This is the sermon I did on September 15th. It focuses on idolatry, identity and how that relates to Christianity. Below you will find the audio of the sermon along with the written transcript
IDOLATRY - CHRISTIANITY AND IDENTITY - WHO ARE YOU?
Good morning. Today I am going to ask - who are you? Who are you, really?
We have heard the reading from Exodus 32
‘The Lord spoke to Moses, ‘Go down now, because your people whom you brought out of Egypt have apostatised. They have been quick to leave the way I marked out for them; they have made themselves a calf of molten metal and have worshipped it and offered it sacrifice. “Here is your God, Israel,” they have cried’
God was not happy at all.
Why? His people had made a calf of molten metal to worship. His people had committed Idolatry and had worshipped ‘things’ other than God
This was not an unusual occurrence - Idolatry occurs many times in the Bible. This very much angered God
We see in Exodus
“You shall have no other gods before me”
(Exodus 20:3 NIV)
Yet still the people worshipped idols.
The definition of idolatry is extreme admiration, love, or reverence for something or someone. Idolatry worship does not need to focus on a physical object, it can also be a person - it can in fact be anything. And involves worshipping ‘something’ more than God.
In Genesis 22 we see Abrahams worship of Isaac. He made his son into an Idol. He longed for his promised son and this wait made Isaac even more special in Abraham’s eyes. God asked Abrahim to sacrifice his much loved son Isaac so that Abraham could demonstrate that he trusted God completely and placed him above all else, even his own son. And of course Abraham passed the test… he was prepared to sacrifice his son. And thankfully he did not have to sacrifice Isaac.
Now that all happened a long time ago, and I don’t know about you but I don’t have any molten calves at home and don’t actually know anyone who does. Does that mean the end of Idolatry? Well no…
Society today has its’ own forms of molten calves. We worship money, careers, beauty, sporting achievement and our children.
Matthew 6:24 (NIV) states
“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.
And whilst Matthew uses money - this could equally be valid be it career, beauty and any of the many things we could worship.
So what do you worship? Is your love of God greater than anything else in your life? For many in society sadly this is not so
This brings me onto the title of this reflection - Who are you? You see there is a relationship between what we worship the most and our identity. What we worship the most, usually forms our identity.
Identity is something we all have, even if we are not aware of it. It is ‘who’ we are. It is the image we project to others, telling them ‘I am this - this is who I am’ and whom we know ourselves to be. It is the ‘who’ that others see us as. And it provides our self worth.
So who are you? What is your identity? Well it could be that you have a solid fixed identity as being a Christian and one of God’s Children. But that is not the same for everyone as we shall see.
Jesus knew who he was - and was keen for his Disciples to know who he was too.
In Matthew 16, Jesus asked his disciples ‘Who do the people say the Son of Man is?’. Peter replied correctly with ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’
Sociologist Anthony Giddens writes on identity in relation to late modernity. He highlights the shift from the fixed identities of earlier ages, formed from gender, class, family or locality - to fluid, unstable and reflexive identities of the modern age. Giddens cites many reasons for this such as globalisation and the breakdown of traditional structures, but will leave the reasons for another time.
Our ancestors knew who they were - they were given their identity. If their family were blacksmiths, then they would be a blacksmith and their identity would be as such. Nowadays, it is more likely for young people to be told to follow their own dreams and become who they want to be.
So how does this relate to you and I, Christianity and wider Society?
New York author and Pastor Timothy Keller talks about the problem of identities in today’s society. He points out how the shifting identities of today are risky and also have to be achieved. (thegospelcoalition.org accessed 23 July 2019)
Non-Christian identities are indeed risky, they need to be earnt and achieved and can be taken away at any time. What happens to the lady who pins her identity on her outward beauty when she ages? Or the person whose identity is based on money if they lose it all? Modern identities are always at risk and subject to others approval and circumstances beyond that person’s control.
Let’s look at John the banker. He went to university and once he had his degree he gained his dream job in a bank. He worked hard, obeyed all the rules, was promoted and at age 40 had achieved a top position with his bank. When he attended social functions he was ‘John from the Bank’ - and he enjoyed being known for that - it made him feel good. His wife and children however missed him. Late nights at the bank, weekend working - John’s career was everything to him. He did not need to work as hard but he enjoyed his work and wanted to go higher and higher in his career.
