September 29, 2014: American Idols

Posted on : Sep 29th, 2014 | By | Category: Still Speaking

In the Old Testament one of the biggest challenges to the faith was idols, or more accurately, the worship of idols. In fact, the first two of the 10 commandments tackle this issue head-on.

“Then God spoke all these words:

I am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.

You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, your God, am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.” Exodus 20: 1-6

Our Jewish brothers and sisters take this commandment very seriously. In fact to this day, you will not find a “representation” of God in any Jewish synagogue or temple. Compare that with Christianity: Roman Catholics have a crucifix (an image of the crucified Jesus on the cross) in almost every sanctuary; Orthodox Christians (Eastern rite) have icons (iconography) everywhere (images of Jesus, the “Holy Family” or Saints, with “halos” around their heads); and Protestants have either Sallman’s “Head of Christ” or “Jesus as the Good Shepherd” such as we have in the back of our sanctuary.

The fear in Judaism was that whatever “representation” was made of God would misrepresent God. Very insightful and honest. God gets misrepresented all the time. We replace God with the things we believe about God, or contemporary idols. Idol worship or idolatry (that’s where the root of that word comes from) is as real today as it was 6,000 years ago.

For some today, our idol is “looks” or “celebrity.” Just look at the idol worship going on this weekend with all eyes focused on the marriage of George Clooney and Amal Alamuddin. For some, our idol is of those who have money…lots of money. Forbes just released its annual report, “Forbes 400: The Richest People In America 2014.” I just checked and darn, my name isn’t on there again this year. When am I going to be on that list? Maybe next year! For some it’s “American dominance and nationalism.” The warrior-types are just overcome with joy this week as the US enters into yet another war, “the war against terrorism.”

The hard thing about faith in the God whom we are called to worship is that throughout our entire journey of faith, our God calls us to not worship idols but to worship “the one true living God.” As you can read in this week’s Still Speaking mediation, those words come with quite a cost!



Quinn G. Caldwell

“A man named Demetrius, a silversmith who made silver shrines of Artemis [gathered the artisans and] said, ‘Men, you know that we get our wealth from this business.  You also see and hear that…this Paul has persuaded and drawn away a considerable number of people by saying that gods made with hands are not gods.” – Acts 19:24-26

Christianity isn’t always bad for business, but it usually doesn’t do purveyors of idols any favors.  Demetrius can see the writing on the wall when the Christians come to town claiming that worshiping statues is a dumb idea.  So he gathers his fellow artisans, who whip the crowd up by wrapping their fear of profit-loss in pious talk.  “It’s not our business we’re worried about!  It’s the disrespect to our ancient values that we object to!  It’s the jobs that will be lost!”  Before long, there’s a riot going on, with all the people cheering for Artemis and nobody stopping to wonder whose pockets will be lined by such piety.

This works with modern purveyors of idols, too.  Suggest to a gun manufacturer that God loves human life more than high-capacity ammunition magazines, and you will get a similar response—only instead of chanting “Artemis of the Ephesians!” they’ll be chanting something about the Second Amendment.

Suggest to a natural gas company that God’s vision for the future does not include poisoned aquifers or ignitable water, and it’ll be like Demetrius has come right back to life, this time talking about energy independence.

The story doesn’t say what happened to old Demetrius.  This we know, though: the Christians didn’t give up, and these days, there’s not a cent to be made in Artemis shrines.

God, give us the grace to withstand the purveyors of idols, and the wisdom to see their slogans and arguments for what they are.  Amen.

Quinn G. Caldwell is the Pastor of Plymouth Congregational Church, Syracuse, New York, and the author of the forthcoming All I Really Want: Readings for a Modern Christmas.

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