October 16, 2017
“Idolatry: 2017” ~ Sermon for October 15, 2017
Our New Testament reading this morning offers a third parable in Jesus’ discourse.
Today’s lesson is meant as a warning against self-righteous arrogance among God’s new people.
This story is told in both Matthew’s and Luke’s gospels, though not mentioned by Mark or John.
Some scholars note that the second half of the reading is actually another parable, added to address the question of who receives God’s mercy.
The Wedding Banquet signifies God’s kingdom and those invited are first the Israelites and later the followers of Jesus.
Listen to what God’s word might be saying to you this day.
Hear now a reading from the gospel of Matthew 22:1-14.
Here ends the reading of God’s holy word. May God add to our hearing and understanding God’s blessing. Amen.
Please pray with me.
God of Aaron, Miriam, and Moses, you stayed the hand of your wrath when we fell into idolatry and discord; and when we forgot our deliverance, your love for us remained unchanging.
Transform us and our world into a place of justice, love, and peace.
Welcome us to your feast where all are invited to be gathered in.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.
Last week I turned to the scriptures for words of lament and comfort.
This week the scriptures came to me.
One of the simple requests that God made of the Israelites was that they not worship any other Gods.
The first two commandments address this: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.”
And the second: “You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.
You shall not bow down to them or worship them;
for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.”
There is not too much room for doubt in the intent of these declarations.
God wants us to be in relationship; to live up to the covenant; to love God.
This is not because God needs our worship to be God but because God knows that our lives will be enriched when we live from a place of divine love.
When you love God with your whole heart, soul and mind your entire life is affected, as is the life of your descendants.
Today is one of those days when the lectionary readings complement each other.
The Hebrew scripture reminds us of how easily we can become distracted by things that get in the way of our relationship with God while Matthew’s gospel tells the story of covenant-breakers turning away from God’s invitation to an abundant life.
So let’s take a hard look at how we live and whether or not we are conforming to God’s wishes for us.
Earlier this week I lost my tempter in a meeting and walked out.
This was not my finest moment and I apologize for my weakness.
As I reflected on what had gotten me so upset, I realized that this morning’s, scripture gave voice to my ire.
The Israelites did not trust the God who had blessed them with freedom, food and water.
They wanted more so they demanded that Aaron build them an idol to worship.
Aaron, breaking all ministerial codes of behavior, complied.
God was angry. Moses intervened and everyone survived.
This story always prompts me to look at the current idols in our culture that draw us away from God.
Saint Augustine defined idolatry as “worshiping what should be used or using what should be worshiped.”
I think this is a measure that we can readily apply to our own lives.
What do we protect that is meant to be used?
Well, most certainly money, but also time, tradition, power and even compassion.
When we operate out of a mindset of scarcity rather than abundance we relinquish the opportunity to use things meant to be shared; those things entrusted to us that could enhance someone else’s life.
Worshiping what should be used also covers the category of loving our things more than we ought to.
John Calvin once noted that ‘the human mind is a factory of idol-making.’
Another author argues that “Our culture’s current focus on consumption, defeat of our enemies, success and security, race, and political correctness bound on idolatry, and prevent us from experiencing God’s emerging possibilities for us in the concreteness of this moment and the long-haul of human and planetary history.”
I fear that we are moving away from God-centered lives, forgetting that sacrifice and commitment are part of our covenant with God and with one another.
What else can you think of that draws your attention away from God?
Would our ‘jealous God’ be upset with you?
How about the other half of St. Augustine’s equation: using what should be worshiped?
We use God’s creation for our own benefit when perhaps it was meant as a gift to be worshiped.
What else do we take for granted or use for our own purposes rather than worship?
The people invited to the wedding banquet in today’s scripture lesson all had excuses why they couldn’t attend.
Rather than accept the invitation to know God and be a guest at God’s feast, we often come up with excuses for going elsewhere.
Those excuses, when explored, are often rooted in idol worship.
In both readings God takes a tough stand on those who turn away.
“The Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them.”
The New Testament story predicted weeping and gnashing of teeth for those who displeased the Lord.
This is not the God that we often imagine or talk about.
We are much more comfortable with the forgiving God who loves us no matter how sinful and broken we are.
I can’t help but wonder if we haven’t tamed God a bit to ensure our own peace of mind.
Knowing that God is aware of everything we do and responding to our actions in such a powerful way is pretty daunting.
I also can’t help but wonder if we would behave a bit differently if we paid attention to what scripture says and took God’s covenant seriously.
Would our lives be more peaceful if we embraced a culture of love?
Professor John Finley cites John of the Cross, an early mystic, who says “the infinite love of God will not rest until you are equal to God in love. Even though you would be absolutely nothing without God, God will not rest until you are as much God as God is God. In the “dark night of the soul,” we are weaned away from the ego’s finite ideas and feelings about God. We come to know that no idea about God is God. We are also weaned from our ideas about our self as being a finite, separate self apart from God.”
When we separate ourselves from God and let anything else take priority, we lose our way.
What would the world be like if Christians actually followed the teachings of Christ?
I tend to believe that we come together in an organized worship setting to bolster each other up in our attempt to live as Christians.
We each bring our own struggles and heartaches, made lighter to bear in community.
We know that we are not perfect, but we strive together toward being better.
We love the Gospel’s invitation.
We love to hear that God loves us and welcomes us, and we love to know that grace is extended to cover our wrongdoing and brokenness.
What we like less is the Gospel’s confrontation of that which is destructive in our lives.
We don’t like to hear that we need to change to become our best selves.
However, if we are to embrace the full Gospel that Jesus proclaimed and lived, we must be willing to accept both the gracious invitation of God, and the challenging confrontation of God.
While God’s invitation is offered freely to all, including those whom we would rather exclude, God’s confrontation also comes to all.
We need God’s grace and love to experience the transforming power of the Spirit, and we need to be transformed to experience God’s abundant life.
Until we learn to be comfortable with both invitation and confrontation, we will be unable to make a real difference in the world.
The Sojourner’s verse for the day on Friday was good advice from the prophet Hosea:
But as for you, return to your God, hold fast to love and justice, and wait continually for your God.
Friends, we are invited to the banquet – Let’s go.
Let us pray.
We give you all thanks and praise, O God, for you are the Lord of lasting love, and you invite good and bad alike to feast with you.
With great power and a mighty hand
you created the universe and filled it with life.
You freed your people from slavery,
and even when they offered to a statue of gold
the worship due to you alone,
you listened to the fervent prayer of your servant Moses
and turned from your fierce anger.
Even now, when you anger is inflamed
by those who say “Yes” to your call
but refuse to robe themselves in righteousness,
you accept the prayers of your anointed child, Jesus,
who, though shunned and killed by his own wedding guests,
was raised to life by you and now intercedes for the world without ceasing, winning for us your peace that passes all understanding.
Hear our prayers this day for those whom we love.
For those who are sick, we pray for healing.
For those who mourn, we pray for comfort.
For those who seek peace and justice in their lives, we pray that your Holy Spirit will guide them.
We pray for our leaders, that they may work toward a peaceful world.
Hear now our silent prayers as we turn our hearts to you…