One God Among Many
September 13, 2015
Quite a number of years ago, I was invited to talk with a group of children on Halloween who were involved in a church kindergarten program. The topic I was given for that Halloween conversation was “God and the boogeyman”. To say that I spent more time thinking and preparing for that five minute conversation than I do for some Sunday sermons isn’t that much of an exaggeration.
Ultimately I chose to take a fake spider that I named Sam along with me as a bit of an object lesson. I began by talking with the boys and girls about the fact that Sam looked spooky, ferocious, scary and threatening. But the truth was that at the end of the day, those initial natural reactions and perceptions that we all had about Sam were wrong for one simple reason – Sam wasn’t real. As a result he really didn’t have any power at all. In fact, the only power that old Sam had was the power that we chose to give to him.
My ultimate point with the children was that for people who believe in God and who also believe that God loves us and wants what’s best for us, Halloween is a day when we can dress up in scary and spooky outfits while laughing and having a good time. We can do this because ultimately we know that the only real being who has the kind of power that we sometimes want to give to things that say boo or who go bump in the night is God. What we have to remember is that goblins and ghouls don’t have that kind of power because like Sam they are not real.
In the end, I don’t know how much those children got out of what I had to say that day or how much other children have received when I have given the same basic thoughts with other similar aged groups in years since as Halloween has neared, but, I know what a good reminder that lesson is to me and to must of us as adults still today. In life, we are prone to give authority, life altering significance and ultimately power to things and to figures that don’t deserve them at all. In fact, at times, the authority and power that we give them over our lives is a power that only belongs to God and to God alone. They really don’t have such a power in and of themselves, the only have it because we have chosen to give it to them.
This truth was brought to the forefront of my mind this week in reflecting on insights for the Bible scholar William Barclay in light of our commandment for today – the first and foremost command to worship God as the one and only god.
What Barclay points out is that reaching the point of affirming this command was a real journey for the Israelites. That is to say that this was not an easy, quick or simple process for them. As many of you know, Israel was really breaking away from the rest of the civilized world at the time by embracing the belief in only one God rather than the belief in many gods, which again was the stance and perspective of virtually every other culture at the time. But, what we have lost almost all sight of is the fact that the Israelite journey from many gods to one God had an in between stage. In that in-between ground the Israelites embraced the God of the scriptures as their one and only God while at the same time giving power and significance to the gods of other cultures. In other words, they embraced Yahweh or The Lord as their God that they would worship without going so far as to deny the power or importance of other gods that were worshipped by other people groups and cultures around them. In essence, they were ready to say that they had chosen the God of Israel as their God, but just in case, they were not ready to say this was the only god. In fact, you see this lived out in several Old Testament passages where rulers of Israel married someone of another culture while bring their little gods along two. They may not have been Yahweh, the God of Israel but it was still okay to give them some degree of devotion, admiration and authority.
Moving from this middle place to the ultimate goal of the first commandment that God was not only the most powerful god but the only God became a real hurdle for the Israelites to get over.
This morning I want to suggest that it remains a daunting task for most of us too. We too struggle with moving from a faith with one major God accompanied by many lesser gods to a faith where there is only one God and one God alone with power and authority. We too live in that “just in case” land, where we are not quite ready to say that these other things and figures in our life have no power at all.
Sure, most all of us in this room say that we have only one God and by and large I think there is a real truth in our claims, but at the same time, we continue to acknowledge and to bow down to many lesser gods who we give control and authority over our lives – lesser gods to whom we have given power that only belongs to the one true God. And, lest we think differently, it is important to also affirm that like my stuffed friend Sam, this power and control is a power that we ourselves have given to them, they do not possess it themselves.
Think about it from the perspective of one of our favorite childhood stories and movies, The Wizard of Oz. In the story, what we ultimately learn is that the Wizard wasn’t a wizard at all. Sure, he could make all kinds of sounds, smoke, images and strange voices, but, ultimately when the curtain was pulled back, all that existed was a middle aged huckster from Omaha, Nebraska. In truth, he had landed in the land in a hot air balloon and had simply been able to fool people because he came in a strange contraption from the sky and knew a few good tricks. In truth, the only power he had was what the people gave him, he had none of his own.
Again, we know this to be true but we struggle to get beyond it. Yet, if we can, it can be one of the most liberating aspects of our life. It we can get beyond it, it will be to our huge benefit.
Our health, our finances, our success, the success of our children, who is in charge in Washington, our ongoing quest for happiness and joy, our causes, our concerns, our anger – all of these and many others for a time or for a long time become the other gods in our lives. No we would never say that God has been usurped from the throne and yet we quickly secede a secondary power to these things and give them control over us, our lives, our energies, our time and our very soul. We may not say that they are our primary God but we have to admit that they have control and power over our lives in ways that quite frankly can only be termed as detrimental.
Why? Because they are all frauds, like the small g gods that Israel could not get beyond, they’ll all let us down, they’ll all fail, we will all one day peer behind the curtain and learn that they were nothing but frauds and that the only power that they had was power that we gave to them.
No other Gods – the first and greatest command. The command that most frees us and liberates us as we embrace not many gods but one God, one God and one God alone.
I love the image out of the local firehouse in Livermore, California. Livermore is a small community in Northern California that had an interesting claim to fame. It is home to the oldest continuously burning lightbulb in the world. Known as the centennial light, it’s been burning almost nonstop in the firehouse there since 1901. That’s right 1901. It’s creator was actually competitor with Thomas Edison!
Today, the light is so old and so famous that people come from all over the world to see it. In fact, the light bulb has its own website where you can check in at anytime and make sure it’s still burning. And, lest you wonder, I did so yesterday morning because my sermon would certainly loose a little of its umpf if the bulb had finally shot!! (Centennial bulb.org)
As wonderful as the centennial bulb is and as much if a symbol of engineering and longevity as it is, it has a problem. Like all man mad things, like all manmade gods, it will eventually go out. It will eventually loose it’s power. In the end, only one God exists, in the end only one God has a power not of human making. Is this the God you have given your life and soul to? Is this the god that has power and power alone over your life? Amen.