Finding God in All the Wrong Places

"Do not follow other gods, any of the gods of the peoples who are all around you."   Deuteronomy 6:14

A New Yorker cartoon depicts a man and a woman leaving worship. The sign outside the church announces that the sermon topic for the day was the Ten Commandments. The man says, "Well, at least I haven't made any graven images lately."

If the man in the cartoon is anything like us, he HAS made graven images—that is, idols, false gods. Today, no longer are we tempted to worship gods by the name of Zeus or Aphrodite or Apollo. Now we are enticed by gods named Education or Success or Family or Money.

Paul Tillich, an influential theologian of the last century, defined God as a person's "ultimate concern." If you want to know what your ultimate concern is—or, to put it another way, if you want to know what your idols are—ask yourself these questions: Where is your ultimate loyalty? What do you consistently make time for? In what have you put your trust? Where can you be most deeply threatened?

No one ever says, "I'm going to worship an idol now." Instead, idolatry happens when we invest our fullest energy and our ultimate allegiance in those things—perhaps even good things—that are not ultimate. But try as we might to avoid idols, we cannot. Education, success, family, money and many other good things are very important to all of us. We invest a lot of time and energy and money in them. So we are caught. What is one to do?

Referencing the Ten Commandments brings to mind Luther’s two uses of the law in the Bible. The first is the secular or civil use, which works to restrain evil and make life in society possible. You can often find copies of the Ten Commandments engraved in courthouses for this reason. The second use is meant to reveal our sinfulness and lead us to the Gospel, the good news that God in Christ brings mercy, forgiveness and salvation. This is important and often overlooked. Consider that the Commandments are intended to lead you back to God. It’s no wonder then that the first three commandments are about God and how we relate to God. Luther once said that no one ever gets past the first commandment, let alone the other nine! There is a third, but debated-amongst-Lutherans use of the law, as a guide in Christian living, the danger being that we begin to use the law as a way of earning favor with God.

Which brings me to Sunday worship. I find that after battling and resisting idols all week I not only find grace and mercy but I get reoriented and God comes back into clearer focus. And the idols get put back into their proper place, often as good things to use and by which God can be worshipped and glorified.

When we worship idols, instead of the one true God, we will be ultimately disappointed. There is only one God worthy of our worship.

I look forward to our life together as we gather for worship in Lent, Ross

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