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)