PENTECOST 24 1 Kings 18:20-39
PETER’S LUTHERAN – NEFFSVILLE Psalm 24
NOVEMBER 8, 2015 Mark 9:2-4
Idols are no longer a problem for us, are they? No one here worships Ba’al, like Jezebel and her posse of priests did in our lesson today. I’ve never caught any of you dancing around a golden calf like the Israelites did when they were waiting for Moses to come down from Mt. Sinai. And I have never seen anyone marked with the sign of the beast on their foreheads like those idolaters we read about in the Book of Revelation. (START PUTTING ON PROPS) Nope … no idols around here, right? Nothing worshipped in these parts other than good ol’ Jee – sus. Nothing here that consumes our time … and our adoration … and our money, right? Nope, no idolatry going on in this neck of the woods. We are First Commandment people. We know that the Lord is our God, and we’ll have no other gods before our Lord.
All in good fun, right. While I won’t comment on our former political demigod since I was not a personal disciple of Reaganomics … I can say with honesty that I have been rooting for the NY Mets for 50 years now … since I was 8 years old … and I do not worship them. And none of us see the see the Nittany Lion as our idol, either … in spite of what we sing when we’re up at the stadium … sing with me, would you?
Every college has a legend Passed on from year to year,
To which they pledge allegiance And always cherish dear.
But of all the honored idols, There’s but one that stands the test CUT!
OK … maybe there is just a touch of idolatry up in Happy Valley. All in good fun … all pretty harmless, of course.
If idolatry is defined literally, as “the religious worship of idols” then we’re all safe probably. I don’t know anyone that really does that. But a second definition of idolatry is “excessive or blind adoration, reverence, devotion.” I still get to State College once a year on Homecoming Weekend for the Saturday Alumni Blue Band show in Beaver Stadium. (Sometimes I think there is even a football exhibition prior to the main event of the band.) And when I think of the financial treasures that are poured into State College on a football weekend … and the time dedicated on site and in preparation for the weekend … and the talents that serve the variety of activities that occur … and the vestments that are worn for pigskin worship … idolatry is not exactly far from my mind. Next time you are up for a game, observe the day through that lens.
Of course, even this kind of idolatry is fairly harmless, right. We know we are not talking deities, in Beaver Stadium. It is thee “other” idols in our lives that can be really troublesome. These are the idols that cause us far more difficulty than a weekend at a football stadium, or a passion for Josh Grobin concerts. It is the idols that actually get in the way of our relationship with God, that cause the lasting problems in our lives. The idol of arrogance, which presumes I am always right. The idol of greed, which presumes that I can never really have enough of anything. The idol of intolerance, which presumes I have the only proper perspective on life and the people in it. The idol of anger, which presumes that the more often I feel wronged by others, the more right I must be in my own perspective. The idol of gluttony, which presumes that what I enjoy – whether it be food, or drink, or possessions, or authority, or experiences, or whatever reality holds sway over me – will continue to offer greater and greater pleasure with greater and greater consumption.
My friends, idols are not trinkets that we place on our mantelpiece, or statues that we bow before. They are perspectives we have, and actions we take, and presumptions we make about life, that regularly get in the way of what God intends for us. Our story today from 1 Kings, is one of the most graphic and entertaining stories in the Bible … and idolatry is front and center in the story. Most of us can picture Elijah going toe to toe with the prophets of Ba’al, calling down fire from heaven, and bringing Jezebel’s prophets to shame, and later death. And now that we have seen the stories of Noah and the Exodus hit the big screen in blockbuster movie fashion, it is only a matter of time before Peter Jackson or Ridley Scott put this story of Elijah and the prophets of Ba’al in a theater near you … the story begs for it. But don’t get lost in the fireworks show. The heart of the story is presented right at the beginning, when Elijah says to all those who are gathered, “How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” Idolatry has never enhanced life for the children of God. It has always sapped strength and vitality and wholeness from those who succumb to it. Be honest with yourselves … when you examine those places in your life where idolatry is in play for you, can you not see how your life is diminished? Of course you can … but we struggle to believe that God has a better alternative for us.
Following services today, our Stewardship team has asked you to pick up your Fall Commitment letter in the narthex, and begin the process of discerning what you will return to the Lord for the coming calendar year. There are fewer places in life, where we allow idolatry to corrupt our best intentions, than in our lives as stewards. Because when you get right down to it, we do not believe that our God is an abundant giver of life and time and possessions. And so we choose to hedge our bets, and give what we think we can spare, instead of what would free us to be joyful givers. To use our biblical language, we limp between our God of abundance and our idols of scarcity. And thus we give some of our wealth and our time and our skills back to God, but not as much as we could … not as much as would free us to be happy about our giving.
So if you are tired of limping, speak with a sacrificial giver or a tither, and hear for yourself how disciplined financial giving offers you a sense of peace and perspective in your life.
Read through today’s story of Elijah and the prophets of Ba’al, and the lesson of choices it offers to us. If you wish to leap, have coffee with someone who is giving deeply of their time and talents through their involvement in faith based ministries, and they will tell you that the time they give to God here at St. Peter’s, or in other faith ministries near and far, helps them to find the right order and balance in how they use their time in the rest of their lives. Put the text of the First Commandment on the mirror in your bathroom, so that every time you right from bed in the morning, you are reminded of the one who is the Lord of your life, and the one who raises you to new life each day you awaken from your bed. In researching today’s story about Elijah on Mt. Carmel, I came across this quote from one of the commentaries I read:
The greatest challenge for most people lies in faithfulness to one God and no other; it lies in the willingness to trust that one God, even in times when other alternatives seem more practical, more immediately relevant, or more popular. Human needs and wants are so great that there is always the temptation to keep one’s theological options open to hedge against the possibility that our God may not adequately provide for our needs. Polytheism allows one to so hedge, but that is not the case with the religion of Moses, after whose ministry Elijah’s own is modeled. For Elijah, then, there can be no theological compromise; we have to choose to be on one side or the other.
May God always lead us to the right choice in our lives. Amen.