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Sermon for 21 February 2016


The bible isn’t known for its jokes. It’s full of wisdom, and truth, but it’s not a very funny book.

I tried really hard to find some gags in the bible - I’ve looked through learned books and I’ve trawled the internet, but there just aren’t that many. There are some quite funny ones about the bible, but the bible itself isn’t that funny.

There is a good bit of taunting though. You might have come across rap battles - where two people rap in turn, each trying to humiliate the other - this is a a ‘boast battle’ between 2 Celtic warriors (courtesy of the brilliant Horrible Histories)

In the book of Kings, the prophet Elijah has a go at the same kind of thing. He is sitting by, watching the priests of the god Baal - a local god of the region - as they try to get Baal to respond to their prayers and light the fire underneath their sacrifices. 

The story says this:

Elijah started making fun of them: "Pray louder! He is a god! Maybe he is day-dreaming or relieving himself, or perhaps he's gone off on a trip! Or maybe he's sleeping, and you've got to wake him up!”

Your Baal doesn’t seem to be listening, Elijah mocks them. Maybe he’s gone on holiday, or maybe he’s in the toilet and can’t hear you (that’s probably the best gag in the bible by the way). You, my friends,  are worshipping a statue and statues can’t start fires. Or provide love. Or sort out the problems of the world. Or do anything at all. Because your god is just a lump of metal. 

And the bible is dead serious about who we worship. Over and over again people are warned about what they worship. 

Because to worship something is to give it ultimate value, and to give it authority over your life; to say that this or that god has the right to shape the way that you see the world, and the way that you make decisions. 

The bible warns us in fact, that we become what we worship. The thing that you think is most important is what you will start to turn into.

You know the phrase ‘you are what you eat’ - so if you eat junk food, your body will start to show the signs of it. What you eat very literally shapes you. 

The bible isn’t so concerned about becoming what you eat, but it is very concerned about you becoming what you worship. This is Psalm 115* - (I won’t do the rap voice, but you can imagine it)

Our God is in the heavens,

    and he does as he wishes.

Their idols are merely things of silver and gold,

    shaped by human hands.

They have mouths but cannot speak,

    and eyes but cannot see.

They have ears but cannot hear,

    and noses but cannot smell.

They have hands but cannot feel,

    and feet but cannot walk,

    and throats but cannot make a sound.

And those who make idols are just like them,

    as are all who trust in them.

Those who worship idols will become like idols. You become what you worship.

If you’ve read or seen the Lord of the Rings, you’ll know Gollum. By the time we meet him, he has become an evil character, totally obsessed by the ring, which he calls ‘his precious’. The ring is under the control of Sauron, the Lord of evil and darkness. Gollum found the ring when he was a young man, and fell under its power. Over the years it has shaped him more and more, until there is nothing left of the original young man. 

The bible says that’s what happens to us all - not in such a dramatic way - but we become like the things that we worship. So be very, very careful what you worship, because it will gain control over you.

Back in the old days there were loads of gods around. Think of the Romans and Greeks who had gods for everything - a god of love, a god of war, a god of farming, a god of the sea - you name it, they had a god for it.

We might think we’re beyond that now, that we don’t believe that kind of thing - we know better than that. But things don’t have to have the name ‘god’ for them to be a god. We might worship money, or celebrity, or our work, or the need for success, or our nation, or our family life - or any number of other things. Anything that we think is the most important thing, anything we let shape the way we do things, is a god. And we become like the thing we worship.

So if you worship money, if you give your life to making more and more money, you might well become more comfortable - but you won’t become more generous.

And if you worship your career, and give everything to getting to the top, you might well be successful, but you won’t become more loving.

And if you worship football - which let’s face it, has a good claim to be the national religion at the moment - you might well develop an amazing Cruyff turn, but you won’t make the world a fairer place. 

There is, says the bible, only one God who will not enslave you. Only one God who wants us to serve him, not in order to diminish us, but in order to set us free. That’s why, when God gives Moses the Ten Commandments, the first thing He says is I am the Lord your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery.  You must not have any other god but me.

St Augustine, a great teacher of the early church, knew this truth - he had a pretty wild time as a young man, deeply involved in the third century equivalent of sex, drugs and rock and roll. But there came a point when God met him and changed him, and he wrote this prayer: help us so to know you that we may truly love you; so to love you that we may fully serve you, whom to serve is perfect freedom.

Whom to serve is perfect freedom.

There’s only one God who wants us to be free. The God who created us, saves us and walks with us.

And that’s why we’re here this morning. That’s one of the reasons we come to church - to worship God. The only God who wants us to be free. And we worship in different ways, but above all when we sing. We sing to say to God - you are the one that we acknowledge as being worthy of our worship and our praise. And every time we say that to God, we are also turning away the other gods that claim our allegiance - whatever those are for you. We’re turning our voices and our very lives towards the One true God, and away from all the little gods that want to claim us.

But we don’t come here to sing songs and praise God for an hour, before returning to the world of gods out there unchanged. We worship God here, so that we can continue to worship him wherever we are. 

And the passage that Caspar read earlier*, from Paul’s letter to the Romans, reminds us of that - it reminds us that we are to live as a ‘living sacrifice’ every minute of every day - at school, at work, at home, out in the fields, on the train, on the bus - wherever we go, whatever we do.  God doesn’t want us to sing songs in church and then to go on and worship the other gods that claim our allegiance. He wants us to worship him with our whole lives. 

Be very, very careful about what you worship. There are a thousand gods who would have you follow them. There is only One God who wants you to be free. Worship Him. Sing praise to him. Give him the glory.

Posted: 21/02/2016 at 20:58
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