John’s identity is clearly someone who is a ‘successful banker’, and this is more important than anything to him. His Idol. He seems himself as a successful banker and others see him as such. He gains his self worth from this.
Sadly during the banking crisis he loses his job. John feels destroyed. Not only has he lost the most important thing to him, he has also lost his identity. And due to his neglect of his family, he does not even have a close relationship with them anymore. The whole of him was tied up to him being a banker. Along with his identity he has lost his self worth. And due to disordered priorities he has a poor relationship with his family.
John as we can see is destroyed. Now let’s consider the situation if John had been a Christian and had his identity in God. It could be argued that instead of feeling ‘destroyed’ he would be ‘disappointed’. It could also be argued that he may not have neglected his family as he would not have felt the need to work extra hours.
In this fictional story you can substitute someone who spends hours in the gym trying to achieve the perfect body, the lady obsessed with her beauty. And how often have you heard of ex-footballers finding it hard to settle down to normal life after being a ‘footballer’?
On a personal note it has seemed that I have searched for my identity all my life - that is until I became a Christian last year. My identity has changed frequently. In my late teens and my twenties my life was ‘skiing’ - that was the most important thing in my life. But in my late twenties I thought, I can’t do this forever and returned to the UK. It was awful - I could not settle - I had lost my identity. However it wasn’t long before I gained new ones - career, mother, student, ‘weight loss’, business woman and many more. It sure got confusing at times…. I would wake up in the morning and have to remember which identity I had decided to adopt of late…
And then I became a Christian - and my identity finally was a perfect ‘fit’ I am no longer searching for who I am - I know who I am - I am one of God’s Children - and I love it!
You see, as Christians, we worship God above all else. We are given our identity - we don’t even need to earn it - it is given freely through Faith. Our identity can never be taken away from us and is not subject to other’s approval. No risk.. And this is the identity I found
This does not mean we have to change our enjoyment of performing well at our jobs, looking our best, or any other parts of our lives we enjoy or are important to us. But we can do this without the permanent fear of having our identity taken away.
But we do have to be careful as Christians. We must be careful not to get confused with our Christian identities. It is very easy for our identities to shift from worshipping God to worshipping what we do in Church. Everyone, from Priests to Church Treasurers must ensure that their identity is not formed around their ‘function’ rather than the worship of God
To sum up we can see that the Golden Molten Calf is alive and well in today’s society. However, we, as Christians are lucky. We can still enjoy our lives, careers and interests. In fact we need not love them less, but we need to love God more. With God we can have an identity that is fixed and risk free. We can love God and know he will always be with us
So who are you? I am a Christian and one of God’s children - that is who I am and this cannot be taken away. My identity is fixed and it is wonderful!
Let us Pray
Dear Lord, thank you
Thank you for your love
Thank you for allowing us to love you
Please help us with our faith
To never forget what Jesus did for us on the Cross
To never forget who we are
To keep you in our hearts
Giddens (1991) Modernity and Self Identity, Stanford University Press
https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justin-taylor/tim-keller-our-identity-the-christian-alternative-to-late-modernitys-story/( accessed 23 July 2019)
I did my first every Sermon on 16 June 2019. Scary or what! But have to say I loved it - I loved writing it - I loved delivering it in Church. Below is both the audio (not all that good - does improve...) and the written transcript.
Hi……. Well this is my first ever Reflection…. Oh and guess what… it is Trinity Sunday… which I have heard is the Sunday people try to avoid doing and pass to whoever they can… I am that ‘whoever they can’ person!….
I have to say this is the hardest thing I have ever had to write - full respect to Fr. Simon who produces two a week and to Wendy and others who undertake them regularly. I would like to thank Yvonne for her valuable advice and for stopping me reading my first attempt which was an essay rather than a Reflection….
I would also like to thank you all for welcoming me to St Anne’s. As you know I am quite a newbie to this - and I have to say it has changed my life in every way. Every day I thank Jesus for bringing me to him.
