Idol Worship

Worship for Sunday August 9th at Third Presbyterian Church included Psalm 50 and Psalm 105 as well as this sermon on Idols

Psalm 50

Deuteronomy 4:23-40

23 So be careful not to forget the covenant that the Lord your God made with you, and not to make for yourselves an idol in the form of anything that the Lord your God has forbidden you. 24 For the Lord your God is a devouring fire, a jealous God.

25 When you have had children and children’s children, and become complacent in the land, if you act corruptly by making an idol in the form of anything, thus doing what is evil in the sight of the Lord your God, and provoking him to anger, 26 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that you will soon utterly perish from the land that you are crossing the Jordan to occupy; you will not live long on it, but will be utterly destroyed. 27 The Lord will scatter you among the peoples; only a few of you will be left among the nations where the Lord will lead you. 28 There you will serve other gods made by human hands, objects of wood and stone that neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor smell. 29 From there you will seek the Lord your God, and you will find him if you search after him with all your heart and soul. 30 In your distress, when all these things have happened to you in time to come, you will return to the Lord your God and heed him. 31 Because the Lord your God is a merciful God, he will neither abandon you nor destroy you; he will not forget the covenant with your ancestors that he swore to them.

32 For ask now about former ages, long before your own, ever since the day that God created human beings on the earth; ask from one end of heaven to the other: has anything so great as this ever happened or has its like ever been heard of? 33 Has any people ever heard the voice of a god speaking out of a fire, as you have heard, and lived? 34 Or has any god ever attempted to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs and wonders, by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by terrifying displays of power, as the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your very eyes? 35 To you it was shown so that you would acknowledge that the Lord is God; there is no other besides him. 36 From heaven he made you hear his voice to discipline you. On earth he showed you his great fire, while you heard his words coming out of the fire. 37 And because he loved your ancestors, he chose their descendants after them. He brought you out of Egypt with his own presence, by his great power, 38 driving out before you nations greater and mightier than yourselves, to bring you in, giving you their land for a possession, as it is still today. 39 So acknowledge today and take to heart that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other. 40 Keep his statutes and his commandments, which I am commanding you today for your own well-being and that of your descendants after you, so that you may long remain in the land that the Lord your God is giving you for all time.

Chapter 4 of Deuteronomy could be said to be a Sermon on the second commandment with a warning against Idolatry and complacency.  But, it is a sermon that our modern ears don’t hear because we can’t quite imagine that we would fall for making a golden calf like those ancient people did.  But we do, or at least I do.  With the help of Ana Levy-Lyons book, “No other Gods”, (which our adult forum read a while ago), I can see that I do create and worship idols all the time. 

Some of those idols are objects I purchase that have a certain brand which makes me feel a certain way.  For example, I buy “who gives a crap” toilet paper, because I want people to believe I give a crap.  This brand promotes sustainability in that the products are made from bamboo, which is a faster growing plant than the trees that make other toilet paper, which makes this paper better for the environment.  “Who gives a crap” does not use any plastics in their product or their packaging, so I can feel good that everything I get from them is compostable and recyclable.  The company gives a portion of their profits to build toilets in developing nations, so I feel good about paying a little extra knowing that I’m helping someone else.  It does all of this and allows me to feel self-righteous and judge my family’s toilet paper decisions.  In many ways, I am paying for a brand that lets me tell other people I’m an amazing human being who is saving the planet with each flush.  And the more toilet paper I buy, the more earth saving power I think I have, and I start to believe that over the course of the COVID-19 shutdowns, I have single handedly saved the rainforests and the developing world.  When I sit on the porcelain throne, my shit doesn’t stink.  

