Sunday, April 27, 2008

Sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, April 27, 2008

Sixth Sunday of Easter

Year A

April 27, 2008

Acts 17:22-31 Psalm 66:7-18

I Peter 3:13-22 St. John 14:15-21

Paul was a pretty amazing preacher. He always seemed to know just the right thing to say, and was never afraid to shape his message to really catch the attention and understanding of his listeners. Paul was also a keen observer of society around him and that enabled him to preach in particularly powerful ways. As I was reading Paul’s sermon from the reading in Acts for this morning, I was wondering how Paul’s message would be different if he were preaching it today somewhere in the United States.

I think he would start off the same. How can anyone assume anything other than that our nation also seems to be extremely religious. Since we are in the middle of a presidential election, it is hard to miss the fact that most of the candidates wear their faith on their sleeve. Many religious leaders attempt to demonstrate how we are a “Christian nation” from our founding. Polls indicate that many people in the United States identify themselves as Christians. And if Paul were to wander through our cities and towns he would find many places of worship around every corner.

But Paul found fault in the religious practices of the Athenians. They practiced idolatry. He found temples with idols everywhere he looked. So Paul’s look around the United States must fall short at this point in his sermon. Surely you don’t see idols put up in places of worship around the United States. So we can safely give ourselves a pat on the back. After all, idolatry has been out of fashion in western civilization for centuries.

Alas, we are not to get off quite so easy. I have started looking at idolatry in a different light thanks to my former Bishop. For the past few years before he left Bishop Mark McDonald had been calling our attention to the sin of idolatry in our own lives. To be honest, I would had never thought of it in those terms, so I’m grateful for the clarity of thought Bp. Mark provided. Bishop Mark thoughtfully reframed idolatry for me, but taking my focus off the idea of graven images (a convenient concept since I can let myself off on that account) and placing the focus on what an idol does, namely take the place of God in our lives. Most of us understand and agree with Paul that God “does not live in shrines made by human hands”. But Bishop Mark reframed the issue in a new and challenging way for me.

And so thanks to those insights and challenges I see that there seems to be quite a parallel to our nation and the Athenians with respect to the tricky sin of idolatry. In fact, I think that we are a people in love with an idol more powerful than the Athenians could have ever imagined. Perhaps unfortunately for us, our idols are not idols of gold, silver or stone in images that make it clear that someone is worshipping them.

This makes our idols much harder to identify. They are not as something as simple as seeing a carved image on our table. But I think Paul would have seen our idols for what they are. It seems to me that the idols most worshipped in the United States consists of money, cars, over consumption, self centeredness, racism, sexism, selfishness and I’m sure the list could run pages if I really put my mind to it, but since I have a reputation for brevity in my homilies, I will end the list here.

The danger with our idols is that it is easy to dismiss them or imagine that they are not really idols. Sure we can tell ourselves that they are dangerous things to our spiritual health that must be considered, but certainly it is not idolatry. But we are faced in our nation with the most insidious form of idolatry there is. In a nutshell, all those idols add up to one theme of idolatry, and that is the idolatry of self.

We seem to live in a society that encourages, almost demands, that we place self in the center of the universe. That is idolatry plain and simple. The shrine we have made is a shrine of self.

Against this worship of self, Christians we are called to follow Jesus as the ultimate example of self-sacrifice.

It can sometimes be a tricky balance. God calls us to love God and to love our neighbor as our self. So the solution to self-centeredness and the idolatry of self is not self loathing and self contempt. We must love ourselves if we are too truly to know how to love our neighbors.

The answer to finding this balance of moderation in our lives will be different for each one of us. No answer will work for all of us. We are at different places in our lives. But the solution lies in balancing our needs and desires with what we feel God is calling us to do in the world around us.

What self centeredness does is cause us to look away from the concerns of the Gospel. We are faced with the challenge of self centeredness every time we watch the television. And while it might be the answer for some of us I’m not saying we all have to give up on television. But we do need to be much more critical to the lessons we are learning both in the programming and the commercials. We should be talking to our children about those lessons as well.

God truly does want us to live happy, fulfilling and enjoyable lives as Christians. But there is much in the world around us that would call us from following in the fullness of Christ. Paul gives a wonderful thought to what we are called to do in response to the Gospel. Paul reminded the Athenians that as a result of creation God “allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him – though indeed he is not far from each one of us”.

As a person who has struggled and sometimes failed to follow God as closely as I might have hoped, I take comfort in the picture of myself searching for God and perhaps groping for him at times, while always knowing that God indeed is not far from me. This thought gives me great hope and comfort and I continue my journey in faith.

My prayer is that it will also give you hope and comfort as well.

1 comment:

Two Dishes said...

In some ways, the Athenians were better -- at least they were seeking. And at least their idol "to an unknown god" was explicit. As you say, TV obsession is a form of idol worship and turning away from God and we don't even recognize it as such. So we go the Athenians one better -- instead of just an unknown god we additionally have a graven shrine, TV, that we don't even recognize as such.