It’s time to worship their god; adherents to this religion gladly come to their house of worship each and every week wearing their denominational colors. They place their tithe in the box and get their seats to watch the priests for their god perform the liturgical rites and ceremonies on the field far below them. On the loudspeaker two of the religious commentators announce how efficacious the religious rites are this day and everybody eagerly waits for half time when the choir will perform. If this particular denomination is having a bad worship season and the priests are off their game the worshippers may be sorely tempted to switch to a different denomination but not change their religion or god.
(I’m curious, when I preached this on Sunday, all of my sports enthusiasts got the above inference right away and my non-sports people just kind of looked at me blankly, lol. Did you catch on?)
Usually when we hear the words religion we think of “religion,” things that are associated in our minds with worship and church. But religion is nothing more than gathering around the things that we have elevated to the level of holy, that which is set apart as being the most important thing in our lives and we believe will somehow, someway save us; these things that we deem worthy of our worship, time, devotion, money and praise.
When we raise these things up to the level of religion, we are saying something about these things. We are saying that our time is best spent with this religion, it fulfills me like nothing else can. This religion, we look to it, to give to us our identity and tell us who we are; we want it to give to us our meaning and why we should continue to carry on; and our purpose why we live and why we strive. But we also believe, sometimes consciously but most of the time not, that there is an aspect of eternity in our religion, this religion will last me throughout my whole life, and that somehow being a part of this religion will make us a part of it’s eternal legacy. This is our god that we place our trust and it will save us.
What can be so confusing about this is that so often, these things that we elevate to the status of holy and our participation to the level of religious fervor are good, positive, fun things that we have the freedom to enjoy and participate in. Good things like our hobbies, sports that are meant to build us up as a team and as a community, even our jobs that provide for our family and give back to others. That’s what makes it so hard, so often for us today, it’s not like pointing to a wooden idol of a goat layered in gold and saying that probably isn’t something you should be worshipping, no for us this line that we often cross between participating and worshipping feels more fuzzy and harder to define. But often when we have crossed the line we say things like, “why shouldn’t I go to the game,” and “sorry I can’t be home for dinner again, I need to work these extra hours,” and “who you are you to say what I should and shouldn’t spend my own time doing?!”
Even when those things that we give our religious worship to don’t fit into the categories of good hobbies, sports and gainful employment but those that have traditionally been included in the vices: like our sexuality to what we put into our bodies to what comes out of our mouth, we say things like “it’s no big deal,” “that may be true for you but it’s not for me so I’m going to do what I want,” and “I’m not hurting anybody so leave me alone.” Often though, the more we protest, the more it’s true, it really is our religion and we’ve made it holy in our lives.
What religion always comes down to, as usual, is a matter of the heart. What is it in our lives that we call “Holy,” that is set apart as the most important things for us. The things that we love more than anything else and that we expect will somehow someway save us. Everyone, without exception is religious. Everyone has something that is their god.
Now here’s the thing, if everything was equal and it didn’t matter what we called holy and spent our time in religious fervor over, we wouldn’t need these kinds of conversations. That could be your god and this could be my god and we could disagree over which one we like better, but ultimately it would all just be a matter of opinion IF, there is nothing outside of us that is actually holy and can save us, but there is. Holiness is actually something that exists apart from our opinion and the God who saves makes himself known whether we want to recognize Him or not. The question we are afraid to ask is how do our gods match up to the real thing? Do our gods really deliver on eternal promises or do they fall short?
This is the question the prophet Isaiah is asking today in our first reading from Isaiah 44:6-20. These vivid descriptions of the blacksmith and the woodcarver fashioning a god made from metal and wood. Using the same wood that they burn in the fire to stay warm and roast their meat over to eat, then from the leftovers of this wood they carve a little wooden statue and say this is my god!
We might say, how quant is that, those silly little ancients, but are we much different? Spending our religious devotion around a synthetic ball made by human hands and watching the priests throw it around to each other and say this is my god or taking our pieces of ink printed paper and the things that they buy made by human hands and say this is my purpose or taking ourselves and say I’m the most important thing, more important than anything else and I will sacrifice all to achieve my whims and desires.
Can those who cannot save themselves create something that can? Can we who are created, mortal and weak create God or does God already exist and calls us to be with Him? “Is this idol (god) that I’m holding in my hand (that I’ve made) a lie?”
This is where we have to allow our hearts to open up and be honest about what is going on in our lives. What is holy in your own life and what are you worshipping? What is the center of your life? If this thing that you have in your heart called your god, is part of what is created, if it is made by human hands or a part of us, if your god is dictated by what you want, it is not God, it will not be able to save you, your religion is worthless and your time spent upon it thrown in the wind. There is no hope in that religion and you and your god will both end up in the same place, apart from the true God. Worshipping what is created is called idolatry and breaks the relationship between us and our Creator leaving us in the darkness of a world that loves itself way too much.
We do not create what is really holy and we do not determine who is really God, only our creator the maker of all things who is not part of creation is God. It is God alone who works within His creation to bring to us what is already holy, not because of our opinion but because they are the places where God saves us. The cross where Jesus died so we can be saved by our God and the empty tomb so we can live with our God eternally, the Words of God that bring us to the cross and the empty tomb, the very body and blood of Jesus that was given for us and we receive at the altar, these places are holy not because of us or what we think but because God saves us through them.
Everyone is religious but not every religion can save. There is only one God who saves and He has given us the way out of our false worship to knowing Him through our Savior Jesus. Repent and in faith come to the Holy Places where your Creator who loves you, saves you from your gods that cannot save you. Amen