Ana Levy-Lyons affirms that I the more I pay for this particular toilet paper, the more I become Captain Planet or some even cooler earth saving supper girl.  She says, “The more we pay and the more it hurts to make the sacrifice, the more of these intangible powers we feel we are buying.  Of course, it’s not literally the object itself that carries the power; it’s the brand.  The brand of our consumer products plays the role that animates the idol.  Anyone who really thinks about it knows that a high-top shoe will not transforms one’s life, but the shoe comes infused with power and meaning, and so we believe it.  We will buy different brands throughout our days and years because each one offers different power and rules over different jurisdictions, just like the gods of old.  Apple offers us one set of powers, Coca-Cola another, and Under Armour yet another.” (pp. 57-58)

I’m not going to ever bow down in front of a large stockpile of toilet paper, just like I’m not going to worship my favorite shoes, or my laptop.  But I do value these objects in a way that is not good; they give me power to be the person I want to be and project that image so other people believe it too.  The toilet paper makes me feel self-righteous.  Telling people about it gives them the impression that I care about a lot of things and that I make purchases only when it improves the world for everyone.  That’s not true, sometimes I buy things just because I want them, sometimes I don’t care how much packaging comes with the product or how much carbon emissions that delivery truck brings with it to my home.  Convenience plays more of a role in my purchasing than thinking of others, but the toilet paper story makes it seem like I’m a more thoughtful person than I am.  The shoes I got for a steal of a deal at Treasure house make me feel beautiful and smart, and also give me a self-righteous story to tell too… hmmm there may be a pattern here I should pay attention to.  But being beautiful and smart does not make me more worthy of love.  And I’m a Mac person.  I paid way too much for this laptop status symbol and I don’t care, because I fit in with all of the other Mac people and this one item… okay my iphone counts too… gives me a social validation that I crave more than the love of all that is holy.  But fitting in by pretending to be someone only allows my imposter to fit in, not my true self.  And that’s not love.

The idols I worship make me feel like or seem like the kind of person I think other people expect me to be.  Sometimes, I lose myself while trying to be what people expect me to be.  Sometimes, I lose my connection to God too.  

One last thought from Amy Levy-Lyons, “The second commandment challenges us to keep it real—to be real about who we are and to be real about who God is.  We really are unique and beautiful as snowflakes and we require no adornment.  All the true power that we have in this world comes from our connection to our most authentic selves, sometimes called our God-selves.  The more “like ourselves” we are, the deeper our experience of life and relationships. It is the height of personal liberation when we can accept no substitutes and no simulations.  We do not need to worship the [stuff].  Real life, unfiltered by brands is spectacular.  Real humans, unmediated by products, are wonderous.” (p. 73)

Sometimes I think that idol worship is a sin leading to death, not because God is jealous and is looking to smite me, but because it leads to the death of my true self.  It leads to the death of the unique image of God that God placed within me.  The good news is that God does not desire my destruction, God desires my restoration, and reconnection with her divine love.  

In lectionary year D, this text is paired with Psalm 105 (which we read earlier in the service) and Psalm 105.  

Psalm 105 begins with thanksgiving:

1 O give thanks to the Lord, call on his name,
make known his deeds among the peoples.
Sing to him, sing praises to him;
    tell of all his wonderful works.
Glory in his holy name;
    let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.
Seek the Lord and his strength;
    seek his presence continually.
Remember the wonderful works he has done,
    his miracles, and the judgments he has uttered,
O offspring of his servant Abraham, 
    children of Jacob, his chosen ones.

The Psalm then goes on to describe Israel’s long history featuring God’s action throughout.  

Psalm 105 ends with thanksgiving:

42 For he remembered his holy promise,
    and Abraham, his servant.

43 So he brought his people out with joy,
    his chosen ones with singing.
44 He gave them the lands of the nations,
    and they took possession of the wealth of the peoples,
45 that they might keep his statutes
    and observe his laws.
Praise the Lord!

At the end, the Psalmist concludes with the idea that God led Israel though all of this because God wanted a people obedient to his statutes and laws. What strikes me about this psalm is that the author probably knew that Israel’s history was littered with sin and disobedience, but God continued to renew the covenant with them, desiring their restoration and not their destruction. God chooses to work with Israel and with us in spite of our disobedience, doubt, and sin. God continually rebukes, reforms, and loves her people back into right relationships because she began this relationship with the in love and no matter what, the story of God’s people will always come back to love. God’s grace, love, and forgiveness are the first words and the last words in all of our stories. 

Thanks be to God.

Let us now claim our place in the history of God’s people by affirming our common faith with the reading of the Apostle’s Creed.  Then we will continue our worship by singing a hymn of thanksgiving for all that God has done for us.  

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