Isaiah 57:13-19

When you cry out, let your collection of idols deliver you! The wind will carry them off, a breath will take them away. But whoever takes refuge in me shall possess the land and inherit my holy mountain. It shall be said, “Build up, build up, prepare the way, remove every obstruction from my people’s way.”

For thus says the high and lofty one who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with those who are contrite and humble in spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite. For I will not continually accuse, nor will I always be angry; for then the spirits would grow faint before me, even the souls that I have made.

Because of their wicked covetousness I was angry; I struck them, I hid and was angry; but they kept turning back to their own ways. I have seen their ways, but I will heal them; I will lead them and repay them with comfort, creating for their mourners the fruit of the lips. Peace, peace, to the far and the near, says the Lord; and I will heal them. Isaiah 57:13-19

Anyone taking the time to read through the library shelf we call the Old Testament would come to realize that the number one sin of God’s people is idolatry. It is exchanging faith in the God they cannot see with something more tangible, more controllable, more understandable, more physically gratifying. It is like reading a love story where the heroine is tricked by the aggressive scoundrel while the long suffering guy who has loved her since childhood waits both patiently and painfully for his love to come to her senses.

The tension is always wrapped up in whether or not she ever will.

Even the key moment in the narrative, the Great Escape from Egypt, is highlighted in idolatry. No sooner after crossing the Red Sea the people are clamoring for the flesh pots of Egypt. “Life was so good back there in slavery” the scoundrel seduces them.

No sooner had Moses left for the mountain top than the scoundrel shouts with excitement, “Come on, baby, let’s dance!” and they melt their nest eggs into a golden calf.

We read all of these stories, noticing with a bit of shock every time that the people of Israel seem to be airing their dirty laundry in public view, and we feel the urge to shout at the page just as we shout at the screen in a movie theater, “NO, DON’T OPEN THAT DOOR!” or “NO, DON’T BELIEVE HIM!”, but she always opens the door. The scoundrel leads her on, ever closer to leaving behind the destined love of her life forever.

But God didn’t see fit to preserve these stories as optional history lessons for those willing to take the time to sort through the genealogies and battle scenes, they were preserved for every reader to see more clearly the drama in which they live their lives. In every age, in every day, you and I are caught between the siren song of seductive self-destruction and the narrow, hard, road that leads to life. Idolatry will always be the bedazzled wonder of the Vegas Strip, or the sweet taste of breakfast cereal, or the dashing good looks of the scoundrel.

And the God who loves us? This God, this jilted suitor who sits painfully and patiently by, is far more likely to whisper our name than to shout from the rooftops. He is far more likely to show up in the special needs child hoping for a classroom and a competent teacher, the dusty little girl sitting in the detention center hoping for a bus ticket to her aunt’s apartment in Philly, or the customer hoping only to be treated with decency, respect, and honesty.

Who wins our affections? Earns our trust? Deserves our devotion? The scoundrel with his promises of money for nothing, a chicken in every pot, honor, glory, and fame? Or the lover who wants only to love us, that we might in turn have enough love for our neighbor?

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, we are a fickle people. Our heads and hearts turn so quickly. We leave you in our rear view mirror and then wonder why we keep running into walls. Open our eyes and tune our ears so that we can more clearly see and hear your whispered calls of love. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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