A People without a heritage are easily persuaded. (Karl Marx)
A sermon on Psalm 19, Exodus 20:1-17, 1 Cor 1: 18-25 & John 2:13-22
By Jill Friebel, 23 March 2003
This week the inevitable has happened and the war that has loomed and threatened the Iraqis is now a reality. The concern and anger of those who have prayed and worked for peace can so easily turn to despair, hopelessness and insecurity. One of the issues I find so disturbing is the rhetoric that flows from both sides with the claim that God is on their side. The question I ask is, Who is this God? How can both sides claim to support their actions and justify their rationale and logic? America claims the support of the Christian God of the Bible, Saddam claims Allah the God of the Koran. This claim to be representing God is not confined to super powers, because Gods name is often used with the intentions of manipulating or controlling someone else. Who speaks on behalf of God with integrity and wisdom and how can we know? Where is God right now, for Gods sake and the sake of your Name can you please speak up? What are you saying to us and how can we know?
In Hebrews 1:1-2 The Message says Going through a long line of prophets, God has been addressing our ancestors in different ways for centuries. Recently he spoke to us directly through his Son. By his Son, God created the world in the beginning, and it will all belong to the Son at the end. This Son perfectly mirrors God, and is stamped with Gods nature. He holds everything together by what he says powerful words!
Karl Marx once said A people without a heritage are easily persuaded. We are a people with a long, rich and trustworthy heritage, and therefore should not easily be persuaded. We need to know this heritage in order to discern who is speaking for God. Our heritage is a self-revealing God who has consistently spoken into the lives of our forefathers. It is this heritage, which continues to nourish, inform and challenge us on our journey. The great temptation of our society is to forget or deliberately discard this heritage. This robs us of direction and we open ourselves to any ideas, which may appeal to us to achieve our own ends. A people without a heritage are easily persuaded. Our readings tonight point to various ways in which God has spoken and revealed himself over the centuries and to the ways in which the living heritage can be a constant renewing source in our lives.
Firstly in Psalm 19 we heard how Gods glory is proclaimed throughout Creation, the beauty and intricate design along with the order and mystery continually speak to humankind without a sound. Yet their silence reverberates around the earth, their unspoken message is spoken everywhere. From Creation we gain knowledge and while scientific endeavour seeks to understand and know more about our world and ourselves, it can become a god itself when it ignores the Source.
Secondly in our reading from Exodus we hear God speaking to the Israelites in the 10 commandments. This is a summary of the Law given to the Jewish people through the prophet Moses. There is a misconception that the law was burdensome to the Israelites. The reality was that these laws were the basis of the life-giving covenant that God made with his chosen people. They became a nation that stood apart from any other nation on earth because they had a covenant with the Creator God of the Universe. These laws were to protect and guard Gods people from themselves and each other. No other nation could boast of such a high calling or claim the same privileged arrangement and relationship. As they endeavoured to keep these laws God would protect them from their enemies and lead them out of slavery into their own promised land. He would be their God and they would be His people.
God has spoken plainly about his intolerance of idolatry. He has spoken in unmistakable ways against making anything into an object of devotion ahead of him. He would not tolerate in any way or form sharing his rightful position of honour and worship with anything or anyone else. What is it that is so destructive to us when we reject or compromise this commandment of the self-revealing God, the God of the Bible? Is he jealous for his own sake?
No, he is jealous for our sake. He has made us in His image. We are the only created beings in all creation that has this honour. You and I are made in the image of
God. If you are worshipping the true God, - Father, Son and Spirit you are adoring the one in whose image you are made. What happens when you adore and love something? - You become like it or Them. When you worship the true God you are by that act being restored into his image. When you worship an idol you are saying you want to be in someone elses image. What is the basis and critique of idolatry? - It is humanity turning in on themselves. Gods mandate to humans was to be fruitful, to multiply, to replenish the earth and subdue it. Tom Wright says That is to create or procreate beauty, truth, and wisdom and to bring Gods wise and gentle order to the world. By nature of being made in his image we have been vested with the power and responsibility to carry out this mandate. Idolatry is taking our privilege of being made in Gods image and turning it into a power play. This is not the sort of rule God had in mind. It is a distortion, an idolatrous distortion and when your worship and focus is turned onto something other than God, it becomes an idol. The idol has no power in itself, but you give it a power over you, which is a borrowed power and it becomes a demon. It was your God given power and you relinquish it. Having made something of the world into an idol we become bound or addicted to the thing or person to which we relinquish the power. Becoming aware of how this works in your life takes some deep reflection and soul searching. You may even find it difficult to identify it on your own, because our thinking becomes distorted in the process. Just reflect on what mostly occupies your mind and desires. What do you long for? Is it life giving or life diminishing? Does it take you towards God or away from Him? If it is life giving, that is a desire to move towards God, are you consistent in your ability to be able to achieve it? Or is there some sort of power that prevents you from putting it into practice even with all the best intentions and prayers?
God spoke in creation and law, giving knowledge and soundness but sadly it collapses for we are unable to respond. We fail in keeping the law.
Thirdly, in 1 Cor 1, God speaks to us in foolishness. He speaks to us in Jesus who comes to us on a cross, which confounds the intellectuals with their rationality and wisdom, and the religious with their rules and regulations. But to those who have faith and trust in Jesus it is the power of God for salvation and makes perfect sense. It breaks us down and condemns our pride and achievements. The invitation to come to the cross is for the broken and vulnerable, those with a humble and repentant heart. This invitation is to all those who have failed miserably, who feel unworthy and useless, to those who are bitter and disillusioned. It is extended to the abused and the abuser, to the oppressed and the oppressor. The only requirement is a broken and contrite heart ready to receive grace, which flows from the heart of a wounded, vulnerable Saviour.
Fourthly in John 2, God speaks through the life and ministry of Jesus. We read that Jesus cleanses the temple from the religious powerful who had made money an idol. Jesus came to replace the temple, for it had failed to accomplish and fulfil the requirements of the law. These people claimed to have God on their side but it was an idolatrous god of their own making. Jesus cleansed the temple of their corruption and challenged them to tear it down and said he would rebuild it in 3 days. He is referring to the cross and resurrection. The cleansing for the temple becomes a parable for us. Our bodies are now the temples of the Holy Spirit. Jesus comes to overthrow the idols and turn over the tables and sweep out all our garbage. His cross pierces right into our hearts. The law becomes internalised. We no longer feel burdened that we ought to do it, we want to worship God in every way that honours him. Lent is the renewed call to the cleansing of our lives, to make room for his presence to fill us. It is the call to hear the self-revealing God of the Bible speak to us.
What does the heritage say to us tonight. God still addresses us in these 4 ways. We are challenged not only to listen but obey. If we interpret Gods word according to our needs then we will fail to set our culture in the light of Jesus. We will depend on our rationality for our salvation, we will choose the idols of violence and war to achieve our own ends, we will become moral policeman and bring in Gods rule by power and force. The Bush administration sees their role as a moral policeman. It is an OT view of God that is socialised and civilised according to our culture. Is this critiqued through the life and death of Jesus?
So whenever people claim to have God on their side (and we do this to) we must ask, Which God? Is it a god of our making or the God revealed in creation, law, cross and Christ? The true heritage is one, which worships and seeks to follow the God who has spoken and still speaks to us.
Our small groups this week had a prayer based on this evenings Psalm:
I am so often blind to my own faults
while others can see them very clearly.
Forgive my blindness,
By your mercy,
Grant me the courage to be truthful,
that my sins may not rule over me.