"Gratitude Shatters the Gods"


Meditation Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - September 7, 2008

Psalm 81:1,10-16; Jeremiah 2:4-13


     In our lesson for this morning, the prophet Jeremiah has God say, “What accusation did your ancestors bring against me? What made them turn away from me? They worshiped worthless idols and became worthless themselves.” Jeremiah’s point was that the God consciousness of his people was fading from their minds, hearts and spirit. God was incrementally being replaced by cultural and religious influences that were being experienced by the Hebrews.

     We have some images of such religious practices that have come from movies we have watched. In the epic, The Ten Commandments, for example, Moses came down from Mt. Sinai with the tablets and found many of his people engaged in an orgy at the foot of a golden calf. People needed some type of physical representation of Yahweh who led them out of Egypt and Aaron, the brother of Moses, had created one. (Exodus 32:4)

     In the land where the Israelites were for 400 years, Egypt had the sun god, Ra. We can easily understand how Ra became a primary god for the Egyptians. Not only had the Egyptians developed a calendar by observing mistakenly Ra’s rotation around the earth but they quickly learned that there was a mysterious quality about Ra’s light that made their crops grow.

     There is a spiritual principle that calls our attention to an important aspect of life. Nothing in our experience has value or meaning until we assign one to it. The ancient practice of worshiping at the feet of a statue is foreign to us. Yet, we are not as far removed from the ancient practice as we might believe.

     Some of you may know a person who owns a pick-up truck that has been babied since it was purchased. Spare dollars have been spent on putting chrome-plated parts under the hood. The truck has a ten foot deep lacquer finish. It is washed, waxed and vacuumed weekly. It has GPS, Lojack, has a video monitoring system for backing up, and it has a state-of-the-art police radar detector mounted on the dash. Of course, the engine is a Hemi. When the truck is taken to a public parking lot, it is parked so that it takes up two parking spaces. The truck’s owner would not think too kindly if his prized possession received a ding because of the carelessness of another driver who had parked too close.
    
     Several religious practices are in place with the reverence for this truck. The driver enjoys a worship experience. An offering is taken and spent. In some respects the truck is one of the mainstays for the driver’s identity, helps to maintain his confidence level and he has put the world on notice that he has something of value that makes his life worth living. The truck is his pearl of great price. The driver is always engaged in some form of mission, e.g., polishing, fixing, tinkering and perfecting this extension of his personality.

     While this may sound absurd, there are scores of examples where this occurs in our lives. For some, it is the game of golf. For others, it is investing in stocks, bonds and hedge funds. What commands and holds our attention can easily slip into a parallel experience akin to idol worship. This also can happen in the area of our relationships.

     While attending Albright College, I went for a walk with a co-ed who had fallen in love with a guy attending Penn State. She wrote this guy every day. She was on the phone with him constantly. Her level of distraction was consuming her. She had been bitten by the bug called romantic love. She was a first-timer with this illness and she wanted to hear my thoughts since she was fearful that she was losing her mind.

     Being the skilled counselor that I was at the time, I assured her that she was. I made comments like: “You are obsessing over this guy. You have created an image and have expectations of this guy that he could not possibly live up to. You have made your relationship with him the major source of your happiness and that is an impossible quality of life to sustain.”
    
     Nothing I said mattered. She would have to learn one of life’s lessons when a dose of reality provides her with a new pair of glasses to look more closely at this young man. She was not in love with him; she was in love with the feelings associated with being in love. Yet, she had placed him on a pedestal and showered him with affection of mythological proportions.

     The list of gods that demand and command our attention could be found in most people long before Jeremiah wrote this passage. How can we enjoy our life-interests without having them create a barrier preventing us from remembering that God created us to experience all of them?

     In our lesson God says, “My people have exchanged me, the God who has brought them honor, for gods that can do nothing for them.” We can get lost in the sea of our experiences as each rises in importance in our lives.

