Do not make an idol for yourself—no form whatsoever—of anything in the sky above or on the earth below or in the waters under the earth. Do not bow down to them or worship them.
Have you ever used the phrase, ‘Seeing is believing’ in response to the doubt someone has when you tell them about something that was hard to believe? When our younger son Leif was a toddler, he fell off a daybed while visiting Eric’s parents. Although the little guy seemed to be in pain after the fall, no one took it seriously, as it did not make sense that a child could hurt their self from such a small fall. Additionally, no one could see anything broken on his pudgy little arm. Thankfully, my mother’s intuition kicked in, and I insisted that Leif be taken to the ER. Sure enough, he had broken his wrist in the fall. It took an x-ray (plus my teary exclamation, ‘See, I told you so!’) for the rest of the family to believe that little Leif’s tears meant that he had, indeed, hurt himself!
Humans have a need to see in order to believe. Take, for instance, the Hebrews waiting at the base of Mt. Sinai for Moses to come down from the mountain after God had given them the Ten Commandments. Moses had been on the mountain for forty days, and folk down below were getting antsy for something to happen with this invisible God who had claimed them as the Chosen People. Finally, they recruited Moses’ brother, Aaron, to make for them an image in the form of a golden calf of this unseen God. After all, in order to believe in this God, they needed to see this God, for the custom of their former lives as slaves was to worship the visible, tangible statues of the many gods of Egypt.
After Moses pleads with God not to smite the Hebrews for worshipping a false idol, he loses his own patience, and smashes the tablets containing the Commandments on the ground. Not only that, but he burns the golden calf until it becomes powder, scatters the powder on the water, and forces the unruly Hebrews to drink it. Harrumph!
‘Seeing is believing’. We humans tend to believe something only when we can see it with our own eyes. We often put our faith in—and give credence to—only those things that are tangible. Sadly, this often happens in churches. The Bible may be our sacred text and foundation of our faith, but has been used in the past to support slavery in America, and is still used by some religious institutions to prohibit women and gays from being ordained. The way I see it, in these cases the written word (which is tangible) has taken precedence over the love and grace of God in Christ.
This week, take time to think of other ways in which the Church has worshipped tangible things as false idols, and consequently has hurt God and/or hurt our neighbors. The good news is, just as God continued to be faithful to the Hebrews after the Golden Calf incidence, God will never give up on us, despite our worship of false idols in our lives!
Then God spoke all these words:
I am the LORD your God who brought you
out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
You must have no other gods before me. (Exodus 20:1-3)
Thirteen to fifteen centuries before Jesus was born, amidst fire and smoke and shaking ground God made this proclamation from a desert mountain to a special group of people standing in fear and awe. This was not the first time these people had experienced God as manifested in such frightening acts of nature; just three months prior, a pillar of fire and smoke had led them from the danger of Pharaoh’s army, across the Red Sea, and into the safety of the Sinai wilderness. With Moses as their leader, this motley band of ex-slaves would wander the desert for forty years before arriving at their destination—the Promised Land of Canaan. All would not go well for Moses and the Hebrews during their wandering; a lot of whining and complaining and second thoughts about leaving Egypt and their former lives as slaves would occur. But Moses was committed to his role as leader. And God was committed to protecting and providing for the Hebrews as they wandered the desert, in spite of their complaining.
Pastors Bridget and Jon, Judy Finley, and myself have embarked on a ten-week journey of sorts with folk from our five congregations. Our ‘map’ consists of the Bible and a wonderful book written by UMC pastor Adam Hamilton as we traverse the Ten Commandments. The focus of this week’s session (week one) is on the very proclamation God made amidst fire and smoke and earthquake from Mt. Sinai so long ago. For most Protestants, including United Methodists, this proclamation contains the First Commandment: “You must have no other gods before me.”
Have you ever wondered who God is referring to as the ‘other gods’? Hamilton addresses this head-scratcher by offering a short history lesson on life during the time of Moses. Recall that Moses and the Hebrews had lived in Egypt before escaping to the wilderness. At that time, there were hundreds—if not thousands—of gods worshipped by the Egyptians. Thus, Moses and the Hebrews would have been familiar with these gods--might have even worshipped them--and would have understood that God was commanding them to put God before any other Egyptian gods. Later they would come to learn that there is really only one God; the One who had redeemed them—purchased their freedom—from slavery under Pharaoh and slavery under the gods of Egypt!
