Tuesday, March 16th Psalm 31:6-8

You hate those who pay regard to worthless idols, but I trust in the LORD. I will exult and rejoice in your steadfast love, because you have seen my affliction; you have taken heed of my adversities, and have not delivered me into the hand of the enemy; you have set my feet in a broad place. Psalm 31:6-8

“Worthless idols” is an interesting phrase. It reminds me of the oddly bizarre gold encrusted Buddha that strangely sat back in the corner in the basement of the Richland County Historical Museum in my hometown. I well remember how we used to walk past the reconstruction of the sod-buster little farmer’s cabin with the tiny bed, the old farm implements and glass displays of trinkets, back to the weird Buddha that didn’t seem to belong there.

Someone told us that it would be good luck to rub the Buddha’s belly so, with false bravado, we would do just that. Even though I was basically an irreligious little heathen, I always had a sense that what we were doing had something to do with idolatry.

I suppose that Buddha was worthless. We always wondered if the gold on it was real. I guess that would have given it some measure of worth. But I seriously doubt whether there was ever a connection between the rubbing of his belly and the wishes that I made. Ultimately, he was a worthless idol.

But aren’t all idols, by definition, worthless? That is, unworthy of our praise, our trust? When we “worship” God, we ascribe “worth” to God. When it comes to God, we are the unworthy ones. But, in Christ, in the gift of God’s love, in our identity as beloved children of God, God has invested a new kind of worthiness in us. In God’s eyes, we are worth all that Jesus did and does. That is why we worship God and that is why it is a crying shame that we would ever bow down to worthless idols.

But we do it all the time. Luther said that the false gods, the idols of our lives, are anything we look to for safety, security or identity apart from the God who creates, redeems and sustains us. False gods are untrustworthy. They are worthless.

Spending time in New Orleans, listening to the stories of those who have spent their lives here, is to hear many stories of “identity” – ethnicity, neighborhood, clan. I often find myself wondering just how open or how closed this city really is. I think perhaps that, rather than being so absolutely distinctive as a community, New Orleans is more microcosm than idiosyncrasy. As I shared yesterday, I hear so many of the same things here that I heard from my relatives from the prairies of North Dakota.

When someone from metro New Orleans tells me, “My German ancestors started this church back in the 1800’s. I’m a fifth generation member of this church. The congregation isn’t nearly what it used to be, first the neighborhood changed and then the storm hit. We’re surviving but it isn’t the same as it used to be.” – I realize that the only word that would need to be changed to say exactly the same thing about Lakota Lutheran Church in Lakota, North Dakota (population @300) would be Norwegian instead of German. The “storm” would be the changing economics of agriculture and the death of the family farm but the realities would be the same.

Worthless idols are just that. Untrustworthy. Unreliable. Shifting sands.

Ethnicity, race, class divisions, red-lined neighborhood walls that look like streets, all are untrustworthy sources of safety, security or status. The storms of life expose them for what they are. Illusions.

Only God, our common identity as creatures of a loving Creator, our common need for love and forgiveness, our common purpose to joing God in creating a good life for all, only that is impervious to the storms. Only that is solid rock. Only that is trustworthy.

Let us pray: Dear Jesus, forgive us lusting hearts and our knee jerk knee bowing to the false idols that constantly clamor for our attention. You are God, we are not, all of humanity is our brother and our sister and we are eternally grateful that you continue to remind us of that reality. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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