Week of Proper 15: Monday, Year 1   13 comments

baal

Above:  Baal

Image in the Public Domain

Idolatry

AUGUST 21, 2017

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Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.

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Judges 2:11-19 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

And the Israelites did what was offensive to the LORD.  They worshiped the Baalim and forsook the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt.  They followed other gods, from among the gods of the peoples around them, and bowed down to them; they provoked the LORD.  They forsook the LORD and worshiped Baal and the Ashtaroth.  Then the LORD was incensed at Israel, and He handed them over to foes who plundered them  He surrendered them to their enemies on all sides, and they could no longer hold their own against their enemies.  In all their campaigns, the hand of the LORD was against them to their undoing, as the LORD had declared and as the LORD had sworn to them; and they were in great distress.  Then the LORD raised up chieftains who delivered them from those who plundered them.  But they did not heed their chieftains either; they went astray after other gods and bowed down to them.  They were quick to turn aside from the way their fathers had followed in obedience to the commandments of the LORD; they did not do right.  When the LORD raised up chieftains for them, the LORD would be with the chieftain and would save them from their enemies during the chieftain’s lifetime; for the LORD would be moved to pity by their moanings because of those who oppressed and crushed them.  But when the chieftain died, they would again act basely, even more than the preceding generation–following other gods, worshiping them, and bowing down to them; they omitted none of their practices and stubborn ways.

Psalm 51:1-10 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving-kindness;

in your great compassion blot out my offenses.

2 Wash me through and through from my wickedness

and cleanse me from my sin.

3 For I know my transgressions,

and my sin is ever before me.

4 Against you only have I sinned

and done what is evil in your sight.

5 And so you are justified when you speak

and upright in your judgment.

6 Indeed, I have been wicked from my birth,

a sinner from my mother’s womb.

7 For behold, you look for truth deep within me,

and will make me understand wisdom secretly.

8 Purge me from my sin, and I shall be pure;

wash me, and I shall be clean indeed.

9 Make me hear of joy and gladness,

that the body you have broken may rejoice.

10 Hide your face from my sins

and blot out all my iniquities.

Matthew 19:16-22 (J. B. Phillips, 1972):

Then it happened that a man came up  to him and said,

Master, what good thing must I do to secure eternal life?

Jesus answered him,

I wonder why you ask me what is good?  Only One is good.  But if you want to enter that life you must keep the commandments.

He asked,

Which ones?

Jesus replied,

Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Honor thy father and thy mother; and Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.

The young man returned,

I have carefully kept all these.  What is still missing in my life?

Then Jesus told him,

If you want to be perfect, go now and sell your possessions and give the money to the poor–you will have riches in Heaven.  The come and follow me!

When the young man heard that he turned away crestfallen, for he was very wealthy.

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The Collect:

Almighty God, you have given your only Son to be for us a sacrifice for sin, and also an example of godly life: Give us grace to receive thankfully the fruits of his redeeming work, and to follow daily in the blessed steps of his most holy life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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Old habits are hard to break, even when doing so is for the best.  One way of breaking an old and bad habit, such as committing idolatry or relying on one’s own wealth, not God, is developing a new, good habit, such as relying on God alone.  This strategy can prove challenging, however.  None of these facts are excuses, just statements of reality.

Fortunately, we do not have to rely on our own power to make these essential changes.  Grace is available to assist us.  But we must cooperate with God.

Let us consider bad habit #1:  idolatry.  Monotheism is a recent development in human religion, in the grand scheme of history.  In the time in which the events of the Book of Judges are set, most people in that region were polytheists.  Deities were localized, specialized, and tied to nature.  And some members of one pantheon resembled those of other pantheons.  Hence Astarte, Ishtar, and Aphrodite were essentially the same character, a fertility goddess.   So, for the Israelites settled in Canaan, the local religious culture was polytheistic.  And many, if not most, of them, blended into it.

Local religious cultures can prove quite powerful.   One might not realize this until one lives as a member of a religious minority in a place.  The person who is different is set apart.  If one is especially susceptible to peer pressure, this can be difficult to maintain.  I am convinced that the pressure to conform within a culture or subculture is generally negative, for it discourages healthy differences.  (I write as one who has dealt with these issues as a liberal United Methodist then more leftist Episcopalian in some very fundamentalist, Southern Baptist-dominated southern Georgia towns and communities.  Fortunately, I have nurtured the habit of resisting peer pressure.)

But the Israelites were the chosen people of God.  Therefore they had great responsibilities to function as a light to the Gentiles.  A bright light stands out in the darkness.  It cannot do its job if it ignores its purpose.

Wealth can be as much of an idol as Baal or Astarte.  All of them distract one from God.  It is upon God alone that one ought to lean and depend spiritually.  Anything else–whether a habit, a tangible object, a collection of said items, money (which is imaginary and psychological, although reified), or a fictitious deity–is a poor substitute.  The wealthy man in the story from Matthew tried to do well, and he succeeded outwardly.  He had mastered what the Lutheran confessions of faith call civil righteousness.  But, as the Lutheran confessions tell us, civic righteousness cannot save us from sin, from ourselves.  Only God can do that.  And the rich young man had a profound psychological attachment to his wealth.

Whatever we are attached to in lieu of God must cease to distract us from God.  For many people of various economic statuses this is not money.  So it will be something else.  It is sports for some people and the Bible itself for others. Anything (other than God) can be an idol if one treats it as that.  So the challenge for you and for me is to identify our idol or idols then to abandon our idolatry forever.  May we do so sooner rather than later.

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2011/10/07/idolatry/

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Posted February 13, 2011 by neatnik2009 in 2017, August, Canadian Anglican Lectionary Year 1

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