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08 May is Vocations Sunday – celebrated by the mainline Christian churches worldwide. More about that shortly…
Please don’t stop reading when you see what my next sentence says, even though it may sound boring or irrelevant!
Do you worship idols?
“Idolatry” is a subject frequently mentioned in the Bible, yet it’s now seen as an old-fashioned word, describing something unrelated to today. Maybe we think of idols as carved wood or even moulded precious metal, objects created by naive ancient people who didn’t know better, to which they prayed (read Isaiah 44:12-20 for a comical description by the prophet, showing how stupid this is).
But modern theologians have suggested that we too worship idols and like those ancient people, we just don’t recognise it. They’re not talking about “pop idols” – singers, actors or sportsmen. We don’t really worship them, even if we had their picture on the bedroom wall when we were teenagers.
No, idols are something we prioritise, something we put our hope in, replacing the true God. That’s why the Lord tells Israel, in the first and second commandant to have no gods before him. So modern idols might be our family, our career or our bank balance. Notice these are not bad in themselves but we can end up trusting them instead of God. Someone has wisely said, “Idolatry is taking good things and making them ultimate things.”
Some writers have suggested that one of the greatest idols of our time is “choice”. We like to have options. It makes us feel “in charge”. When I needed minor surgery a few years ago, my G.P. asked me, “Where would you like it done?” In many cultures around the world, marriages are arranged by parents for their children. We in the “free world” can be shocked by this apparent infringement on liberty.
“Choice” is how we express freedom. “I shop, therefore I am” (Tesco ergo sum!) may be the way we express our identity. However, buying a t-shirt with a slogan might look like a statement but it doesn’t change what’s inside it.
Choice can also be scary. The Dutch theologian Soren Kierkegaard said that freedom of choice creates “dizzying anxiety.” When I was at theological college, a new student who had come from a poor part of Africa was taken to a large supermarket for the first time. When he walked in and saw the choices on offer, he shrank against a wall with fear. He was overwhelmed. Sociologist Alvin Toffler coined the phrase “overchoice” in his prophetic book “Future Shock”, which had a big impact on me as a teenager.
Personally, I think freedom is overrated. We actually have a lot less choice than we might like to think, including the place of our birth, our family, our health and many other major factors that make us who we are.
In John’s gospel, after the Last Supper, Jesus has a great deal to say to prepare his disciples for his death, resurrection and their future ministry. He says, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit – fruit that will last.”
As I have written before, the call of God is for everyone – a call to follow Christ completely. It’s a choice that follows on from his choice to love us and die for us. It’s the choice that matters the most. Who (or what) do you worship?
I promised to return to the subject of Vocations Sunday, May the 8th. I’ll be preaching at all three morning services and I will refer to these other words of Jesus, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”
Have you chosen to follow Him?
Blessings in Christ
Diocesan Director of Ordinands and Vocations
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