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The Rev. Samuel Edwards: "On Idolatry"
Prydain ^ | 4/24/2006 | Will

Posted on 04/24/2006 2:55:36 PM PDT by sionnsar

This sermon, "On Idolatry", from the Rev. Samuel Edwards of the Anglican Church of the Holy Comforter, is the next in his series on the Ten Commandments:

Sermon on the First Sunday after Easter (2006)

Countdown to Holiness: Sermon IX.

On Idolatry

God spake these words, and said: Thou shalt not make to thyself any graven image, nor the likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, or in the water under the earth; thou shalt not bow down to them, nor worship them; for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, and visit the sins of the fathers upon the children, unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; and show mercy unto thousands in them that love me and keep my commandments.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

The second commandment consists of two parts: There is a prohibition and there is a plain statement of the consequences for the violation of the prohibition. The Lord tells us what we are not to do, and what will happen to us if we go ahead and do it anyway.

The prohibition is against “making to thyself any graven image” for the purpose of worshiping it. It would be easy on this basis to take this commandment as a ban against the use of any kind of representational art in Christian worship. Many Christians have taken that line of interpretation over the centuries and those who sought by force to impose their understanding of this commandment on other Christians who did not share it have wrought much injury and destruction, not all of it merely physical. There is many an ancient church building in England that still bears the scars inflicted by the Cromwellians and other radical fanatics. Earlier, In the eighth and ninth centuries, Christian zealots known as iconoclasts – “image breakers” – ranged over the Byzantine Empire, often with the backing of nominally Christian emperors, smashing icons in churches wherever they found them. Neither of these groups – nor any others like them in other times – had any sound scriptural backing for their views. As a matter of fact, they were only able to believe in this way by ignoring the witness of Scripture itself and by setting one part of it against another.

Reading the Bible as a unity – which is the only way an Anglican, or indeed any Christian can safely read it – it is evident that this commandment does not prohibit the making of images as such. If it does, then how is it that God quickly orders the violation of his own law when he decrees the fashion of the vestments of the priesthood, which include embroidered pomegranates? Or when he commands that the cover of the Ark have on it two golden cherubim? Or when he tells Moses to fashion a bronze serpent? The prohibition obviously does not refer to the use of images in God’s service, but to the making to ourselves – that is, for our own purposes – of anything to be reverenced for its own sake. When we do that, we are really worshiping ourselves in the works of our hands.

What this commandment forbids is, in a word, idolatry. Idolatry, to put it most simply, is giving to anyone or anything less than God the honor due to God alone. It is not an easily recognizable sin which involves only primitive, superstitious people and their totems, fetishes, and other religious artifacts. In fact, idolatry is the most subtle and persistent snare for every human being in every place, at all times, in all conditions of civilization.

One does not have to make and worship carved images or sacred stones or trees or animals to be an idolater. I am an idolater if I put at the center of my life anything which is other than – and therefore less than – the Lord God of Israel, who is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. If there is anything the loss of which would imperil my sense of identity or make me feel that my life is not worth living, anything that I am willing to lie or to steal or to kill to retain, I am an idolater and I stand under the judgment decreed in this commandment.

God has created us as composites of matter and spirit. He has pronounced matter good both in the days of Creation and pre-eminently by entering personally into it himself. We are not in our essence purely immaterial beings. He made us tangible bodies, and in these latter days – in the wake of the resurrection of his incarnate Son, who is the first-fruits of the resurrection – he has clearly indicated that the destiny of matter is not annihilation, but spiritualization – transfiguration –divinization. It is not our destiny to become forever-disembodied spirits sitting around on clouds plucking harps: We are meant to have real, spiritual bodies and to sing the praises of the Lord and of the Lamb in a new heaven and a new earth. “Spiritual” in the Christian vocabulary does not mean “less solid and real than ‘material’” – it means “more solid and real than any matter we now can experience.”

This being so, it makes no sense that God would command us to practice a purely immaterial and intellectual religion, and there is no scriptural evidence that he ever has done so. To be sure, as Jesus himself has told us, we are to seek to worship God “in spirit and in truth,” but this does not require us to become Quakers or Muslims or Buddhists. Indeed, it is through a sacramental religion that God will feed and nourish the whole person, for it is that kind of religion that he has fitted to his design for man.

