Forgiveness For The Unholy Trinity Of 'Me, Myself, And I"

Text: Exodus 20:1-17 and 32:1-20

Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Today is Ash Wednesday which means it is the first day of the Season of Lent.  More precisely, at the heart of Ash Wednesday is the theme of repentance and sorrow for sin.  It could also be said that at the heart of the Season of Lent is an extended period of time, in the calendar of the church, for pause and reflection.  It is a time to consider our place before almighty God. 

Tonight, there is no better way to consider our place before almighty God than to contemplate His holy, perfect, and divine will for us as expressed in the Ten Commandments.  Yes, over the next six weeks we will be considering God’s holy, righteous, and perfect Divine Law.  Through the Law of the Lord we will not only be instructed on what is good and true, but we will also be convicted of our sin and driven to despair.  Yes, as we contemplate our sinfulness this Lent Season through studying God’s Law, we do so knowing that we are traveling towards the cross of Good Friday where our sin finds its home not on us, but on Christ. Therefore, through contemplating the extent of our sin problem during Lent only makes the Good News sweeter still.

To begin this six part series on the Ten Commandments—God’s Word for us—we are focusing on the first and second commandments of God which state,

“You are to have no other Gods.”
“You are not to take the name of God in vain.”

With this stated, tonight we are going to focus a bit more narrowly on a topic embedded in these opening commandments.  That topic is the subject of idolatry—not adultery with an “A”, but idolatry with an “I”.

When we think about the topic of idolatry it is easy to imagine primitive people groups gathering around false gods, false gods that are carved out of stone or wood.  While there is some truth to this generalized characterization of idolatry of primitive people worshiping wooden idols, we need to be on guard from an over simplification of idolatry.  In other words, we need to be aware of the failure of seeing idolatry only in the realm of kneeling before visible objects of adoration.  The reason we need to be on guard of this characterization is that this characterization can actually segregate the sin of idolatry away from us as twentieth-first-century Americans. 

Martin Luther teaches us in the Large Catechism that idolatry does not consist merely of erecting an image and praying to it, but he shares that idolatry is primarily a matter of the heart.  You see, our hearts gaze upon things other than God in order to seek help and consolation from them.  Our eyes are easily turned away from the Creator to created things.  Thus, we can easily make any created thing an alternative god.  Tragically, you and I commit idolatry with whatever our hearts cling to or relies upon for ultimate security.

So, what is your idol today?  What god have you created; what god do you trust, believe, and desire good things from? 

As we consider this topic, the scriptures are no stranger to idolatry.  There are countless stories within the Old Testament regarding the idols of Baal, Molech, and so forth.  However, the climatic story of idolatry in the Old Testament scriptures is most definitely the story of the Golden Calf in Exodus 32. 

When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, "Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him." So Aaron said to them, "Take off the rings of gold that are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me." So all the people took off the rings of gold that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, "These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!" When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, "Tomorrow shall be a feast to the LORD." And they rose up early the next day and offered burnt offerings and brought peace offerings. And the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.   
-Exodus 32:1-6

We can learn several things from this story.  First, we see that the people wanted a visible representation to go before them.  This stems from the unbelief of their heart.  Secondly, by obtaining a golden calf they are obtaining a visible image that is tangible and accessible.  By their faithless actions they are attempting to gain independence from God.  A more personalized God in tangible form is easier to manage!  Finally, in verse 4, Aaron says, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.”  Many very bright scholars and theologians believe that Aaron is speaking of both the idol and God.  Thus Aaron and the people are doing something very atrocious.  They are mixing a false idol with almighty God.  They are putting false truth and real truth in a blender and mixing them together.  This is properly called syncretism.  While it might not seem so dangerous to have God and idolatry mixed together and though it comes across as mildly dangerous, this kind of mixing truth and false truth can be extremely dangerous!  It can be damning!  How much Drano in a batch of cookies is dangerous?  Mixing even a little bit of poison into cookies can be lethal!  What is it that they say… when you mix ice cream and manure together, you get what?  Well, yes… you just get more manure.  Mixing an idol with God is never, even if only a little bit, is never good but is spiritually fatal.      