As you have probably gathered, with today being Trinity Sunday I am going to talk about the Trinity….. And I actually feel so privileged to be given the opportunity to talk about such a wonderful subject - the heart of Christianity - the three Persons of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Whilst doing my research I read that the most important thing you can do when writing a Reflection is to Pray. Pray before you start, Pray during, and Pray once written. So I did a lot of Praying. But did the words just come flowing? No not at all! … but I did manage to write something. I think this could be how God works in these situations. He does not hand things to us on a plate, rather he makes us work but with a guiding hand.
Anyhow here is my attempt so please bear with me!
Humanity has met and known God in three different forms:
God the Father: revealed by the Old Testament to be Creator, Lord, Father and Judge.
God the Son: who lived on earth amongst us
God the Holy Spirit: who fills us with new life and power
But what and who are the Trinity exactly? There are many analogies describing the relationship between the three Holy Persons, but none seem to really get to the heart of the true relationship between the three parts and the one whole.
How could the Father, Son and Holy Spirit each be God without there being either three Gods or only one person? We have:
Exactly one God
Three really distinct Persons - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
And each of the Persons is God
Mathematically and logically this does not work so perhaps this is beyond our human understanding. A mystery…..
Of course God exists in a different realm to ourselves - one without time or space…. So there are things beyond our comprehension - and perhaps the Trinity is one of those things...
But perhaps God also has a good reason for the Trinity being a mystery
If we had a complete understanding of God and the Trinity, could humanity perhaps adopt the wrong idea of God, for example in terms of being a patriarchal or hierarchical God?
And of course it provides a model for human relationships, both as individuals and in community
So what can we take from the relationship between God, the Son and the Holy Spirit?
In the ikon of the Holy Trinity by Rublev, the three persons continually gaze at each other, a circle of love, a divine dance.
Throughout the pages of the New Testament we see a respectful, selfless, loving relationship. The Father displays His Son as the pre-eminent one, the Son glorifies the Father, the Spirit empowers the Son in his human incarnation and the Son gives the Spirit to his followers.
A relationship of mutual love and respect.
Our reading today of Romans 5 contains such beauty, and shows the ways in which God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit interact with one another and act on behalf of us.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, by faith we are judged righteous and at peace with God, since it is by faith and through Jesus that we have entered this state of grace in which we can boast about looking forward to God’s glory ……. And verse 5 continues with the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit which has been given us.
What beautiful words and what comfort this brings to us all. Jesus was crucified to give us peace with God. Peace with God is offered to us all - and what do we have to do to have this peace?
Do we have to be perfect people?
Do we have to do special acts?
No …… all we have to do is have faith in Jesus Christ and we have peace with God
A state of Grace with the promise of salvation in Gods’ Glory
But does that mean we are free to do anything we like regardless of the consequences?
No not at all - this is not what happens when we are in a state of Grace. Grace is the key to this. Filled with the Holy Spirit and Grace all we want to do is please God - voluntarily. We have been given God’s gracious gift of salvation through Jesus and we surely want to please Him. In Romans 6:15 Paul says we are not ‘under law’ but ‘under grace’
And perhaps today is a good time to remind ourselves of Jesus’ reply to the Scribe in Mark 12 when asked which commandment is the most important of all. Jesus replied:
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.”
Can we do this? I am certain we love God with all our souls, minds and strength. And loving our neighbours as ourselves is fine for those neighbours who we like.
But what about those neighbours who act against us or we just can’t see eye to eye with? A bit harder - but remember Grace and the Holy Spirit will help us.
Personally I have found that forgiveness a great asset. When others hurt me, once I forgive them the hurt eases. Perhaps this is the work of the Holy Spirit in helping us to forgive and thus able to obey the commandment to ‘Love thy neighbour as yourself’
Grace.. What a wonderful word… and such a wonderful feeling to know that whatever happens in our lives we are always in a state of Grace with God.
Our lives are full of good and bad times, and all things in between. When I have bad times I have a ‘time out’ and just spend a minute thinking of God and the Trinity and what that means to me. It may not change the bad times but it changes me and how I feel.
