Dr. Charles J. Tomlin, Flat Rock-Zion Baptist Partnership
Year C: Proper 20, 18th Sunday After Pentecost, September 18th, 2016
The unforgettable movie “The Gods Must Be Crazy” is an South African comedy film about a happy, contented tribal culture who believes the gods have blessed them with everything they need. But that BEGINS to change when they encounter A RATHER SMALL AIRCRAFT FLYING over their remote village deep into the African continent. The pilot is drinking out of one those old-fashioned green Coca Cola bottles. When he is finished with the beverage, he throws the bottle out of the airplane and it lands near some native tribal leaders below. THEY PICK IT UP and ARE GREATLY INTRIGUE. It is shaped far differently from anything they have ever seen. Until now, these secluded tribal people have known nothing of the modern world.
Because this strange item has come to them from the heavens above, THEY BELIEVE IT TO BE a god, or a gift from the gods. So they naturally begin to ASSEMBLE A NEW Way of life around it. They develop songs about it and say prayers to it. But as the story unfolds, envy, jealousy, and disputes arise like the simple, harmonious tribe has never known before. It’s all because of the bottle.
In an attempt to bring peace back into their lives, some of the leaders leave the village, in an attempt to take the ‘bottle’ back. But it’s too late. Now their simple lives have been altered and made much more complicated by the not-so-simple, often very negative, “new world” this bottle has invited them to encounter. As there seems to be no way to stop the flood of trouble, a tribal leader takes the bottle up to the top of a mountain to throw it back into ‘the window of the gods’. What we all know too well, is that once the simple innocent world has been invaded, there is no way of going back.
WE WILL WORSHIP SOMETHINGThere are many spiritual and cultural truths from this film, but most basic is its portrayal of the instinctive need for HUMANS to WORSHIP something--whether it is coke bottles, pop stars, or the most destructive desire for wealth or power. Humans NATURALLY BEGIN TO WORSHIP what or who we prize the most. In order to find purpose or meaning in our short, insignificant LIVES, whether we are part of an ancient tribe or people in this complicated, modernize world, we still must give ourselves to SOMETHING bigger than ourselves.
Several years ago, before there was Oprah, THERE WAS PHIL DONAHUE. He was known for a radical, groundbreaking approach to TV talk shows. On one of his shows, way back in the 1970’s was the first time I heard someone say that we, as a nation, are fast becoming a nation of addicts. The point was that in the western world, ADDICTION WAS ON THE RISE, as more and more are hopelessly addicted to drugs, to alcohol, to sex, to food, and to a host of other things. As humans beings, who must give ourselves to something, we can just as easily give ourselves to the wrong thing---to something that enslaves rather than frees. TO BE ADDICTED TO SOMETHING means you HAVE GIVEN THE CONTROL OF YOUR LIFE OVER TO SOME LESSER GOD THAT WEAKENS YOU, AND without some form of intervention, WILL EVENTUALLY DESTROY YOU. To give yourselves to wrong attractions, the wrong powers or to the wrong desires, will eventually destroy your freedom. It will also destroy your God-given potential. It can destroy your personality, and worse of all, IT WILL DESTROY YOUR ABILITY TO GIVE AND RECEIVE LOVE.
Is it not true, that the more simple trust in GOD has been removed from the center OF OUR LIVES, the more we ALLOW “OTHER GODS” or “powers” TO TAKE OVER? Could our struggle with some many impossible to overcome ADDICTIONS reflect the “emptiness” that is at the very center of our modern, mostly secular lives today? Have we lost the delight for our own lives because we too have replaced the hunger and thirst for the true God with our own lust for “other gods”---which are lesser gods and very destructive powers that don't have our best interests at heart?
