The Real Thing and Poor Substitutes   1 comment

Above:  Jeroboam I and His Golden Calves

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Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.

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1 Kings 12:26-33; 13:33-34 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

Jeroboam said to himself,

Now the kingdom may well return to the House of David.  If these people still go up to offer sacrifices at the House of the LORD in Jerusalem, the heart of these people will turn back to their master, King Rehoboam of Judah.

So the king took counsel and made two golden calves.  He said to the people,

You have been going up to Jerusalem long enough.  This is your God, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!

He set up one in Bethel and placed the other in Dan.  That proved to be a cause of guilt, for the people went to worship [the calf at Bethel and] the one at Dan.  He also made cult places and appointed priests from the ranks of the people who were not of Levite descent.

He stationed at Bethel the priests of the shrines that he had appointed to sacrifice to the calves that he had made.  And Jeroboam established a festival on the fifteenth day of the eighth month; in imitation of the festival in Judah, he established one at Bethel, and he ascended the altar [there].  On the fifteenth day of the eighth month–the month in which he had contrived of his own mind to establish a festival for the Israelites–Jeroboam ascended the altar that he had made in Bethel.

Even after this incident, Jeroboam did not turn back from his evil way, but kept on appointing priests for the shrines from the ranks of the people.  He ordained as priests of the shrines any who so desired.  Thereby the House of Jeroboam incurred guilt–to their utter annihilation from the face of the earth.

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The Collect:

Set us free, O God, from the bondage of our sins, and give us the liberty of that abundant life which you have made known to us in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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The story from 1 Kings 12  and 13 is one in which King Jeroboam I is consolidating his power.  He faces a hostile Kingdom of Judah to his south, and so he does not like the fact that many of his subjects keep visiting the Jerusalem Temple.  In response Jeroboam erects his own substitute sites, each with a golden calf (echoing Aaron’s idolatry in the Sinai Desert) and unqualified priests.  It was not the same.  It was not nearly as good.  But it was politically expedient.

Biblical authors and editors condemned Jeroboam I and other kings for not wiping out worship outside that of Yahwistic bounds.  These authors and editors lived and died long before my forebears accepted and enshrined such wonderful concepts as liberty of conscience and the separation of religion and state.  Read the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.  There one finds a clause forbidding the establishment of a state religion.  There is a fascist wing of the Christian Right.  Members of this wing are quite open about their opposition to the separation of church and state and their desire for a Fundamentalist theocracy.  Yet I suspect that they constitute a minority of the Christian Right, most members of which I guess oppose a theocratic regime, much to their credit. They prefer to achieve their goals by other means.

Religious toleration was, for many biblical authors and editors, not a virtue.  But imagine, from a post-Enlightenment Western liberal perspective, how you would respond if your national government were to destroy houses of worship.  That is essentially what some biblical authors and editors wish certain kings had done.

Now that I have criticized the text and the worldview it espouses, I come around to admitting a basic truth the text contains:  Idolatry is bad.  There is a God-shaped hole inside each of us.  Sometimes we fill it with bad religion or with sports or with drugs.  There is nothing inherently idolatrous about sports, but how often have people admitted that a sport (basketball in Indiana, football in the U.S. South, hockey in Canada, soccer in many other places, etc.) is or is almost or is like a religion?  Anything can become an idol if one transforms into that.  I suspect that the most common idol in the U.S. South, apart from football, is the Bible, for many people seem to have filled their God-shaped hole with it.  The Bible is, at its best, a means to an end, but many people treat it as if it is the end toward which they strive.   God, of course, is the end toward which people ought to strive.

May we accept no substitutes.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 22, 2011 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT ALBAN, FIRST ENGLISH MARTYR

THE FEAST OF THE INAUGURATION OF THE UNITING CHURCH OF AUSTRALIA, 1977

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN FISHER, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF ROCHESTER

THE FEAST OF SAINT PAULINUS OF NOLA, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

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Adapted from this post:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2011/06/22/week-of-5-epiphany-saturday-year-2/

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One response to “The Real Thing and Poor Substitutes

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  1. Pingback: Week of 5 Epiphany: Saturday, Year 2 « ADVENT, CHRISTMAS, AND EPIPHANY DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

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