Charging For Access to God

Shanah Tovah! Happy New Year! It’s Rosh Hashanah – the Jewish new year, and I had expected to be worshipping at a local shul this evening, but instead I’m sitting at home in my bathrobe and blogging. Why? Well, it’s all about charging for access to God, and I have a problem with that.

When the Israelites were wandering in the desert for 40 years, God lead them in a whirlwind of fire. The whole congregation of Israel worshipped in the tabernacle – a tent. God was out in the open. Oh, sure, there was the Mercy Seat – eventually. The Ark of the Covenant that was also the seat of God, but this was also out in the open. God was for everyone. God was approachable.

Then the Israelites got to the promised land. David built a city and a palace, and then Solomon built a Temple. The Temple was right next to the palace, and quite a bit smaller. The Mercy Seat went inside the Holy of Holies – the inner sanctum of the Temple. Only the High Priests entered the Holy of Holies. The Temple was dark and enclosed. There was no question – the King controlled access to God now.

Now, don’t get me wrong. There was a theological statement there, and I didn’t like it much, but I still think the Temple was holy. But it was also destroyed. Twice. What’s left is one wall. A wall that’s out in the open. God is back out in the open there. So who gets to control access to God? Does anyone?

I don’t think there should be a charge for access to God. This is different from stewardship of a religious community. I do believe members should pledge and then contribute of their time, talents, and treasure to their religious communities. But this isn’t the same thing as charging people to worship.

I like to go to synagogue when I can. As a minister in a church, I don’t have the luxury of always going to worship at synagogue, or at another church, but when I can, I do.  Tonight is Erev Rosh Hashanah – the Eve of the New Year, and I had wanted to go to worship at a local synagogue.  Now, I know that the new trend (new? the last 20 years maybe) has been to sell tickets for the high holidays. I find that…off-putting. But I also knew that the Reconstructionist congregations generally didn’t do this. So I figured I’d go worship with the Reconstructionist congregation that meets in the church that I belong to. I went on to their website to find out what time the service was, and I was devastated to discover that they were asking people to register to attend the services and were suggesting that people pay close to $200.00 to attend all High Holiday services, or $75.00 each to attend single services. Wow. Really? You want me to pay $75.00 to talk to God?

I understand that Judaism is not an evangelical religion, but doesn’t all religion have a duty to keep the barriers low in order to allow people to meet God, perhaps for the first time? Who are we to tell people that worship is only for those with the proper pockets?

Every time I run up against this, I feel pushed away from the synagogue again. I feel unwelcome. I feel unwanted. I don’t ever want to make anyone feel that way in my church.  I think it’s time to take The Mercy Seat out of the Holy of Holies. Perhaps I’ll find a congregation next year.

For now, I will remember the Days of Awe on my own, work on making amends and forgiving. And may your name be for a blessing in the Book of Life.

That’s all I’ve got. That’s my mite.

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