Updated: Jan 30
Everyone here has heard the saying: God, family & country.
Of course, this is a ranking saying, where three very important concepts are implied to be of most importance, over all other concepts of service, devotion and responsibility, with God first, family second and country third.
In a way, everything else can be sorted to those three categories; such that life, liberty and pursuit of happiness – our inalienable rights, according to our Declaration of Independence – can be seen as a subset of “country,” although God gives us “life,” and “family” has a way of restricting the concept of “liberty” and “pursuit of happiness,” based on the needs of “family” being more important.
If one has several free hours to ponder the duties, responsibilities, preferences and rewarding opportunities life presents us, so we could list them all and then rank them in order of personal importance, then where do you think your list would place:
Modes of transportation?
Modes of communication?
Places of employment?
Availability of education?
Availability of food?
I mention this plethora of “needs” because it is time to have another epiphany, during this season of the Epiphany.
In the reading from the Book of Deuteronomy, where God told Moses about the prophet he would send, “who shall speak to them everything I command,” we know that prophet by the name of Jesus. Jesus the Messiah – the Christ.
So, when we rank “God” number one, are we doing that as Christians, where “God” means (as Paul wrote), “One God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist,” which implies the God that expects one to also worship “one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist”?
Sadly, while we might think that is the meaning of “God” being first in our ranking system, as the most important concept to be devoted to, it allows for any “god” to come into the mind of the one thinking that.
As they say, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” The same can be said about the mental images one gets when stating a ranking of “God, family and country.” To a Jew, “God” means Yahweh, the God of Moses. To a Muslim, “God” means Allah, the God of Mohammed.
There is nothing specified that says Christ is the Lord of “God,” when we say that ranking of importance.
This makes what God told Moses more important to realize the meaning of, when He said, “Any prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, or who presumes to speak in my name that I have not commanded the prophet to speak.” This says there will be other “gods,” with their own lords, or prophets.
This is not the epiphany I mentioned, although it is good to know that God recognized there were other gods and other lords in the world, by saying those who pretended to speak for the One God would die.
When God says they will die, that means they are mortal, and not eternal. Worship of lesser gods leads to the end of a lifespan, with no promise of spending eternity with the One God.
That can only come by placing God – Christ – Holy Spirit first on the devotion list … all tied for number one.
Paul told the Christians of Corinth, “Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth – as in fact there are many gods and many lords,” which confirms gods are everywhere.
Which brings me to the epiphany for this week.
We sit in a house of worship, where this building speaks for God, as if saying “We are devoted to God, through Christ.” But, do we put God number one?
In this town there are many churches that speak the same words as ours, but do we leave this building and feel a sense of superiority, thinking our style of worship is better than those in the other churches here? Is our religious practices better than someone else’s? If ours is not the best, then do we go to all the churches around town? If ours is the best, do we go try to get other people to realize that and stop going to their “inferior” churches and come to ours?
Do we see our branch of Christianity like we see college and university athletic programs, where we suit up and battle it out to prove who is better … at least in one game, if not over a collective of games over the years?
Has anyone here ever tailgated before a college football game? It is a deep-rooted tradition, especially in the major universities. High school football is very similar to a religion across the South, whether or not you can see that sense of importance. Thus, sharing fellowship with school chums and football program fans before a big game has a special feeling to it.
People set up grills, fire up the coals and toss on the meats: hotdogs, hamburgers, brats, ribs, chicken breasts, steaks, roasts. The “chef” is the “keeper of the flame.” There are others who tap the keg, uncork the wine, and pop the tops on beers deep in icy coolers.
In the reading from Paul, he wrote of “the eating of food offered to idols.” When you see that scene at a college football game and compare it to a festival like the Passover, where the “fans” of Judaism crowd the place for a big event, preparing for the Temple “chefs” to fire up the altar and throw on the sacrificial lambs,” there is not much difference in the activities and atmosphere of fun and celebration.
Now ask yourself this question: Is the popularity of college football waning or growing?
Before you answer that question, compare it to your answer to this question: Is the interest in Christianity in America waning or growing?
There may be a correlation there, such that a need to place “God” first has morphed into a lesser “god,” where the prophet thanking God for the success of a college football program then points to “lord” quarterback as the “savior.”
It is a sign that priorities have become corrupted.
Paul warned of this corruption, which can be modified to read as if he was specifically talking about true Christians being seen partying in the parking lot of a major college stadium. He can be shown to warn that even though one’s devotion is not to any school team, but to the One God and Christ, first and always foremost; still, doesn’t this fit like a well-worn school sweatshirt, where he said … “Take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if others see you, who possess knowledge, eating in the parking lot of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food cooked on grills as a sacrifice to idols?”
Can you see how the NFL has turned Sundays into a gathering of the assembly in parking lots outside stadiums, beginning at 9:00 AM, and not in the local churches?
Have you ever watched ESPN and seen how much the pundits preach about how a child’s game, played by young adults, should be given a high degree of importance? Are they not promoting the sacrifice of one’s devotion to sports and entertainment?
In the Gospel of Mark today we read of “a man with an unclean spirit” in the synagogue where Jesus was preaching. This man “cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?” The spirit within him knew Jesus was the prophet of which God told Moses He would send.
That is a statement that we all know what is right and what is wrong; but we are afraid someone might actually come to us with God’s words in his or her mouth, speaking what God commands. What if that prophet knew we were all pretending to put God first, when we really love other things much more than God?
Would that person be coming to destroy our way of comfortable life, of doing things the way things have been done forever and a day?
The epiphany for today is realizing anyone who has such a demon spirit inside, which keeps one from really, completely, totally, without question placing God-Christ-Holy Spirit first … as proved by being an Apostle of Christ … then one is not promised the eternity of Heaven.
If there is not the epiphany that comes from suddenly convulsing and screaming, as the unclean spirit departs, then one sits pretending not to need that change.
The penalty is death to any who say what they think God would want them to say, while not truly speaking the word of God, from the Holy Spirit within, sent with the approval of Lord Jesus Christ.
If everyone here is truly filled with the Holy Spirit, then:
“Hallelujah! I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart, in the assembly of the upright, in the congregation.”
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