Lent 3C

10I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea,2and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3and all ate the same spiritual food, 4and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ.5Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness.

6Now these things occurred as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil as they did. 7Do not become idolaters as some of them did; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and they rose up to play.” 8We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. 9We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did, and were destroyed by serpents. 10And do not complain as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer.11These things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come.12So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall. 13No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it. 14Therefore, my dear friends, flee from the worship of idols.

15I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. 16The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ?17Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.

King Arthur and his knights have made it to the entrance of the cave of Caerbannog. The wizard Tim has warned them that the most foul, cruel, and bad-tempered rodent you ever set eyes on” is guarding the entrance to the cave. Out hops a small white bunny from the cave entrance. Arthur and his faithful companions laugh at the bunny. Tim again warns them, “Look, that rabbit’s got a vicious streak a mile wide! It’s a killer!” The Knights of the Round Table charge towards the cave entrance and attack that cute white bunny. The rabbit proceeds to viciously attack the knights. Suddenly several knights are wounded and down. King Arthur shouts “RUN AWAY! RUN AWAY!” And the retreat from the cave entrance and vicious attacks of the hare. A classic scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Run Away! Run Away! How many of us have ever run away? How many of us have retreated? Maybe not a vicious attacking rabbit, but problems? There are times to stay and deal with a challenge and there are times to flee. We find the Apostle Paul dealing with this concern in Corinth.  Therefore, my dear friends, flee from the worship of idols. Paul is writing to a community struggling with various forms of gods and worship. Isn’t that also our world, today?

Paul is helping this small body of Christ deal with all the idols and cultural deities that surround them. He is quick to acknowledge that eating food offered to idols is not a problem. He’s already told the believers at Corinth that, if you buy that meat at the temple market or if you’re served it socially at someone’s home, fine. It’s just meat. He has also said that the idols themselves, made of wood, clay, stone or metal, have no power in and of themselves. They are false, phony, human creations. But to engage in an environment of worship, going into the temple and eating of that meat, in the pagan worship environment is tremendously seductive. You can get caught up in a lifestyle that will self-destruct.

You and I might say, “I’ve never dreamed in being involved in a pagan feast or bowing down to an idol?” We simply don’t understand what idolatry is. Idolatry involves taking something that is created and putting it in the place of the Creator. The apostle Paul grapples with this is Romans, describing our human tendency to exchange the truth about God for a lie and worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator (Romans 1:25).

Idolatry is creature worship. It comes in various forms.

Materialism can be idolatry.

This is plenty prevalent in our society, isn’t it? Think how much time and money we spend on clothes, houses, cars and investments. Thank God for all of these. However, when any one begins to preoccupy you and become the focus of your attention, it becomes an idol.

Success can be idolatry.

People driven to be successful and to always win aren’t necessarily materialists. It’s the competition they love. Winning is the name of the game. Donald Trump becomes the personification of it in our day. We in the church can stumble into this form of idolatry before our budgets, program, staff and celebrity in the community. After all, being the biggest and the best is what it’s all about, isn’t it?

Over-attention to self can be idolatry.

When life becomes “all about me,” I have become my own god. My pleasure, my physical appearance, my entertainment, my retirement, my sports become all-important.

Relationships can be idolatry.

How sad it is to see a person driven by romance. We are looking for the perfect partner. That quest becomes the process of worship, replacing the quest after right relationship with God. We find our spouse, and we put that person on a pedestal. And then along comes a child, and we worship him or her. Grandchildren take the place of God in our life. All of these wonderful, good, seen subordinate to our relationship with God.

Religion can be idolatry.

Jesus struggled with the Pharisees whose idol was religious rules. That’s what they worshiped. Hurting people would be left by the side of the road, as they went to their next religious meeting. People didn’t matter. It was the religious externals that counted.

I would never consider bowing down before a big Buddha and worshiping that man-made object. I can say that with such finality. However, I must ask myself if I’m really being honest with myself. If I had lived in an environment in which the majority of my friends were bowing down before the big Buddha, I have to believe that I would be under tremendous temptation to join them. The peer pressure alone makes its impact. After all, I would have to do business in that community. My family’s economic and social well-being would be based on it. There very well could be the “Buddhist Yellow Pages.” I’d certainly want to be listed as someone acceptable with whom to do business. There are not only the pragmatics of the situation that would have impacted me. I could find myself giving my soul over to the big Buddha in the belief that man-made objects stand as a representation of something much more powerful, a spiritual presence behind it.

Let me ask you, what is your idol?

Is there any creature that takes the place of God?

Is it a family member?

A husband, a wife, a child?

Is it the power by which we seek to control and dominate?

Is it money? We all need it, don’t we? Do we let it become an end in itself? If I have to choose between money and my family, which choice would I make?

Is it sports or other forms of recreation that become my reason for living? Television can become an idol, as I organize my life around the TV schedule and derive my values and perceptions of reality from the tube.

Is my nation my idol? “I’m an American and proud of it.”

Even my denomination and all it stands for can become my idol. “I am a Presbyterian.”

Or am I a disciple of Jesus Christ, yearning to get to know Him better, to love and serve Him faithfully?

Am I prepared to put Him front and center and let all these other real and important entities in my life cluster underneath my worship and love of the Savior?

Do you see why we are called to flee idol worship?

Do you see why the decision for Jesus Christ is so important?

Do you see why we need to make a clear distinction between the Creator and the creature?

Do you hear the warning?

Are you prepared to think and pray about it?

Commentary provided by Susan Hedahl, Shively Smith, Scott Hoezee and John A. Huffman, Jr.