Break down every idol: Cleansing the Temple

Greg_18This is the sermon I preached yesterday at the installation of Rev Alolfo Tembe as the new Principal of the Seminário Nazareno em Moçambique in Maputo, Mozambique.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture passages are from the Common English Bible (2011).

————-

SCRIPTURE READING: 2 Kings 23:24-25

“Josiah burned those who consulted dead spirits and the mediums, the household gods and the worthless idols – all the monstrous things that were seen in the land of Judah and in Jerusalem. In this way Josiah fulfilled the words of the Instruction written in the scroll that the priest Hilkiah found in the LORD’s temple. There’s never been a king like Josiah, whether before or after him, who turned to the LORD with all his heart, all his being, and all his strength, in agreement with everything in the Instruction from Moses.”

— PRAYER —

I.  INTRODUCTION

We are a holiness church. What does that mean? It means that we are called to be the righteous people of God, set apart for God’s sacred use. We understand that 1 Peter 1:16 – “Be holy, because I, the LORD your God am holy” – is not a command for the distant future. It is God’s expectation of us right now.

Yet for the disciple of Jesus, both saved and entirely sanctified, it is not enough to point to 2 experiences in the past, no matter how meaningful and wonderful those experiences may have been. We must constantly present ourselves before God. Like the Psalmist, we must pray:

Examine me, God! Look at my heart!

Put me to the test!

Know my anxious thoughts!

Look to see if there is any idolatrous way in me,

then lead me on the eternal path!

– Psalm 139:23-24

 

Continue reading “Break down every idol: Cleansing the Temple”

Idols in the Church, part 1: when food displaces God

cheeseburgerIdolatry is not a new problem for the people of God. It’s as old as the impatient Israelities – restless when Moses was delayed on Mt Sinai – forging a golden calf and bowing down in worship before it (see Exodus 32). Repeatedly in the Old Testament, the prophets called upon Israel and Judah to return to Yahweh. Righteous kings like Hezekiah broke down the “high places” dedicated to Baal and the poles erected to the worship of his partner, Asherah (2 Kings 18:1-4). The willingness to confront idolatry – no matter how ingrained it had become – was the hallmark of the righteous leader.

The times have changed, but our tendency as the people of God to set up idols has not. One idol that the Church needs to topple in its midst is not Baal or Asherah, but it is an idol nonetheless. I’m talking about the false god of food.

Paul described those who lived as “enemies of the cross” (Phil. 3:19). Among the characteristics of such individuals whose minds were “set on earthly things” was that they made of their stomach a god:

Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven (3:19-20a, NIV).

The apostle was calling the church to be radically different than the world in which she lived. In Eating to Excess: The Meaning of Gluttony and the Fat Body in the Ancient World (Praeger, 2011; available here on Google books), Susan Hill (p. 103) includes a warning from Clement of Alexandria (AD 150-211/215):

There is no limit to the gluttony these men practice. Truly, in inventing a multitude of new sweets and ever seeking recipes of every description, they are shipwrecked on honey-cakes and desserts.

Likewise, John Chrysostom (AD 347-407) compared a gluttonous person to a wild animal. He or she is “a wild beast rather than a human being; for to devour much food is proper to panther, and lion, and bear.  No wonder (that they do so) for those creatures have not a reasonable soul. Yet even they, if they be gorged with food more than they need, and beyond the measure appointed them by nature, get their whole body ruined by it; how much more we?” (Hill, p. 117).

Paul, Clement, and Chrysostom echoed cautions sounded in the Old Testament. Proverbs 23:1-3 (CEB) advises:

When you sit down to dine with a ruler, carefully consider what is in front of you. Place a knife at your throat to control your appetite. Don’t long for the ruler’s delicacies; the food misleads.

So inadvisable was gluttony to the Jew that to befriend a glutton was to shame one’s parents (Proverbs 28:7). Gluttony (along with drunkenness) led to impoverishment (Prov. 23:21).

Continue reading “Idols in the Church, part 1: when food displaces God”

A genoux, petits enfants – thoughts on worship at Christmas

“On your knees, little children.” (A genoux, petits enfants)

This line from “Petit Papa Noël” sung by Josh Groban reminds us that – like many things in life – worship is something we teach our children. At Christmas time, adults supervise children in pageants at church. The little shepherds and wisemen arrive in their ill-fitting but colorfully cute outfits, and parent snap pictures, pride welling up inside. What are we teaching? From this activity, we teach our young that the Divine demands our allegiance, is worthy of our adoration.

Ideally, it is only to God that we teach our children to bow, in deference to the First of the Ten Commandments: “No other gods; only me” (Exodus 20:3, The Message). This is crucial, because to bow our knees to anyone or anything but God is idolatry, the setting up of false gods in our lives. But sometimes I wonder: When the Christmas pageant is done, the cookies are eaten, the fellowship hall vacuumed and we’ve locked the church door behind us, what are we modeling to our young the rest of the year? Even if we never verbalize “On your knees, little children” through our daily actions and reactions, to what other gods are we encouraging our children to give their devotion?

Merriam Webster’s fourth definition of worship is “extravagant respect or admiration for or devotion to an object of esteem.” As I look around our world, I see a number of things that – while wholesome within limits – can morph into something else altogether, usurping the place in our lives that belongs only to God. You probably have your own list, but here are three from mine:

Exhibit A – Media

ImageThis is a huge influence in our daily lives, and encompasses so many “gadgets.” Television is only the most obvious. By the time an English child has reached the age of 7, he or she will have already spent 1/7 of their lives – one full year – in front of the television screen. Is your living room set-up with furniture all centered around a big-screen T.V. or is it set-up in a way that encourages conversation among those in the room? Positioning of objects speaks of priorities.

Sometimes the advantage of living overseas is coming back to the United States with fresh eyes on my own country. Walking onto the platform of the Washington D.C. subway, I was amazed to see at least 80% of those waiting for the subway to arrive glued to their “smart phone.” We were all physically together, yet in spirit, we were inhabiting hundreds of different virtual worlds. Is it any wonder that Democrats and Republicans have trouble talking about anything big when in our nation’s capital we don’t even converse with each other about small things while standing side-by-side? Has our devotion to our gadgets become extravagant, edging out the rich, in-the-flesh relationships that otherwise might flourish? (This may be an ironic question on a web-based blog, so you have permission to stop reading and to spend some time with your twelve-year-old).

Continue reading “A genoux, petits enfants – thoughts on worship at Christmas”