Idols – sermon for Evensong, Sunday 17th September, 2017

Those who make them will be like them . . .

The poet Annie Dillard makes the following observation about those who go to church

Why do people in church seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute? … Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us to where we can never return.”

One of the great gifts of Evensong is its lectionary which ploughs through the Old Testament with an anachronistic lack of concern for our Modern sensitivities. And thus this evening , we find ourselves amidst the niceties of the English Choral Tradition listening to the words of the LORD through the prophet Ezekiel. And we wonder with Annie Dillard why we didn’t bring a crash helmet.

Thus says the Lord God: On the day when I chose Israel, I swore to the offspring of the house of Jacob—making myself known to them in the land of Egypt—I swore to them, saying, I am the Lord your God. On that day I swore to them that I would bring them out of the land of Egypt into a land that I had searched out for them, a land flowing with milk and honey, the most glorious of all lands. And I said to them, Cast away the detestable things your eyes feast on, every one of you, and do not defile yourselves with the idols of Egypt; I am the Lord your God.

 

I swore to them that I would bring them out of the Land of Egypt – from the place of slavery and death – into a land that I had searched for them, a land flowing with milk and honey, the most glorious all lands – into the place of freedom and Life

God’s purposes in the election of Israel in choosing and calling them, to bring from death to life, to reveal once more the Life that is God’s purpose for his creation – that amongst all the people’s there would be a people who LIVED, who revealed the Life of the Creator in and to the Creation – that their might be the Image of God in Creation . . .

but they didn’t want it.
But they rebelled against me and would not listen to me; not one of them cast away the detestable things their eyes feasted on, nor did they forsake the idols of Egypt.

If we are alert to the story we know how, having been brought into the place where God, their life was revealed and made known to them in the wilderness, they just longed to go back to the country of slavery and death. ‘Oh if only we had died in Egypt . . .’ ‘‘If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we used to eat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; but now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.’

Like someone roused from sleep, they just want to go back to their comfortable dreams . . . back to sleep, back to death . . . And the LORD just doesn’t get it – as he says in Ezekiel 18 – Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed against me, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the Lord God. Turn, then, and live.

Why will ye die, O house of Israel?? What is it with you people??? Hear the word of the LORD, the God and Father of our LORD Jesus Christ – I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the Lord God. Turn, then, and live.

God who has called a people to himself for life – desires not the death of ANYONE, but that they might turn from their wickedness and LIVE! Yet, throughout, over and over and over one particular charge is laid against this rebellious people – ‘not one of them cast away the detestable things their eyes feasted on, nor did they forsake the idols of Egypt.’

The Lectionary softens the blow a little – we miss the next 22 verses wherein we hear recounted the repetitive strain – The LORD did this . . . but not one of them cast away their detestable things their eyes feasted on, nor did they forsake their idols . . .

Now let us be careful here to to fall into that lazy and blasphemous trope, beloved of all ‘sophisticates’ that ‘the God of the Old Testament and that of the New are not the same’ – Listen to the warning of our own patron, our beloved St John ‘Little Children, keep yourself with idols!’

As the Impact of the glorious gospel comes to Asia Minor, to Ephesus, the Centre of the cult of Diana – known here as Artemis – what is the great ruction, the riot caused by??
The charge laid by Paul as reported by Demetrius – ‘this Paul has persuaded and drawn away a considerable number of people by saying that gods made with hands are not gods. And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be scorned, and she will be deprived of her majesty that brought all Asia and the world to worship her.’

‘Gods made with hands are not gods’ . . . And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute . . . It is worth noting in passing that idolatry and economic security go hand in hand . . . ‘Gods made with hands are not gods’

Things that we make – that we create do not have Life in them – and thus they cannot cause us to Live. Rather when we put our hope in the work of our own hands, we become even less than we are – as the Psalmist says ‘The idols of the nations are silver and gold, the work of human hands.They have mouths, but they do not speak; they have eyes, but they do not see; they have ears, but they do not hear, and there is no breath in their mouths. There is no Life in idols – there is no life in things we make Those who make them and all who trust them shall become like them.

 

Those who make them will be like them . . . We are made to be like God, possessing Eternal Life – instead we make lifeless things to give our lives meanings which we choose for ourselves . . . and become like them . . . lifeless . . .

In this age that is most clear in the devotion we give to dead technology, more broadly to machines which more or less subtly form us in their image. Just this week I was reading an article which suggested that the rise of ‘intelligent robots’ called into question the whole issue of what it meant to be human . . . the fruit of idolatry laid bare – we look at a robot and allow it to address us regarding our own nature . . . human dignity and freedom and glory reduced to a latex covered machine, an imitation of what we have come to call life, with a so called intelligence based on the horrendous assumption that our brains operate like computers . . . do you see?
We make computers, then we begin to talk of our selves as biological computers – we make robots and as we have already submitted so many of our fellow humans to work of such profound degradation that all agency and freedom is stolen from them, made them robots, and now we think we are like them . . . . And this then affects our philosophical outlook life – and we make yet another fatal, death dealing error of confusing increased sophistication in the things we make, ‘better machines’ with our progress as humans, whilst all the while leading us deeper into Death . . .

Yet it is SO easy to go with the flow – the modern technologies, and so much of what makes this world of artifice is SO seductive – we feast our eyes on it, and we wish we were as ‘clever’ as bright and shiny, as dependable as . . . insert your preferred adjective . . just Like . . . and we so love to sleep . . . to die

So as the elders of Israel gather in a mockery of obedience, ‘to consult the LORD’ – they too have a hidden desire – which as Jesus reveals the thoughts of the hearts of those around him lie exposed before the LORD

And shall I be consulted by you, O house of Israel? As I live, says the Lord God, I will not be consulted by you. What is in your mind shall never happen—the thought, ‘Let us be like the nations, like the tribes of the countries, and worship wood and stone.’ Let us go back to Egypt, let us go back to the certainties of the things we make, let us write our own story, let us go back to sleep, let us return to the sleep of death . . .

Yet mark this – Thus saith the LORD – what is in your mind shall never happen . . . I will manifest my holiness among you in the sight of the nations. You shall know that I am the Lord, when I bring you into the land of Israel, the country that I swore to give to your ancestors. There you shall remember your ways and all the deeds by which you have polluted yourselves; and you shall loathe yourselves for all the evils that you have committed. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I deal with you for my name’s sake, not according to your evil ways or corrupt deeds, O house of Israel, says the Lord God.

God will not have us make idols – He wills not that we become like the things that we make – that we make things which we then give our lives over to , that we worship the created rather than the Creator – because that way is the way of death –

Rather God wills that we become like Him, and Live. This is why the Christian Life is about being born again into a New Life – which is the Life of God –

This is the witness of all of scripture and this is the Gospel of Jesus Christ . . . The Crucified One – when God Reveals himself amongst His people – ‘all we have is this manna to look at . . . – he does so in the Crucified One – that which appears to our blind eyes as death, is the Door of Life – the hard work of Christian Existence in the world is as St Paul puts it – that we ‘become like him in his death that we might attain LIFE. . .

yet like sleep, it is easier to die than to live.

Jesus himself lays this choice before us – ‘Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.’

My little children – keep yourself from idols, for in truth, those who make them shall be like them . . . but GOD wills it otherwise and whether we choose death or Life His name will be glorified in all the Earth. If after we are done with the Creation, only the stones are left to declare the praises of God, they Will cry out in praise of their creator – even the stones know their maker . . . Let us press on to Know him for to Know Him is Life [John 17:3]

Amen

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