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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Returning to the Ten Commandments - Idolatry

Reading: Exodus 20
While I was in Melbourne recently on a work trip I visited many churches to spread the word about the Five Leaf Eco-Awards. One service in particular that I went to really stood out. The topic was idolatry. It was very powerful. If anyone in that congregation believed idolatry was worshiping little carved pieces of wood, and thus not very relevant today, I believe that idea would have been shattered by this sermon.

The worship leader went through all the various idols we tend to worship today - money, work, success, fame, relationships as well as some less obvious ones; for example Christians who put 'being/being seen to be, a good Christian' before God. His theory was that there is one great Meta-Idol in our age - the 'self'. All the other idols are important to us because we need them in order to worship our self. He went on to express how he often wants to yell at those of my generation "It's not about you! It's not about you! It's not about you!" until they start to get it.

I sympathize with this impulse. In our society we are encouraged to be individuals and to always put ourselves first. Is it really any wonder then, that we are unwilling to make personal sacrifices to reduce our environmental impact for the good of the community? We have been raised to believe that communities are just groups of individuals who occasionally work together for their mutual benefit. In the Western world I think the idea of living for and sacrificing for the community and the greater good is now largely absent. Even in the one place where we should be forced to think of others - the family - many young people are not being raised with the discipline to instill this sense of self-sacrifice. Dying to self is one of the hardest challenges of Christianity, and I think it is only becoming harder for the current generation. People my age (21) have never known a lack of prosperity, never known what it is like to have to work together and sacrifice as those who lived through the wars and depression did. We don't really see the self, or even consumerism and money as idols, because they are too entrenched a part of our lives. It would be hard for us to separate ourselves from these things long enough to realise the amount of esteem we hold them in.

Idols are insidious; and the problem is not restricted to the secular world. Some Christian merchandise is very useful in helping one grow in the faith, but one has to wonder where the line should be drawn. Especially when we need campaigns like Holy Hardware to request the major Christian store brands buy Fairtrade and ethically sourced products. Am I the only one who thinks it is really wrong that some poor child should have to work in a sweatshop to make some pretty little Christian bauble I don't really need? There shouldn't be a campaign about this, because all Christian products should have been ethical from inception.

Taken to heart, this idea of becoming free of idolatry is really very challenging. Try taking a step back from yourself and look at the way you live. Do you think of what God would want you to do every moment of every day? Have you got to the point where you don't have to anymore because it is second nature? Or do you have a way to go? I know I do. When you buy something at the shops, do you ask yourself whether Jesus would buy this? How else can you use the philosophy of 'it's not about me' to make positive changes in your life? I have found the philosophy quite useful in fighting procrastination over work I need to do, and in prompting me to do things I know I should do - like having shorter showers, walking more and leaving the heater off.

Freedom from idolatry offers a real key to becoming more environmentally friendly. If we can stop relying on chocolate, cars, books and movies to make us feel good about ourselves then maybe we can save both the planet and our relationship with God. It's not about us, it's about Jesus.

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Important Lessons from the Bible

Why Jesus came:
"that the world might be saved through him"
John 3:17

Who Jesus is going to use to save the world:
"For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God."
Romans 8:19

Our role on earth:
"The LORD God put the man in the Garden of Eden to take care of it and to look after it."
Genesis 2:15

The Five Pillars of A Christian Theology of Sustainability

1. God is the creator, sustainer and redeemer of creation.

2. Covenantal Stewardship (we have a covenant with God as stewards of the earth).

3. The creation-fall-redemption paradigm (God made a good world; human failure broke the relationships between god, man and creation; Christ provides hope for all creation).

4.Bodily resurrection(we will rise with bodies, not as spirits)

5.New Creation (a new Heaven and new Earth refers to a renewal and an earthing of heaven, not starting over).

Adapted from When Enough is Enough: A Christian Framework for Environmental Sustainability, Edited by R.J. Berry, Published by Inter-Varsity Press, 2007, Nottingham p43+