This very first commandment reminds us that we are created to worship. YOU WILL BOW DOWN To Something. But BEWARE. Beware when you give yourself over to something or someone. EVERYTHING YOU WORSHIP AND GIVE YOURSELF TO WILL NOT CARE ABOUT YOU. Other gods don’t die to set you free, but they live off enslaving you and off taking life from you. It is, however, the desire of the TRUE GOD to FREE You from bondage. It is the desire of the true God to give you true freedom. BUT FALSE GODS WILL PUT YOU INTO BONDAGE and do set your free to find life. THESE LESSER GODS ARE LIKE A BOA CONSTRICTOR that will wrap its self around its prey, drawing in slowly and more tightly, each time you breathe in, until your breath GETS SHALLOWER AND SHALLOWER with no life left.
THIS IS THE GREAT DIFFERENCE BETWEEN WORSHIPING WHAT IS TRUE OR WHAT IS FALSE. It is not an imaginary difference, but it a difference that makes all the difference in the world. IN ONE OF JAMES MICHENER''S GEOGRAPHIC NOVELS about some exotic part of the world, GEOLOGISTS WERE DIGGING UP THE RUINS of a civilization from an era long gone and long ago. As they uncover the relics of that ancient society, they begin to DISCOVER THE INFLUENCE OF THE GODS that ancient people worshiped and HOW IT SHAPED THEIR IDENTITY AS A PEOPLE. One geologist is heard to say, "If THEY’D HAD A DIFFERENT GOD, THEY COULD HAVE BEEN A VERY DIFFERENT PEOPLE." People reflect, if not BECOME LIKE THE GOD or GODS they WORSHIP.
This is WHY WE MUST ONLY WORSHIP THE ONE TRUE GOD--the God whose character is holy and righteous, as well as, gracious and merciful. But how do we know or worship a ‘true’ God in a secular world, in which people more generally assume it that we have no need for God? Since we are not ancient Israelites having just be delivered from slavery in Egypt, how can we expect moderns who think they have everything they want or need, to worship this one, true God, who is unfathomable to some, and has become unbelievable to most?
YOU MUST CHOOSE TO WORSHIP THE TRUE GOD.
How many could have done SOMETHING much DIFFERENT WITH YOUR TIME today? You could have done something more pleasurable or something more exciting, instead of BEING HERE to GIVE YOUR HEART TO THE one TRUE GOD. It is YOUR CHOICE that makes all the difference. True worship of the living God is a choice BORN OUT OF YOUR FREEDOM which chooses NOT to DO OTHERWISE.
GOD WANTS US CHOOSE HIM FULLY, BUT ALSO FREELY. THE Reason WE HAVE TEN COMMANDMENTS is not because God wants to CONTROL OR FORCE us to comply, but these 10 commands ARE INCREDIBLE WORDS THAT CALL US TO COVENANT and freely RELATE TO this GOD who calls US TO CHOOSE THE POWERS OF LIFE, not death. WHEN GOD SAYS “no other gods” we are IMMEDIATELY CONFRONTED both with our freedom to choose rightly and our Freedom To Choose Wrongly. JOHN MORLEY, a member of the British House of Commons during the 19th century, once TRAVELED FROM ENGLAND TO CANADA to address the graduating class of a university. He began his speech by saying, "I have traveled 4,000 miles to TELL YOU THAT THERE IS A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN RIGHT AND WRONG." CHOOSING WHAT IS RIGHT is what worship is about. To live, to breathe, and to step into the next moment of our life is always a CHOICE IN ONE OF TWO DIRECTIONS: WE ARE EITHER CHOOSING TO WALK TOWARD THE ONE WHO CREATED US or we are choosing to WALK AWAY FROM HIM. EVERY DAY WE MAKE A CHOICE. To be human is to decide and to choose. You cannot be alive and not choose.
