Finding Idols in Our Times

Adapted from a sermon originally delivered by Rev. Bob Ball, Senior Pastor of Epworth United Methodist Church.

Do you know which TV show is the number one show in America today? It is American Idol. Isn't it amazing that there is something to do with idols that capture the imagination and attention of the American population today?

As I though about this, my mind went back to the days of my teenage years when the American idol was none other than Elvis. Remember that he was the "King" of Rock and Roll. In fact, for many today, he remains an idol to be honored. Millions make their annual pilgrimage to the shrine of Elvis in Memphis.

Millions continue to buy little icons reminding them of "their king." Even in the Holy Land, the Promised Land given to the chosen people of God who were not to have any graven images, you will find located just southwest of Jerusalem a store dedicated to Elvis. Just outside of that store in the parking lot stands a 15 to 20 foot statue of Elvis.

Who says that idols do not exist in our world today? What about the Beatles? What I am about to say may be interrupted to be "male chauvinists" but I mean it only in terms of what I have observed. Why is it that when the Beatles or for that matter many of the other superstars of the entertainment world perform that many of the females scream and get so excited that many often faint?

What about idols in the area of sports? Most of us present today will remember several years ago the white Bronco driving along one of the interstate highways that cuts through the city of Los Angeles being followed by a string of highway patrol cars. Hunkered down in the back of the Bronco was none other than O. J. Simpson. I will never forget as the news media cameras panned the area seeing people standing just beyond the fence lining the highway waving to O.J. hoping that they might be seen (and blessed) by their idol.

Dare I say anything about Michael Jackson? Remember when he was being charged and tried for molesting some young boys, there were thousands of worshippers who lined the streets hoping to touch the car in which he rode or lined up along the walkways hoping to catch a glimpse or perhaps be touched by their god. Who says that idols do not exist in our world today?

This past week, a friend of mine sent me an e-mail with the question: "Of the ten commandments, which is the hardest commandment to keep?" He prefaced his question with the comment, "This is a test." I hate this kind of test. I always believe that there is some trick behind the question. I waited a few days before I responded to give myself some time to think this through. Which of the Ten Commandments is the hardest one to keep?

Then it occurred to me that Jesus had condensed the ten to two. Then he condensed the two commandments down to one word: "Love." Love God and love your neighbor. I reported back to my friend that the most difficult commandment to keep is what Jesus said, "Love God and love your neighbor." Interestingly enough, he wrote back and confirmed my conclusion with this ending statement. "I believe that most Christians do not have a clue what it REALLY means to love God and neighbor."

This may sound like a judgmental statement, but the point he is tying to make from his observation is that love is a verb -- an action. What we love we devote our time, our money, and our energy to support.

This brings us back to the central point of this message. What idols capture our devotion in our day? Richard Foster is known for his book, "Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth" which was published in the late 1970s. In 1985, Foster published a sequel which he titled, The Challenge of The Disciplined Life: Christian Reflections on Money, Sex, and Power. In this book, Foster states that money, sex, and power are the three big temptations of our times.

Actually, these are not new. Foster points out that the early monks battled these with vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience and that Protestants today are more likely to use the tools of simplicity, fidelity, and servanthood. The truth be known, however, we live in a world obsessed by these idols.

Speaking of idols in our world, money is a competing god in our world today. Recently, I saw a cartoon with a robber pointing a gun at the head of an apparent business man holding an attaché case. The caption has the robber saying, "Your money or your life." The business man says in response, "I'm thinking, I'm thinking."

Have you ever stopped to think about the symbol of Wall Street? On the street in front of the doors that lead to the inner chambers of Wall Street stands a large brass image of a bull. Of course, we like a "bull" market. There are even shiny places on the Bull of Wall Street where visitors have touched or rubbed the Bull for good luck. And, of course, most people who visit Wall Street will have their picture taken with the Bull.

I can't help but think about the Children of Israel making the golden calf to worship while Moses was up on Mt. Sinai . Considering that money is a competing god in our world today, have you ever wondered by there are so many bankruptcies in America today? Have you ever wondered why the Lottery is so popular and why the higher the "pot of gold" gets the greater the number of lottery players? Have you ever wondered why the Casino and general gambling industry is growing throughout the United States ? Have you ever wondered why corporations like Enron and World Com collapsed? Have you ever wondered why men like Jack Abramoff can have so much influence in Washington ? Money is NOT the root of all evil. The love of money is.

Speaking of idols, sex is a competing god in our world today. In the center of ancient Corinth stood the Temple of Apollo and high on top of a hill just on the outskirts of the city stood the Temple of Aphrodite who was the Greek goddess of love and beauty. The Temple of Aphrodite boasted of housing 1000 prostitutes. In Paul's world, sex was a competing god.

In our modern world, have you ever wondered by the porn industry is a multi-billion dollar a year business just in the United States . Some say that the porn industry in the U.S. reaches as high as 20 billion dollars a year. One can double or triple this figure when one considers the amount of dollars invested in sex across the world. Is sex an idol of our times? Have you ever wondered why children are often kidnapped and sold as sex slaves? Have you ever wondered why so many TV shows and movies have sex at the center of the plot? Have you ever asked yourself why there are so many broken marriages due to sexual infidelity? Is sex a competing god in our "civilized, Christian" society? Is sex an idol in our world?

Speaking of idols, Foster says that power is a competing god in our world. He says that money is business, sex is marriage, and power is government. We are witnessing the struggle for power in Washington today. As we listen to the debates and decisions regarding who will be chosen to be a Supreme Court justice, we witness the struggle for power. We also see in today news the struggle in Washington for power between the Executive, the Legislative, and the Judicial branches of government.

Throughout the world, we are witnessing the struggle for power between the Palestinians as they seek to define who they are as a nation state. We are watching the struggle for power in Iraq and between the United States and other governments of the world. There is a love for power among all people. We can witness that struggle within the city of Toledo and within local churches and communities. God calls us to the power of love NOT the love of power.

I ask again, which is the hardest of the Ten Commandments to keep? There is, of course, a proper place for Money, Sex, and Power in the Christian life. When properly placed and used as a way of Honoring God. But, Jesus warns of the dangers of worshipping other gods and calls us to live lives that are centered in him. So, what shall we say to this generation? Love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and love your neighbor as you love yourself. This is the toughest, most difficult challenge of life while at the same time it is the most rewarding.

Rev. Bob Ball is the Senior Pastor of Epworth United Methodist Church in Toledo.  Epworth is an exciting, growing, and dynamic church with a heart for missions and a passion to grow in its faith in Christ and service to the world. If you are looking for a church where people are friendly and welcoming, we invite you to try Epworth.

Epworth offers three Sunday morning services: at 8:30 a.m., our blended worship service brings together a traditional worship style and a contemporary flair. Our traditional worship service begins at 9:45 a.m., followed by the contemporary worship service at 11.  We are located at the corner of Valleyview and Central Avenue in Toledo, across from Wildwood Metropark.

Epworth United Methodist Church
3077 Valleyview Drive
Toledo, OH 43615-2237
Telephone : 419-531-4236
FAX : 419-531-7487

Corner of Valleyview and Central Ave, across from Wildwood Metropark