Do you ever get an ear worm, a tune which unbidden starts to play in your head and whether you like it or not you can’t find the off switch! I recently had an earworm from my youth, not the whole song just the opening guitar riff. So off I went to YouTube to find the track, relive some of my youth, and sonically upset the rest of the house.
Oh …what was the song? It was a song called Constantly Changing by Swedish heavy rock band Jerusalem. You can listen HERE, go on you know you want to, but remember to turn the volume up full.
Vive la différence
My brother had very different music tastes from me. Many times, I’d listen to music which was different from his just because I did not want to admit I liked his music. We shared a room so we could not avoid hearing each other’s music, and an album he’d play was by Dion, on which was a track called I Put Away my Idols.
This Sunday we will be in book of Judges. There is a cyclical pattern which repeats throughout the book and opens the stories of the heroes many of us learned about if we went to Sunday School (I’m feeling nostalgic again!). This pattern starts with the phrase “The Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the Lord” (Judges 2:11; 3:7; 3:12; 4:1; 6:1; 9:23; 10:6; 13:1).
This phrase, did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, is not referring to general sin(s), although I am sure that is a biproduct, but to the act of idolatry. Rather than put away their idols, the Israelites adopted and collected the idols of the surrounding culture.
Strictly speaking what the Israelites were often practising was what we call religious syncretism. They worshipped God (Yahweh) and local deities such as Baal.
The consequences of this were never good, their idolatry led to other sins, led to their conquest and subjugation, led to suffering and injustice.
The good news is that God’s covenant faithfulness meant that even though Israel was not faithful to God he was faithful to them. God repeatedly saves his people from the calamity, oppression, and suffering they have brought upon themselves, by raising up a judge to bring about salvation. Following this salvation there would be a period of peace (“the land had rest” Judges 3:11; 3:30; 5:31; 8:28).
Different World, same challenges!
We live in a very different world to the time of the Judges. Yet, we face many similar challenges.
Remember, the people did not stop worshipping God, they just added other objects of worship to their worship of God. We, like the ancient people of Israel, are surrounded by things which can become idols, which unwittingly or knowingly we place before God, so they become objects of our worship.
Our temptation may not be to worship Baal, but what about work, success, possessions, image and reputation, money … and so the list could go on.
More Good News
The good news is that God’s covenant faithfulness, his love does not change. Just as God raised up judges to save his people, so God continues to act to save us from ourselves and from the sinful structures of our world which seek to draw us away from true worship of Him.
Jesus is the ultimate judge who saves people. The peace the judges established normally lasted 40 years, with a maximum of 80 (Judges 3:30), but Jesus is the everlasting prince of peace (Isaiah 9:6) through whom God has made an everlasting covenant of peace (Ezekiel 37:26).
And there’s more …
We have an advantage over the Israelites who strayed so often during the time of the Judges. We are the people of Pentecost, which means that God has poured His Spirit upon us in a way that empowers us to live idol free!
The Apostle Peter writing to Christians scattered across the Eastern Mediterranean wrote these encouraging words: His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness (1 Peter 1:3). But he does not stop there, this power for life and godliness, for idol-free-living, has to be used, it needs to be exercised, so he goes onto say:
make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, 7 and godliness with sibling-like affection, and sibling-like affection with love (1 Peter 1: 5 – 7)
Make every effort?
Make every effort …now there’s a challenge. The “make every effort” is in two directions: make every effort to put away things, e.g., put away my idols, make every effort to add/grow, walk in the Spirit. The second direction is that of addition. The list of things to add to our lives which Peter gives us (goodness, knowledge, self-control, endurance, godliness, sibling-like affection, love) is like an ecosystem, we need to tend to and seek to grow in them all. As I grow in love – agape type love – so I also grow in self-control and goodness, etc.).
It is good to regularly pause and reflect upon what we are putting away and what we are adding or growing in.
Different World, same challenges – A Warning
On Sunday we will specifically be looking at the story of Deborah. Of course, the story of Deborah is not just about her but Barak, Jael, Sisera, and Sisera’s mother. We read of this in Chapters 4 and 5 of Judges and I’ll be focusing on Chapter 5 and its poetic account of what happened.
Like many of the stories of the Old Testament it is full of violence. The Hebrew idiom of chapter 5 v 27 suggests this violence included sexual violence against Jael.
We continue to live in a violent world, a world in which an alarming number of people experience sexual violence. To talk about sexual violence is not a comfortable or easy thing, but I think it is necessary.
A Place of Safety
For some of you this may be more than just uncomfortable, it may take you back to an event which happened to you, and so I want you to know that this is an issue which will be raised in the sermon. We know that as we gather as God’s people his healing, restoring, and transforming presence is with us and that there is no safer place in this universe to be than is the presence of our heavenly Father.
So, while talking about sexual violence on a Sunday morning is challenging and uncomfortable, I also believe that it is a safe space in which to bring into the light this violence, knowing that Jesus brings light, and life, and healing, and the darkness cannot overcome it (John 1:5).
See you Sunday.