies once and for all and gave his own body as the final sacrifice for all of our sins.
One thing remains unchanged from the time of Israel in the wilderness tent of meeting and the Church today. God still welcomes us to bring our offerings from the heart as a way to say thank you. We can still bring tangible offerings, and we can still offer our gifts and talents as ways of showing God our deep gratitude for all of his blessings to us. It is not all that important how we worship or where we worship, but it is very important that we worship and we bring our offerings freely to worship God.
Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=exodus+25-27&version=NIV
Tomorrow’s reading will be Exodus 28-29 on the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan