19 October 2008 * 1Thessalonians :1-10/Matthew 22:15-22
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Peter’s at Ellicott Mills, MD
Turn From Idols
Paul wrote Last Sunday: Do not fear anything! (Philippians 4:1-9)
Now he writes this morning that we are to Be imitators of Christ, an example to others, and that he is proud of “…how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead – Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath that is coming.” For many it looks as if the “wrath” is here!
Do we recognize the current CRISIS as a spiritual as well as financial and monetary crisis?
One of our more important Christian thinkers, Evelyn Underhill, has observed: we spend most of life conjugating three verbs – To Want, To Have, To Do - Craving, clutching, fussing over material, political, social, emotional, intellectual and even religious stuff is what we do best. Yet we know this keeps us in a perpetual state of unrest.
As we get on with this journey called life we begin to suspect that these three verbs have no significance at all unless transcended by and included in the more fundamental verb, To Be – Being, not wanting, having and doing, is the essence of the spiritual life.
If we busy ourselves with grasping, wanting, having and doing there is no time to be with God and to listen with the ears of our hearts to what God is saying. God creates us, God calls us, God seeks to be in relationship with us, God seeks to fill us with God’s Light, God’s Love, God’s Life, God’s Grace.
God Creates us to be Imitators of Christ and Examples for others.
What is so unique about he Spiritual Life is that the primary question is not, “What is best for my Soul?’
Nor is it, “What is best for humanity and the world?”
But rather, “What function must this life fulfill in the great economy of God?”
God’s Economy – can we begin to see that there is such a thing as God’s Economy?
The trap of course is to make distinctions between Spiritual Life and Practical Life. Such distinctions are false. One always affects the other.
We are creatures, writes Underhill of sense and spirit. We must learn to live an amphibious life!
Only when we come to understand that the demands of the Spirit, however inconvenient, come first, are first, do the objectionable background noises of life die down.
We tend to put $ and world here and Religion over there when the truth is they are all of one reality
For instance, we have all heard the sermon that says this story from Matthew about the coin with which to pay the tax justifies the separation of church and state. This is so wrong on so many dimensions! Neither Jesus nor anyone around him, least of all the Romans, could imagine such a thing!
The Empire was the Religion/Church, whether Roman or Israel.
Rome knew Caesar as God – his image on the coin was therefore an idol for the people of Israel and Jesus. They could not use it to make offerings or pay the Temple taxes, so there had to be money changers to provide money that was not idolatrous.
Once His opponents produce the coin those plotting against Jesus were convicted – hoisted upon their own petard as they say! That would be the second commandment Moses was getting when last Sunday the people got impatient and made a Golden Calf to worship, pretending it was the idol not YHWH the God of Abraham Isaac and Jacob who got them out of slavery in Egypt to freedom with God! Moses and Jesus and the Pharisees knew: Thou shalt have no idols.
The Bible works on a theology of Money in three parts: Exodus, Exile and Escaping the Empire of Rome, Jerusalem and Sin.
Part I of the Bible’s Story of Money: Exodus/Passover= Life in the Empire
Egypt/Empire represents a metaphor in the Bible for the consolidation or monopoly of money, power, politics, religion, and access. Egypt, Babylon, Rome and Jerusalem are the focal points of such consolidation in the Biblical Story. We can imagine where we might locate such a consolidation today: Washington D.C., Wall Street, The Markets.
At the Easter Vigil each year we remember who we are - we were slaves in Egypt. Slaves work 24/7 – slaves get no day off. No Time To BE.
So YHWH, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob arranges a Great Escape: perhaps the most interesting detail is that God specifies, “By the way, take some of the Egyptians’ gold, silver, and valuables!” That is there is to be a redistribution of wealth. This redistribution of wealth was God’s idea – it is also represented in God’s notion of the Jubilee Year.
As they escape and discover that Pharaoh’s troops cannot tread water, Miriam (Moses’ sister) and the rest of the sisters Dance and Sing the way to Freedom and Dependence on God. There is, of course a small problem with later editors putting this song in the mouth of Moses, a problem compounded by our Book of Common Prayer which calls it The Song of Moses. We are beginning to get past the problems this has created, but there is still some distance to go.
So, after the dancing and singing comes Manna Season, bread which is given daily. The very same Daily Bread Jesus teaches us to pray for.
In Manna Season everyone has enough, no one gets too much, and if you hoard it, it sours.
And as we know among the rules of Manna Season are the following: One God, No Idols, Observe Sabbath. By the way we are mistaken if we think Sabbath is a religious observance. Sabbath not religious, but rather an economic practice that is an alternative to life in the Empire.
As we heard last week, while Moses was getting the Rules for Manna Season, which incidentally are the same for the Kingdom of God Jesus announces, the people get restless. Apparently they felt Moses was spending too much time with God! So they made the Golden Calf – an Idol.
Now what is interesting in the Bible is that idols tend to be money that is cast as religion – kind of a prototype for modern day Wall Street and consumer driven, free-market capitalism.
It is my observation that idolatry is just about the only sin the Bible cares very much about. My favorite text, and you can find them all over the place, is Psalm 115:
Our God is in the Heavens, he does as he pleases
You don’t have to like it, you don’t get to vote on it
What a God!
Their idols are silver and gold
The work of human hands
They have mouths but they cannot speak
They have eyes but they do not see
They have ears but they do not hear
Noses but they do not smell
Hand but they do not feel
Feet but they do not walk
They make no sound in their throats.
Now if we understood Hebrew, this is where we are meant to laugh! Because the word for “make no sound in their throats” means they cannot clear their throats – “Mmhh-mmhhh.” And the argument, of course, is that any God that cannot go, “Mmhh-mmhhh” will never get you out of slavery, or exile, or out of the Empire.
It is very interesting to note that the Bible does not say idols are bad – it is just that they simply do not work! So God says in effect, go ahead, pile up all your money and wealth cast as religion and pray to it. Go ahead! But it will never get you out of the Empire, Wilderness, Exile or Slavery to Sin.
Only God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus can get us out of whatever crisis we are facing.
Do we really have to ask ourselves, how much of a financial crisis, how many mortgage backed securities, how many credit default swaps, how much unchecked greed, how much crime, how much drugs, how much poverty, how much homelessness, how much violence, and how much hatred of others does there really need to be before a society declares itself to be in Exile?
Hopefully we can see that Jesus advocates a return to Manna Season, where everyone has enough, no one has too much, and if you store it up it sours. Just read the first few chapters of Acts to see how the early Christian community understood all this.
And of course there is only one God: In this scheme nothing “IS” Caesar’s
Everything is God’s – The text here is Psalm 24 “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world and all who dwell therein!”
It would be good had we memorized that in Sunday School alongside the 23rd Psalm!
What they are asking Jesus is: do you support Rome or not?
The question for us would be, Who or What do we support that reflects our Being God’s people?
As we head into our Pledge Season we would do well to remember:
An investment in the Body of Christ, His Church, is always a sound investment no matter how the markets are doing!
You might even call it an eternal investment.
It is an investment that always pays dividends by bringing people closer to God, closer to one another and closer to themselves – their real self! The dividends touch more and more lives with the Love and Grace of God.
And one of the Bible’s Holy Habits, Tithing and Pledging is meant to help turn us from idols and allow God in Christ to rescue us from the wrath that is to come!