     When the Apostle Paul was visiting Athens this is what he said,

     It is plain to see that you Athenians take your religion very seriously. When I arrived here the other day, I was fascinated with all the shrines you have to honor various gods. Then I found one inscribed, ‘To the God Nobody Knows.” I am here to introduce you to this God so you can worship intelligently. The God who made the world and everything in it, this Master of sky and land, does not live in custom-made shrines, or need the human race to run errands for him, as if he could not take care of himself. He makes the creatures; the creatures do not make him. Starting from scratch, he made the entire human race and made the earth hospitable, with plenty of time and space for living so we could seek God, not just grope around in darkness. God is not remote, God is near. We live and move in him, in fact, we cannot get away from him. (Acts 17:22-28 Peterson)
    
     We have inherited a magnificent world. Everything in it, the sun, trucks, relationships and so much more, was made possible because God equipped us with the potential for passion, joy and a desire to surround ourselves with the symbols that reinforce our well-being and happiness. Without God being the prism through which we view life, we forget how to set boundaries and we can easily isolate one aspect of life that defines us by our selfish impulses. Remembering that God gave us everything, encourages us to honor God in all that we do, think and feel.

     Learn to thank God for all the people who express their love to you. Thank God for all your material assets that support your creature comforts. Thank God for the music you enjoy and the musicians that created it. Thank God for the disciplines that helped you to invest wisely a portion of your material assets for retirement.

     When God remains the acknowledged source of all that we experience, gratitude will prevent us from losing our way in a world of material experiences. Gratitude will keep us anchored in the recognition that God’s love surrounds us in many ways and assumes many forms that are not generally associated with our religious experiences.

     Jesus once taught, “As immature and uninformed as you are, you know how to give good things to your children. How much more, then, will God in Heaven give good things to those who ask him?” (Matthew 7:11)

     Gratitude to God helps us to remain centered. Gratitude helps us keep perspective on what we experience. Gratitude helps us to remember our identity as beings whose spirits can radiate loving, creative energy patterns in everything we do. Without gratitude toward the source that created the possibility for every experience, we create worthless idols that make us worthless, just as God said through Jeremiah.

THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER

     Thank you, God, for your kind and gentle spirit. You know each of us thoroughly, and you understand how easily we become fearful. We know that your love surrounds us, but we tend to trust the elements of life that have nurtured us in our past. We trust relationships that remain faithful when we are most needy. We place our confidence in material assets that isolate us from living in poverty. We experience freedom when we know that we can travel anywhere we choose. We know we are loved when friends communicate understanding and compassion even when they learn that we are far from perfect. Thank you for creating us with hearts that heal, with spirits that remain resilient, with faces that can smile and with memories that remind us that your love comes in many forms that enable us to grow and feel alive. Amen.

THE PASTORAL PRAYER

     Loving God, we are thankful that as we find ourselves reaching toward you, we always find you reaching back. Maybe your presence comes in a particular hymn that we sing, a hymn that triggers a memory that takes us into the presence of a loved one who transitioned from our lives. Perhaps you come to us in the words of an anthem, a prayer, a sermon, or thoughts that enter our minds from a place we know not. The forms of your love often go beyond the horizons of what we can recognize.
Jesus gave us the imagery of the vine and the branches. He told us that the branches only remained nourished when they remain connected to the vine. Even though we may find numerous reasons to go about life seemingly without you, it is our blindness and not your lack of presence that kindles our feeling that we are alone.

     Enable us this week, O God, to consider one task that will lighten someone’s load. This week, help us to remove the sting from some judgment we have been carrying. This week, enable us to surrender into your care some hurt that has been molding and shaping us ever since it happened. This week, may we express compassion to those who have not learned how to care, how to communicate well, or how to enjoy what we have. This week, help us to learn to give greater depth to what it means to be a friend. And at the end of this week, may we quietly vow to live this way for one more week. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, who taught us to say when we pray . . .