It is BECAUSE WE HUMANS ARE FREE that GOD THUNDERS this first commandment as a warning from Sinai: "You must not have any other gods except me." GOD IS AFFIRMING HIS PRIORITY as the CREATOR OF LIFE. He is calling us to worship and only choose Him, not only because HE DESERVES TO HAVE FIRST PLACE, BUT BECAUSE HE IS the only, true GOD. ALL OTHER GODS SHOULD BE SPELLED WITH A LITTLE "g" because they are REALLY NOT THE LIFT GIVING GOD AT ALL, ONLY PALE SUBSTITUTES. Psalm 115:4-7 says, "… Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but they cannot speak. They have eyes, but they cannot see. They have ears, but they cannot hear. They have noses, but they cannot smell. They have hands, but they cannot feel. They have feet, but they cannot walk. They cannot make a sound with their throat."(NASB) In other words, false gods are COUNTERFEITS. They might have LIMITED POWERS, but eventually they can only ENSLAVE OR DESTROY, because they DON’T HAVE THE POWER OF LIFE TO SAVE, which means they are not God at all.
THE GOD WHO IS THE ONE TRUE GOD.
YOU MAY BE THINKING, "I DON’T WORSHIP GODS OF STONE--- IDOLS set up in some pagan temple. I am a SOPHISTICATED PERSON." But to be tempted to worship ‘other gods’, doesn’t necessarily mean you might run out into the woods at night and worship a rock. BUT THERE ARE GODS BESIDE IDOLS OF STONE. ANYTHING CAN BE A GOD, if it takes the place of the true God. So, if you want discover who, or what you worship, ASK YOURSELF these THREE SIMPLE QUESTIONS, to determine who or what is “God” in your life:
(1) ON WHAT DO YOU SET YOUR AFFECTIONS? When your heart takes a break from the complexities of daily living, WHERE DOES IT COME TO REST? Like a COMPASS NEEDLE, though spun around will always come to rest by pointing north, WHERE DOES YOUR HEART POINT WHEN IT COMES TO REST? WHAT IS REALLY IMPORTANT TO YOU? There are many concerns and loves, but what is ultimate love guides all other desires or loves? Is it your JOB? A PROMOTION? Perhaps your HOME? Your CAR? Maybe another PERSON? Or MONEY? MATERIAL things? On what do you set your affections? Do you set your greatest affection on God? WE ARE TOLD IN THE NEW TESTAMENT, TO SET OUR AFFECTIONS ON THINGS ABOVE.,
(3) The final question is most obvious: WHAT ARE YOU LIVING FOR THAT YOU WANT TO GIVE YOU LIFE, RIGHT NOW? What are our GOALS? What are OUR ASPIRATIONS? What are OUR OBJECTIVES? IF YOU WERE TO LIST YOUR GOALS ON A SHEET OF PAPER would ‘Spiritual’ goals, you place for God be at the top? Would your main priorities be your walk with God, and your service to Him, or is God only a leftover, afterthought, or a postscript? ARE YOUR GOALS ONLY CENTERED AROUND PERSONAL ACHIEVEMENT, job, home, family, money and the like? You can live for all of these, but you must also ask yourself: WHO GIVES YOU YOUR LIFE AND THE POWER OF LIFE? These kind of questions WILL HELP YOU EVALUATE WHAT YOU PUT FIRST. As Jesus instructed: seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness and ALL THESE WILL BE ADDED. ONLY SEEKING YOUR OWN KINGDOM or your own rightness, and you NOT ONLY LOOSE YOUR KINGDOM, YOU’LL EVENTUALLY LOOSE YOURSELF TOO?
Choosing God means YOU ARE NO longer the center of YOUR world. Realizing that Life is bigger than you, and is a gift, is also how your best chance for life happens too. I once read of A MAN IN A CATHOLIC PARISH who had a life-THREATENING ILLNESS. The priest was called to his hospital bed. The man was on first name basis with the Priest: “Ed, in a real crazy way, I AM GRATEFUL THAT THIS IS HAPPENING TO ME.” The Priest asked, “Why?” The sick man answered, “Because THE WORD THAT KEEPS COMING UP IN MY MIND is the word, ‘give’… give, give. I have some sense that NOW I AM CALLED TO GIVE MYSELF IN A WAY I’VE NEVER GIVEN BEFORE.” I have come to realize, as death threatens, and the end will come, to take myself out of the ‘center’ and to give is the only true way to live.