Still, in our fallen condition there are serious risks for us associated with the use of material things, and we dare not minimize these risks. Material things can be used, as was the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, to inflame our selfishness and to pervert our lawful desire to fulfill our designed destiny – which is to be godly in God’s way – into an illicit desire to become “as gods” in our own way and on our own terms.

It is for this reason that we see that God, while honoring David for his desire to build a Temple, delays its building until the reign of David’s son, Solomon. Even then, the Lord makes it clear that, while he will “make his Name to dwell there,” the continuation of that Presence is conditional upon the faithfulness of his people. From the first, he makes it clear that if they fall into compromise and idolatry, he will allow the place to be destroyed, as indeed it was – twice. To those who think that their possession of the Lord’s Temple immunizes them against the consequences of their sin and protects their nation from death, he sends Jeremiah to cry, “The Lord says to you, ‘Do not trust in these deceptive words, “The Temple of the Lord, the Temple of the Lord, the Temple of the Lord!” Go to the place where my shrine stood in Shiloh and see what I did to it for your wickedness. Do you think that if I will spare you in spite of your wickedness just because you are in possession of this place? Surely I will not spare you: I will cast you out of my sight.” [cf. Jeremiah 7]

There is nothing so high, so noble, so beautiful, so worthwhile that it cannot become an idol, whether it be wealth or accomplishment or family or country or business or church. The reason for this is not that there is any badness in these things: Rather, the reason is the wickedness that lurks in our hearts. All these material things are good in themselves, but none of them is as good as is God. When forget that, we lose God. When we lose him, all these other things are lost as well. This is the fundamental meaning of God’s description of himself as a “jealous God.” It is not so much that he deprives us of these good things as that we are ultimately incapable of holding onto them unless we are living in and for him. We cannot keep what we grasp; we can only keep what we are willing to stop possessing; we can only have what we are given. If we seek heaven first, then we shall find it and get the world thrown in. If we would possess the world, we will lose both it and heaven.

This brings us to the second element of this commandment, which explicitly outlines the consequences both for its violation and its observance: The Lord will “visit the sins of the fathers upon the children, unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; and show mercy unto thousands in them that love me and keep my commandments.” Here, the Lord makes it clear that our misdeeds in the present will bring his judgment down not just upon us and not just in this time, but that they have the potential for poisoning the ground for future generations. None of us have to think very hard or very long or cast our thoughts very far to find examples of the truth of this in our personal, family, national, and ecclesiastical histories.

Idolatry is the sin that keeps on taking, whose consequences go down the years and can have an effect even on those who may not have overtly offended against the commandment themselves, but who have not placed themselves under the mercy and discipline of the Lord, which is the only way that these consequences can be stayed. The Lord is a jealous God, but he also will “show mercy unto thousands in them that love [him] and keep [his] commandments.”

The way – the only way – to access that mercy, and the grace to love God and to keep his commandments, is through him in whom mercy is shown unto thousands and thousands of thousands. Jesus Christ is the one – THE one – who has perfectly loved God and thus has perfectly kept his commandments. It him, the vicious cycle of the consequences of idolatry has been shattered and from his wounds made glorious has the healing tide of mercy – the Spirit, the Water, and the Blood – been unleashed. In that flood, death dies, and the fear of it. Through it all that which is good, true and beautiful finds its perfection. Of it, we who in humility, faith, thanksgiving and repentance receive it have here both a foretaste and a participation – a foretaste of heaven and a participation in him who is no idol, but the true image of God.

Therefore, “Confounded be all they that worship carved images, and that delight in vain gods: worship him, all ye gods. … Rejoice in the Lord, ye righteous; and give thanks for a remembrance of his holiness.” [Psalm 97:7, 12]
As Calvin observed, "the heart is an idol factory", and it is most true that we can make an idol of anything or anyone. This sermon is a good warning of this danger and its consequences.

TOPICS: Mainline Protestant

1 posted on 04/24/2006 2:55:39 PM PDT by sionnsar
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To: ahadams2; meandog; gogeo; Lord Washbourne; Calabash; axegrinder; AnalogReigns; Uriah_lost; ...
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2 posted on 04/24/2006 2:56:24 PM PDT by sionnsar (†† | Iran Azadi 2006 | SONY: 5yst3m 0wn3d - it's N0t Y0urs)
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