Two things stand out to me from this passage:
First of all, what God wants is not us going through the motions of worship whether that is prayer, going to church, singing hymns, taking communion, reading the Bible. The people Jeremiah warns that they must turn their lives around or face judgment are ones who are coming to the Temple to worship. They have gotten the message that if they simply go through the motions of worship, they stand right before God. But what God cares about is does the worship lead you to change your heart and mind? Does it lead you to truly do justice in your life to others and in society, to extend compassion and hurting to all around you, and to walk with humility in a real relationship with God? Some people’s worship does this for them; and for others it is a way of putting up a barrier, to hide from this real transformation, while convincing themselves since they go to church, synagogue, mosque, or temple, that they must be good people.
The second thing that stands out is that ultimately speaking God’s truth does not always bring a positive response. I remember being a part of a church as an associate minister when there were people talking about “church growth” as if following God and being faithful automatically meant you would get a positive response. But Jeremiah’s is mixed. Some people hear his message and truly know in their heart that this is exactly what God would say looking down on these well-dressed and comfortable worshipper. But others, particularly some who benefit from the offerings given by the wealthy worshippers, are aghast. They call for his execution.
When we are faithful to being people who do justice, love compassion and mercy, and walk humbly with God, those drawn to something authentic and real will be transformed and many will join up with us. But we have to realize that many will react aghast, avoiding that call or working against it. Some who work against it will even be bulwarks in our church, temple, synagogue, mosque, or spiritual community who have gotten used to the comfort produced by how things have always gone.
Jeremiah’s example calls us both to not give up on our faith communities, however unwilling they are to hear the calls to justice and mercy, but also to remain faithful to the call of the One who calls us in hope to be change agents in this world. Ultimately what God looks most longingly for is our willingness to be true, to be faithful.