Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 96; 148, Exodus 24:1-16, Colossians 2:8-23, Matthew 4:12-17
Religion is painfully easy to exploit. We all want answers, and when someone confidently claims to have them, many people will listen. That’s why trends like the prosperity gospel, which teaches wealth is God’s will for us, are so appealing. They describe a formula for us to follow – the rights prayers, words, and (most importantly) tithes – and tell us it will resolve into the answers we seek. Whether it’s The Secret, Bible codes, or calculating the day of the rapture, answers – even false ones – are more reassuring than questions.
In Paul’s day the trends among the faithful included angel worship, following visions, and mortification of the flesh (self-inflicted denial and abuse of one’s body). He warned the Colossians to avoid such distractions, as they were human creations which did not serve God. Many of the faithful – who had given up physical idols – made spiritual idols of Sabbath rituals, dietary restrictions, etc. and spent more energy fretting over them than on the love and salvation of Christ. Paul declared these practices “of no value in checking self-indulgence;” to the contrary, they were self-indulgent displays of insincere piety.
Faith is not a magic decoder ring unlocking the secrets of the universe. Any religion or denomination that claims to teach us the secret spiritual handshake to get into Club Jesus does not serve God. Certainly we need to know to love God with our whole beings, and our neighbors as ourselves, but this information is handed out freely on Sunday mornings and in hotel nightstands across the country. Prayers, no matter how powerful or specific, are not magic spells and there are no get-blessed-quick schemes. Faith is trusting God to see us through every situation, good or bad.
Let’s keep our faith simple, while remembering even simplicity can become an idol. When Christ died the curtain in the Temple was torn in half, so all might know God is not contained only in hidden places where others can permit or deny us access. God is most available to us when we stop telling Him – and others – where He should be found.
Comfort: God is not hidden in secret places; God dwells all around and within us.
Challenge: Avoid the temptation to treat faith as a means to an end.
Prayer: Creator, Redeemer, Counselor … thank you for your abiding presence. Teach me to turn to you above all others. Amen.
Discussion: Do you have any religious practices which might not exactly serve God?
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