We choose the one true God by the IDENTITY WE CHOOSE FOR OURSELVES. We are either people who CHOOSE TO LIVE FOR Ourselves, TO TAKE and keep on taking… OR, on the OTHER HAND, We ARE PEOPLE WHO CHOOSE TO BE INSTRUMENTS and to GIVE THEMSELVES FULLY INTO GOD’S HANDS.
Saint Francis of Assisi SAW HIMSELF AS AN INSTRUMENT of the one, true God and IT TURNED HIS LIFE AROUND and GAVE HIS LIFE MEANING. Francis expressed it in a WONDERFUL PRAYER: “LORD, MAKE ME AN INSTRUMENT OF YOUR PEACE. Where there is HATRED, let me SOW LOVE, where there is INJURY, PARDON; where there is DISCORD, UNION; where there is DOUBT, FAITH; where there is DESPAIR, HOPE; where there is SADNESS, JOY. GRANT THAT WE MAY NOT SO MUCH SEEK TO BE CONSOLED AS TO CONSOLE, to be UNDERSTOOD AS TO UNDERSTAND, to be loved as to love, for it is in GIVING THAT WE RECEIVE; it is in forgiving that we are forgiven, and it is in dying that we are born into eternal life.”
Isn’t it amazing how EVERYTHING CHANGES WHEN WE CHOOSE TO PUT OUR LIVES INTO THE HANDS OF GOD as his instrument? WE WORSHIP GOD, not just with words, with lips, or with a few scattered SUNDAY ‘nods to God’, but we WORSHIP GOD ONLY WHEN CHOOSE TO WORSHIP HIM DAILY with all our lives and we put nothing in HIS PLACE AND WE HOLD NOTHING BACK.
ISRAEL’S GOD AS THE ONE, TRUE, GOD
(From: Chittister, Joan (2012-08-01). The Ten Commandments: Laws of the Heart (p. 21). Orbis Books. Kindle Edition.
BECAUSE THERE IS MORE, This FIRST COMMANDMENT ASSUMES that you WILL WORSHIP something. It also assumes that YOU MUST CHOOSE TO WORSHIP THE ‘TRUE’ GOD and it assumes that this ‘true’ God MUST BE THE “ONE” AND ONLY GOD in your life. All this is implied in ‘having no other gods before you.’
STILL, A FINAL, MOST pressing, UNANSWERED QUESTION MAY prevent THESE Ten Commands from GIVING LIFE today. These commandments were once given to BE THE FOUNDATION FOR THE SPIRITUAL AND SOCIAL LIFE OF A COMMUNITY who INTENTIONALLY CENTERED THEMSELVES together in COVENANT WITH THE “ONE” “TRUE GOD” God who once called ISRAEL INTO BEING, but how CAN WE ‘ASSUME’ these laws are also MEANT FOR US? IN A WORLD WHERE ‘TRUTH’ AND ‘LAW’ MEAN SO MANY THINGS to MANY DIFFERENT PEOPLE, how can we know THAT THE ONE TRUE GOD’ OF ISRAEL is also the ‘one, TRUE, GOD’ FOR US and IS LORD of the UNIVERSE?
Well, TO BE QUITE FRANK, the truth is that we CAN’T ASSUME THIS ANYMORE, as we once thought we could. Maybe WHEN WE ARE ALL LIVING IN OUR HAPPY LITTLE SINGULAR WHITE, EUROPEAN, American RELIGIOUS TRIBES made of DIFFERENT “JUDEO-CHRISTIAN” Flavors” we assumed it, but we don’t live there anymore. LIKE THOSE ‘TRIBAL LEADERS’ IN THAT MOVIE, “The god’s must be crazy”, WE TOO CAN’T JUST THROW THE COKE BOTTLE BACK up into the sky and go back to the way things once were. LIFE HAS BECOME MORE COMPLICATED and you CAN’T JUST ASSUME WHAT WAS ONCE GOOD FOR ISRAEL is good for us. Even Israel, modern Israel that is, DOESN’T PUT THAT MUCH STOCK IN THESE 10 COMMANDMENTS anymore. Today, even Israel is less Israel, or as the Apostle Paul once put it, “All that is called “ISRAEL IS NOT ISRAEL” (Roms 9-11).
