Sunday, May 26, 2013

Canadian Idol

Texts: Proverbs 8: 1-4, 22-31 (Wisdom calls); John 16: 12-15 (the Spirit of truth)

God is Love, Christians say. And what could be more simple, and yet at the same time more complex than Love?

Christians also say that God is One, which seems simple, and Three, which seems complex. The "three-ness" or Trinity of God is expressed by phrases such as Father, Son and Holy Ghost; God, Christ, and Spirit; or Source, Saviour, and Sustainer.

Today's short Gospel reading was probably assigned to Trinity Sunday because in it Jesus mentions the Spirit of Truth, which glorifies both Jesus and the Father -- Father, Son, and Spirit.

To complicate things further, another of today's reading -- the one from the Old Testament book "Proverbs" -- throws Wisdom into the mix. The passage says that Wisdom calls to us from the heights and the crossroads. She was created as the first of the Lord's acts and was the Lord's delight when he marked out the foundations of the earth.

So, who is this figure called Wisdom? Some Christian scholars connect Wisdom with the Holy Spirit, others with Christ. Well, whatever we think about this reading, it shows that ideas about God from ancient Israel can be as complex as those arrived at by Christians.

Finally, another of the complexities we confront when thinking about God are false gods, or idols. So on this Trinity Sunday -- with our Scripture readings and an awareness of both the simplicity and complexity of love in the background -- I focus on idols and idolatry . . .

Idol is word that has come back into circulation in the last 12 years because of the TV singing competition, American Idol, and its spin-offs.

"Canadian Idol," CTV's version,  ran for six seasons from 2003 until 2008. People here in Rockglen, of course, remember Season 4 best because hometown hero Tyler Lewis finished third. It must have been an exciting time.

Unfortunately, CTV cancelled the series after 2008. And now, I read that the American version of Idol has just finished its 12th season with much lower ratings. For everything there is a season, I guess.

The success of the Idol TV series has led to renewed use of the word "idol" in popular culture. "Idol" used to be found mostly in the Bible, as in the Ten Commandments. The first two commandments include the following: "You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol."

And yet, we do make idols: of celebrities, sports stars, the nation. Even church can become a false idol. But the good news is that within idolatry are impulses that can help us move beyond them to the Holy One and Holy Three who is the God of Love.

Worship involves the assigning of sacred value through ritual actions, and it seems to be a universal phenomenon. We all value something an as ultimate concern. In the church, we hope that our ultimate concern is the living God. Often, however, it is an idol.

Almost anything can become an idol. Young children are pretty much forced to idolize their parents because of their dependence on them. Soldiers would be hard pressed to obey the dangerous commands of their superiors if they didn't at least somewhat idolize their nation or empire.

Young people move beyond their families and into the world through a process of idealization and idolization. For some this means pursuing knowledge. For others it is adventure or pleasure. For yet others it is found in artistic pursuits.

Given how common and even necessary idols are, I am not surprised when I find this tendency in myself or in the church. Some of us worship our church buildings. Others of us seem to worship the Bible more than the God to which it points. But like any other idol, the seeds of a more mature faith are present there, I believe.

Worship -- even that of idols -- shows our need to move beyond our selves to something bigger. For instance, one of our common local idols is the Saskatchewan Roughriders. The devotion we show to the Riders reveals our longing to be part of an enthusiastic community, the value we assign to hard work and talent, and our wish to achieve great things together.

There is nothing wrong with everyday idols, I think, as long as we don't get stuck and never move beyond them to the God of Love who is truly worthy of being the object of our ultimate concern.

The Way of the Cross helps to lead us from idolatry to the Love known in God in Christ. When Jesus first meets his friends and followers, they see him as an idol. They believe that Jesus will be the next King of Israel who will lead it to military victory over its oppressors.

But Jesus, in his willingness to use non-violence to confront both the religious leaders of his nation and the Romans -- even to death on a cross -- opens his friends to something more wonderful than worldly success. Through his death and resurrection, Jesus shows us the power of Love, which comes to new life in the death of our illusions.

When our illusions in an idol die, new life can arise within the heart of God who is Love. The impulse to love lies deep within each of us. Christians often call this aspect of Love the Inner Christ. The love we feel for others forms a major part of our spiritual life. Christians often call this aspect of Love the Holy Spirit. The broad framework within which we seek love includes the cosmos, the culture, and our communities. Christians often call this ground of Love God the Father. Together they are Saviour, Sustainer and Source -- a Holy Trinity.

In worship and mission, we hope to know and show love. We wrestle with Scripture, we sing hymns, and we enter into times of prayerful listening in order to hear the still small voice of Love that can be heard inside every false god. We care for each other and work for peace with justice as a way to make our love real and to test it in the fires of family and community life. By the Grace of God's Spirit, we find new life in Christ, a life within the heart of the God who is Love.

Entering into new life in Christ does not make everything about God clear, of course. God is a Holy Mystery that will always remain beyond our understanding.

Love is often difficult, but it is worth everything to us; and so we give our heart to the God who is Love.

I am glad that the church and its theologians wrestle with difficult ideas such as the Trinity. I am glad that Scripture contains puzzling passages like today's reading from Proverbs with its mention of Wisdom. But the God who is Love will always remain partly unknown by mortals like us.

We don't need to "get it right." Over and over again, we may find ourselves puzzled by the mysteries of God and the Sacred. Over and over again, we may find ourselves worshipping idols instead of the God revealed to us in Christ.

Such "failure" is OK, however, since we trust that God in Christ through the power of the Spirit always brings us home. We will never understand everything about love or about the God who is Love. But with an unshakeable confidence, we know that God's love is our source, our calling, and our sure destiny.

Thanks be to God.


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