Take a serious look at the little gods You pander to
This past year my son Sean has been reading the Percy Jackson books, which is a series based on a misfit boy who finds his identity among the gods and demigods of Greek mythology.
In these books, Percy spends most of his time trying to prevent catastrophic wars between the competing gods and titans vying for control over the human world. Between all the gods in Greek and Roman mythology, not one has figured out that we humans like to fight back. We don’t need gods to rule over us. We’re self-sufficient and in total control of our own life. And this is where things get a bit messy.
Self-sufficiency is one of those things we highly value in the U.S. One needs to look no further than the current leadership in Washington D.C. to understand how pervasive it is in our social, political and even religious circles. Some people will go to any lengths to uphold and protect its celebrity, even if the results consistently disappoint.
In this morning’s reading, the prophet Isaiah offers us a perfect snapshot of a self-sufficient God. The oracle is set against the stark and somber backdrop of a people who have closed their eyes and barricaded their hearts against the One who created them, and redeems and sustains them.
Written in the aftermath of the fall of Jerusalem, Isaiah tirelessly proclaims the righteousness of God as he watches his kinfolk being exiled into Babylon. His words, sadly, fall on deaf ears. Can you blame them? After all, who would want a deity that deserted a nation when the horrors of war destroyed all they had? Who’d serve such a God?
These questions are just as relevant today, as more people pull away from or outright deny God’s existence. They refuse to hear the Good News of a God who only wants to love and care for them; a God who never abandons them even when they run away, chasing after false gods.
While Percy Jackson battles mythological gods, many of us are battling ones more cleverly disguised. Money, sex, drugs, and power…these are what Tim Keller calls, “Counterfeit Gods,” the idols we chase after with our heart.
Some are harder to see because they are woven tightly into the fabric of society: designer clothes, custom homes, exotic cars, electronics, our bodies…and our minds. From movie and sports stars to politicians and nationalism, we do not have to look very far to see the many idols we’ve created and allow to reign over us.
A friend once pointed out that his church building was a false god because it got more attention paid to it than the people who came to worship in it. One might argue that this is a bit of a stretch, because a building can’t care for itself. It relies on us to maintain its preservation. Are humans any different? Don’t we rely on others to maintain our physical, spiritual, and social wellbeing?
Perhaps we aren’t as self-sufficient as we like to believe.
Think about who and what you rely on to get you through the day. All the various people, and things that keep your healthy, safe, fed, clothed, and free. Then think about the money you will spend relying on others so you can believe you’re “self-sufficient.”
The bible tells us there is a God, YHWH. And this one particular God is self-sufficient; giving freely to us all that we need for this life, and even any life that might come after. The other gods in our world seem only take from us. And when we have nothing left to give, they abandon us.
The bible tells us there is only one God who offers us true hope and healing from our brokenness. The others feed off our insecurities, fears, anxieties, and worries.
Here’s the best part, this God the bible speaks of… does all this for us… because of great love for us. “For God so loved the world…”
“The whole Bible,” St. Augustine observes, “does nothing but tell of God's love.” And in this love of God are the answers to all the "whys" in the Bible: the why of creation, the why of the incarnation, the why of redemption, and even the “why bad things happen to good people.”
So why then would anyone not want this perfect love in their life? What little gods and idols we afraid to let go of?
At some point we all must take a serious look at these little gods we pander to: pride, control, pleasure, possessions, popularity, or approval. And we will have to ask ourselves what will happen when they no longer live up to their promise?
Think about how you feel when people don’t “like” your most recent post or status update. How do you react when people unfriend you on Facebook? We rely on others to give us our self-worth, which leads me to believe we are not so self-sufficient that we save ourselves from ourselves.
So who can? Isaiah says, YHWH can. With great confidence this one particular God who has made a covenant with the world declares, “I Am the first and I Am the last, besides me there is no other god.”
God moves on to taunt the other gods, “Who is like me? Which one of you can redeem, heal, save, love, bless and forgive?" The only One able to answer is the only one who can state, “There is no other rock; I know not one.”
We are not self-sufficient, but God is. In fact, it’s an essential characteristic of God’s loving nature. With a heart full of love for all of creation, God never grows weary from pouring out love upon all its creatures. Giving, and giving, and giving. It’s free for the taking.
From the beginning of time and throughout, God’s love is everlasting. It’s as solid as a rock. We need not fear or be afraid, never mind deny it. Instead, let us welcome it, and bear witness to it in a world that has exiled itself, and darkened its heart from the true light of peace.
“Fear not” says this God, “Do not be afraid,” for one’s faith comes alive in the dark moments when it is difficult to see the blessing of God. What’s that old affirmation: “Sometimes God lets you hit rock bottom, so you will discover that God is the rock at the bottom.”
Jesus reminds us that we can weather the storms of life by putting our faith in God, and not ourselves. He said, “Anyone who hears my words and does them is like a person who builds their house upon a rock. When the storms of life come, the house will stand. But the one who does not hear and do is like a person whose house is built on sand that washes away in the rain.”
There is no other rock like God, the very foundation of all life, as it was in the beginning, is now and will be forever. And yet, there are those who deny this love, refuse this love, and even abandon this love. We so desperately want to be in control, that we lose sight of this. But let’s be real, we can never truly save ourselves.
Many of us rely on family and friends, therapists and medication, and even church to get us through hard times. These are all good things in their own right, and have helped many people.
But just as an alcoholic relies on booze, or the stock market relies on an investor…those things of this world are only temporary.
Eventually the bottle is emptied. And the money runs out. Eventually your family get tired of carrying your burdens and your friends stop shouldering your pain. Whether it’s human beings or nations, the “I can go it alone” attitude is simply unsustainable.
We alone are not sufficient enough to completely help others muchless help ourselves. There will always be something more powerful than you or me. Thus Jesus points us towards that mighty and all-powerful rock where mercy, grace, and love are hewn.
Jesus came to redeem us, to turn us away from the false idols and counterfeit gods of this life that take our life, and to bring us home to be with the God, the giver of life. Jesus is the model of our faith that leads us towards God’s righteousness and God’s faithfulness to us.
When we turn our eyes upon Jesus, we see God incarnate, with open arms and an open heart ready to pour out grace upon grace. God’s love is yours if you want it. But you can’t take it if your hands are full with all the junk in your life. We have to let those idols go, so our hands can be free to accept God’s love, for the self-sustaining gift that it is. Let us pray:
Lord God, we may not fully understand why you love us as you do, but we turn our hearts over to the Spirit of your great mystery and accept your love and the great blessings it offers. Help us God to keep our eyes upon the way of Jesus, the very perfection of your love in this world, so that we may be faithful witnesses to your power, mercy and grace. It’s in his name we pray. Amen.