Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Challenge of Allegiance - September 5, 2010

Meet the Challenge: The Disciple’s Way

The Challenge of Allegiance

When I was in seminary I had a job working for an interior design firm in the Butchertown community of Louisville. There was another seminary student who worked there as well. The owners of the business lived above their store and as they were preparing to travel they asked the other student to stay in their apartment and keep an eye on everything. They had a beautiful apartment and were very particular about it, so they gave him strict instructions – no visitors. So what does he do? He decides to have a party in their apartment, a night or two before they were to arrive back in town. He invites all these people and they are having a grand time. And guess what happened. The couple came home early. Without warning. They open the door and walk into the middle of this big party in their home. It did not work out well for my coworker, but I was suddenly given the better jobs.

Our Scripture passage today comes from a famous event that took place while Moses is on the mountain receiving the law from God. While he is away, the Hebrew people fear he is not coming back so they approach Aaron and ask him to make a god that they might worship. Aaron instructs the people to bring him gold and from that gold he fashions the golden calf and declares there will be a big celebration the following day. The people throw a big party. There is dancing, and singing, and feasting, and into the middle of this big party enters Moses. He and Joshua are coming down the mountain, hear the noise, and Joshua says there is the sound of war in the camp (32:17). Moses listens and realizes it is something far different. Moses storms into the camp and in his anger at what he sees throws down the stone tablets, destroying them, burns the golden calf, grinds it into powder, scatters it on the water, and has the people drink the water.

This morning, continuing on with our series Meet the Challenge: The Disciple’s Way, we are looking at The Challenge of Allegiance. Why did the Hebrew people so quickly abandon their allegiance to God and ask Aaron to create for them a new god? What was it about this group of people? As we read the story of the Exodus we find the Hebrews were such a fickle group of people. They were stubborn, they were fearful, they struggled to be faithful, they complained about their lot in life, and they complained about their leaders, turning on them at the drop of a hat. Do you know who they remind me of? Us! Some things never change – human nature certainly doesn’t.

One thing that doesn’t change about human nature is the desire to fashion our own gods. What the Hebrew people did in asking Aaron to fashion them a god is not different from what people have always done and continue to do – create God in their own likeness and in accordance with their own desire.

There are many versions of God that humanity has created. Here are a few –

The God who loves me but not you.

This is a God very much designed and perpetuated by some churches and some church people. It says God loves us because we are so good, and he doesn’t love you because you are not good, or at least not as good as we want you to be or in the way we want you to be or in comparison to us. This is a God who, it is claimed by some religious people, can’t hear the prayers of certain groups or won’t bless certain groups, or doesn’t like certain groups. This is the God of the Pharisee who, as he prayed by the tax collector said God, I thank you that I am not like other men – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get (Luke 18:11-12).

It is very, very presumptuous when people start deciding who God should love and who God does love. It is, I would say, the height of arrogance to try to say who God should love and does love.

The Partisan God.

There are some variations that go along with the partisan God, but it goes generally like this – I don’t have a political opinion; I have God’s political opinion. And amazingly, God’s opinion just happens to line up with that person’s political point of view.

The Bible is a very political, but it’s political in a different way from how we often think of politics. God is political most often in the Bible by way of justice. In the Old Testament, for example, the prophets often bring a message of God’s displeasure with the financial and social inequities that were present in the world then and still exist today. The prophets decried the way that so many people, especially the poor, were kept in financial bondage as a way of benefitting some people. Some things don’t change, do they?

In the New Testament, the Triumphal Entry was an extremely political act. Pilate would have had his own triumphal entry into Jerusalem as a way of warning people not to think of revolt, and one of the messages of the entrance of Jesus was to reject political might.

When Jesus was asked about paying taxes to Caesar it was an attempt by some of his opponents to draw him into a very partisan political controversy of the day (Matthew 22:15-22). Jesus raised the discussion to a very different level, refusing to take a partisan stand and instead taking an approach that dealt with one of the much deeper issues.

The Good-Buddy God.

This God is one that is a me and God, we’re tight. We’re just like this. He hangs out with me and goes fishing with me or golfing with me. We just pal around and kick back together.

One of the messages of Jesus was that God is very intimate with us, to the point that he called God Abba, which is Aramaic for daddy. It was considered irreverent to refer to God in such a familiar and casual way, but Jesus was making the point that God is not distant and far off, but close and accessible.

The mistake of the good-buddy God is assuming that God is just a casual friend that would never ask anything of us. The Scriptures are very clear that God is very close to us, but he is also not hesitant to challenge us in very significant ways. He asked the rich young man to sell all of his possessions and give the proceeds to the poor (Mark 10:17-22). He asks us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:45-48).

The God of blessing.

The prosperity gospel, the teaching that combines religious themes with materialism, is a blight on faith, I believe. But the God of blessing is not just about the prosperity gospel; it’s about the idea of a narrow blessing – I want God to bless me, to bless my family, maybe some friends and few others, and well, I won’t worry about everybody else.

This God was expressed in a piece I read recently, where a journalist expressed their feeling about being abandoned by God when Hurricane Katrina destroyed her family home. That was, indeed, very tragic. But the problem was God was okay as long as that person was not experiencing any difficulty, but when tragedy came home to her, she abandoned her faith.

Our prayer should not be that God blesses us, but that God blesses everyone. We should not seek a narrow blessing for just a few people, or just a region, or just a country, but for all people.

It is not possible to label God with just a few characteristics. God is beyond what we can imagine and what we are capable of fully understanding. Whatever we grasp of God, it is only a small part of who he is. Far too often we create a God that suits our lives and our interests. Far too often churches seek to bring God down to nothing more than a list of propositional truths, to a series of doctrines or dogmas, to little more than a belief system constructed to enforce their own opinions and point of view. The story of God in the Scriptures is that of experience.

God, the Scriptures tell us, is the God who walks with us. God is the one who invited Abraham to leave his homeland and follow him. God is the one who asked Moses to led his people from captivity and to follow him through the wilderness. God is the one who asked the disciples to follow him. This means God is experiential – he is with us and walks with us and asks us to walk with him.

This is the area, I believe, where we must connect people to God – in the realm of experience. Why is it that on a trip to All Peoples Christian Center that the youth really come alive? They worked to raise money, gave up a week of their time, slept in less than ideal conditions, but loved it. It’s because they were walking in the spirit of God by giving of their lives to others; it was experiential. We are not created just to give assent to a list of beliefs; we are created for a living, experiential relationship where we learn about God through walking with him and experiencing him during that walk.

At our church we don’t ask people to simply memorize a list of doctrines or beliefs. We don’t asking people to adopt a series of political points of view or dogmatic statements. We are inviting people to walk with God.

We invite you to walk with us.

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