It is PRECISELY BECAUSE life is much different than it was before, that the 10 commandments BELONG TO MORE than a “NEUTRAL” government building, and must belong to MUCH MORE than in a “PUBLIC” school book, and MUST BE EVEN BECOME MUCH MORE than a NICE “MORAL” Tale told to children. No, the 10 Commandments, if they are to GIVE THE LIFE THEY WERE INTENDED TO GIVE, must BE GET INTO OUR SOULS with the whole HEART, SOUL, MIND AND STRENGTH. How can this happen?
There is a GREAT Biblical EXAMPLE OF Someone quietly and fully putting the true God at the center of their lives. DO YOU REMEMBER THE STORY OF MARY AND MARTHA IN LUKE’S GOSPEL (10: 38ff)? When Jesus came to visit, they both loved Jesus, BUT THEY HAD DIFFERENT WAYS OF RESPONDING TO JESUS. MARTHA, responded to Jesus WITH HER BUSINESS. Mary, on the other hand, RESPONDED TO JESUS BY GETTING CLOSER to him by HANGING ON to EVERY SINGLE WORD. THE TEXT TELLS US THAT WHILE MARTHA WAS “DISTRACTED” by her many tasks, Mary WAS SITTING AT JESUS’ FEET, listening, and taking everything in.
When Martha observed Mary there, she protested, saying, “Lord, do you not care that MY SISTER HAS LEFT ME TO DO ALL THE WORK by myself? Tell her to help me? We can understand Martha’s difficulty, for we TOO ARE OFTEN PRESSED UPON BY THE WORRIES and cares of this world. WE TOO ARE IN A HURRY to make sure THINGS GET DONE RIGHT BECAUSE WE LIVE TO MAKE EVERYONE HAPPY. But there is more. There is MUCH MORE THAN OUR HURRIED, WORRIED LIVES. Listen to Jesus’ response: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things. There is need of only one thing.” MARY HAS CHOSEN THE BETTER PART, which will not be taken away from her.
THAT “ONE THING which is the ‘better part” is to INVITE YOURSELF, to CHOOSE, TO KNOW THE PRESENCE OF THE LORD OF LORDS, and King of Kings, WHO HAS COME CLOSE TO US IN JESUS CHRIST. DO YOU KNOW HOW DO YOU “SERVE” WHEN WE A KING COMES TO YOUR HOUSE? If you think like Martha, you ‘do things’ for him. But think about this another way: “HOW DO YOU SERVE A KING OR this GOD, who comes to us, to call us to be his own ISRAEL, as the GOD WHO HAS AND IS EVERYTHING? HOW DO YOU SERVE A KING WHO HAS COME TO YOU BECAUSE YOU CAN”T GET CLOSE TO HIM? YOU certainly don’t BEGIN AS MARTHA DID, but YOU MUST DO WHAT MARY DID. YOU Acknowledge that the KING has found you and you SIT DOWN TO LET HIM SERVE YOU FIRST.
“Be still, and know that I am God…” This is WHERE ALL THE COMMANDMENTS Begin and End. There was nothing wrong with what Martha was doing, but there is something BADLY WRONG WITH WHAT MARTHA WAS MISSING. She is MISSING THE BEST PART….the LISTENING… The LEARNING… the GROWING… THE WONDERING… AND THE WORSHIP… What she was missing, most of all, was the LOVE God had to give her first.
We will also come to worship the one, true God when we let him find us, first. And WHEN HE COMES TO US, we need to MOVE IN CLOSE WITH ALL OUR HEARTS until we come to fully understand that what he come to give us, FIRST OF ALL…AND MOST OF ALL IS….HIMSELF. Amen.