Is this any different for us today?  Have we not mixed the blessed truths of Christianity not with a wooden idol, but with the idol of the unholy trinity of ‘me, myself, and I?’  Has not ‘self’ become the idolatrous creator, healer, and sustainer for us as modern Americans?  To confirm this one only has to look at the self-absorption and self-love exemplified in the American media venues.  It is no different in the church either!  David Wells once said that the American Church is, “trying to hold at bay the gnats of small sins while swallowing the camel of self.”  In other words, we so quickly try and stand against infractions and sins that easily pop into our mind, but then we either consciously or subconsciously prop up the idol of ‘self’ or worse yet, allow the idol a ‘self’ a place among the heavenly truths of scripture. 

The painful reality though is that we are fascinated with the idol of ‘self.’  As the old hymn states, “prone to wander, Lord, I feel it; prone to leave the God I love.”  We wander back to ourselves and our own projects.  The blunt reality is that we tend to focus not on the outward and objective Gospel but on ourselves—our inner life, piety, community groups, and so forth.  We are addicted to the idol of ‘self’.  We are an idol unto ourselves.  We try to have a little of God, while also injecting a lot of ‘self’ into our theology. 

Besides the obvious sin of the idolatry of ‘self’, there is a catch 22, and that is, it doesn’t sustain or work!  The idol of ‘self’ is frankly, powerless.  For example, if the idol of ‘self’ is the source of meaning in life, how does one cope and survive with the pressures of carrying this autonomous ideology?  As ‘self’ attempts to be god, how well can ‘self’ carry the pressures of life?  How well can the idol of ‘self’ define his own meaning and efficiently work at actualizing that meaning?  How does the idol of ‘self’ properly grant comfort and define his own narrative with the insurmountable weight and aspiration of being god? It is clear that mankind is inherently not designed this way.  Like the idols of the Old Testament who have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see; and ears, but do not hear, the idol of ‘self’ is empty, incomplete, powerless, and futile. There is a need for the sacred, a need for something outside of the idol of ‘self’; there is a need for us to be acted upon.

As we consider the story of the golden calf in Exodus 32, what is rather ironic is that the building of the golden cow is contrasted with the building of God’s tabernacle in the later portions of the narrative of Exodus.  Both the Israelites and we seek to create what God has already provided.  We, rather than God, attempt to take the initiative.  The ironic implication is that mankind forfeits the very divine presence of God with the hopes of binding God more closely to ourselves.

In the midst of America’s idolatry of the self-absorbed idol of ‘self,’ the cross stands. You and I attempt to create unique individualities that contain worth; God’s Gospel says that you have been chosen and set a part as a royal priesthood by the worthy blood of Christ. (i.e., 1 Peter 2:9)  You and I attempt to climb the spiritual ladder to actualize our moral, mystical, and intellectual needs; God comes down to you in the water, word, bread, and wine marking you with His name, feeding you the forgiveness of sins, and pronouncing that all is finished.  You and I mistakenly attempt to love to get love; God’s Gospel Word speaks to you that you get to love because He first loved you. (i.e., 1 John 4:19)  You and I attempt to construct a god into our own image so that we might live; you are met with the cross that crucifies your old Nature so that you might live by faith in the Son of God. (i.e., Galatians 2:19-20)  You and I try to establish the perfect image through the idolatrization of ‘self’; God presents to you His perfect icon and image, Jesus the Christ—the one you are clothed in. 

God have mercy on us, on me…. the sinner. 

Behold and look upon Christ my friends, He is your deliverance, He is your sustainer and He is the Lamb of God who actually takes away the sins of the world and especially your sins of idolatry. (i.e., John 1:29, 3:14-16)  You, who have ears, hear.  In Christ, the idol of ‘self’ finds its end; in Christ you are baptized, have worth, have an identity, have meaning, have hope, and belong to Him. 

My friends, there is no need for the idol of ‘self’, for you have been given Christ, the one who came and tabernacled among us for the purpose of putting our sin to death.  Our life is found not in a powerless wooden or stone object called ‘self’, for the idol of ‘self’ died in the living Son of God who bled and died—especially for you!  Yes indeed, your life, worth, and identity are all in the waters of your baptism, where you were buried into Christ and raised anew in Him.

May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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