On a different note, as well as it being Trinity Sunday it is also Fathers’ Day today. So a huge Happy Fathers Day to all Fathers
Whilst not a Christian festival as such, I hope you will agree that Fathers, and indeed all those who take on the duties of being a Father need to be celebrated for the role they play in life - in nurturing and providing role models for future generations
And whilst women had their role on D-Day - with the recent 75th Anniversary of the D-Day landings perhaps in addition to giving thanks to our own fathers - we can also give thanks and prayers to those fathers who lost their lives on D-Day - along with those who were denied the chance of ever becoming fathers in the future.
And perhaps whilst war and God are not a natural companion, I believe that if we look at the relationship between all those who took part in D-Day, we can see such love and respect for one another. God bless all of them,
Thank you for listening to me today and have a super Sunday. God Bless you all.
Strange Week - Well my anticipated daily journal has been anything but. 5 days later and we are at Friday. Every day I have been ‘meaning’ to write - even opened this file, but alas no writing took place. Don’t like to make excuses but it has not been a good week - daughter Sophie it would seem has broken her knee - her tibia and fibula too, and has to have an operation next week, which makes me a very scared mama! There has been much praying and I have to say God is helping me with my worry. If only Sophie would accept the Lord, but she may one day.
Theologically speaking, I have been wondering about life on other planets. Like, what impact would that have in terms of Christianity? I kind of knew that it would not affect whether God exists or not, but was wondering on the implications. Anyhow my wonderful Minister friend Janet explained it in terms of ‘if a mum has more than one child, it doesn't affect the others.’ and also ‘if there is life elsewhere, there is still only one God who cherishes all life and interacts with those who can have a relationship with him.’ That really makes sense to me.
Today I have started to think what surrounds all the universes. Like if we are still expanding after the big bang, what are we expanding into? I am thinking God must be there too.
So that is it for today in mine and my daughter traumatic week, which will be even more traumatic next week. However I am a Christian, I have the wonderful support of God.
Sunday 8 September 2019 - Reflection of Day One of Foundations in Christian Ministry Course at Marjons - Day one completed. My thoughts are wow what a lot of walking and where was the water.. (oh why didn’t I bring a bottle of water with me…). To get the walking bit out of the way - a few months ago I would not have been able to do it. Losing a bit of weight enabled me to be ‘normal’ just like everyone else.
So Ruth and I arrived at the same time as one of the Vicars and followed him… But why did I decide at that time to Blaspheme? A very mild word - but all the same, not the best way to start. A hang over from my non-Christian days.. But have to say I am getting so much better - this rarely happens now… but yes I choose my moments!
We arrived at the Chapel and then there was noise. Lots of noise… Christian noise and whilst it was somewhat loud it was a happy, friendly, excited noise. A noise of people who belonged - joyful at being amongst each other.
Time for Worship and then to formal classroom based lectures. There was a sense of nervousness and people sussing each other out.. At least I was. It was like entering the unknown. A year ago I was not a Christian, and now I was with people who more than likely had been Christians all their lives, or at least many years. I have worked like crazy during the last 11 months but will I be totally out of my depth?
I was pleasantly surprised at the Theology lecture, I guess because I have been focusing on this and philosophy in my studies at home. However the Bible lecture was hard. I really felt I lacked the in-depth knowledge of the Old Testament. I also know that whilst I feel a familiarity with the Gospels, I really need to learn more about the other books of the New Testament.
I found everyone on the course to be lovely and there was a mixed age range. The organisers and lecturers did everything they could to put everyone at their ease. And everyone seemed very educated…
What would I do differently? Well I felt I had to try to answer questions - maybe this is because I feel insecure in my ability. I need to realise that I don’t need to do this. My ability won’t change just because I answer questions. Also I will dress more as ‘me’. I am a very casual dresser unfortunately and what I wore whilst to others would be casual, to me it was smart - and I did not feel comfortable as it was not ‘me’. So going to go down a notch in terms of casual (but not a scruff..) I will also bring water with me!
A reflection on my reflection. For next time I must write more from my heart. I think my Christianity will develop and maybe change into directions I never imagined. I think by writing it really helps to get to the heart of how we feel and where we should go and I am hoping by regularly writing that this will happen. Often it is hard to see the wood for the trees.