This week I would invite you to ponder this question: When has God redeemed me from slavery to ‘gods’ in this world?
May you experience peace and thankfulness in the freedom God the Redeemer has given you!
It’s that time of year in Minnesota where the days get so hot that, unless we are near a lake or swimming pool, we spend as much time as possible in the cool of an air-conditioned home, in front of a fan, or in the shade of a leafy tree. For those of us who have the luxury of exercising, even early morning walks leave our clothes sweaty and our mouths thirsty for a cool draught of water.
So far, the month of June has provided little rain for our fields, lawns, and gardens, leaving them thirsty for water. After my morning walks around town, and while still in my sweaty exercise garb, I like to give the garden and flowers a good soaking. It feels unnatural to be watering on a daily basis; I tend to think of June as the month of thunderstorms—even tornadoes—that keep the landscape green. But so far, not this year!
Now that the garden is in, Eric and I have turned our attention to providing for our feathered neighbors. We put up a hummingbird feeder and several birdfeeders in front and behind the house. Every morning we see evidence of the previous night’s wildlife activity: metal shepherd’s crooks holding feeders bent over and bird seed scattered all over the ground. I guess word has gotten out in the forest behind the parsonage that there is an Old Country Buffet just waiting for hungry, featherless night-creatures!
As Eric and I cooled down this morning on the back patio after exercising, it dawned on us that like humans, our feathered neighbors also need to cool down in the heat of the day. So, while out running errands, I picked up a couple of birdbaths, and set them up before even putting groceries away. As of this afternoon, no takers yet. But word will get out before long!
With the heat of long summer days upon us, I thought I would share a verse from the book of Genesis that always brings a smile to my face:
During that day’s cool evening breeze, they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden. . . (Genesis 3: 8a)
Although the topic of this chapter may be dark and somber—the first sin and its punishment—I enjoy imagining God, just like us humans, out on a stroll in the cool of a summer evening breeze. What would it sound like if you heard God walking in the grass? Would God be wearing sandals, or would God be barefooted? I like to imagine God barefooted, with every step divine toes curling into the soft grass. And how about God’s breathing? Slow and relaxed, taking in the intoxicating evening fragrance of flowers and living earth.
We may be unable to understand God, but, like the author(s) of Genesis, we anthropomorphize God—that is, we tend to give God human attributes. Like imagining God walking in the cool of a summer evening breeze, bare toes digging into the grass, taking in the fragrances of evening flowers and living earth. Anthropomorphizing God in such a way puts a smile on my face, in that it makes me feel akin to God.
Like God, may you find pleasure and peace in the coolness of summer evening breezes!
While my grandparents were alive, they spent a lot of time out at our farm. Before her memory left her, Grandma would help Mom prepare meals. I can remember her sitting out on the porch on a hot summer afternoon, bowl full of just-picked green beans, gnarled hands snapping off the ends, while reminiscing of life as a girl before the turn of the century.
Like most farm yards of the time, our yard consisted of as many 'weeds' as grass. Especially dandelions. Even if the norm had been for farmers to treat their yards the way folk did in town, with fertilizer and weed control, my parents probably wouldn't have wanted to spend the time and money to have a lush, weed-free lawn. So the weeds--especially dandelions--had free range of the Prussner farm lawn.
Grandma Paul happened to love those dandelions that grew in our yard, especially when she could turn them into a tasty meal for her family! (Years later, my mother confided that she never liked cooked dandelions, but would eat them out of love for Grandma.) I can remember Grandma as if it were yesterday, cotton apron covering her dress, bent over in the yard picking greens with delight. She would then cook the dandelion greens with onions, and mashed up potatoes in a little bacon fat and serve them up for supper. Yum!
This afternoon I thinned the row of radishes in my garden, and decided the cast-offs looked too delicious to discard (see above). I think I channelled a little bit of Grandma Paul, in that I wondered if radish greens are edible. After a quick search on Google, I discovered that, like dandelion greens, radish greens are edible. And super nutritious. Just like dandelion greens. Tomorrow I plan to sauté the radish plants that I pulled today--roots and greens together-- with some onion and potato, and vinegar instead of bacon fat, and have them for lunch. Waste not, want not. Grandma would be proud of me!
"God said, 'See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food.'" (Genesis 1: 29)