Thursday, October 10, 2013

2 Kings 23:4-5, 21-25: Tearing Down Asherah Poles

This afternoon, I had the pleasure of preaching for my classmates in a homiletics class I'm taking. The class is called, "Preaching the Headlines."

Our first testament lectionary reading today comes from 2 KINGS 23:4-5 and 21-25.
Hear the Word of the Lord.
4The king commanded the high priest Hilkiah, the priests of the second order, and the guardians of the threshold, to bring out of the temple of the LORD all the vessels made for Baal, for Asherah, and for all the host of heaven; he burned them outside Jerusalem in the fields of the Kidron, and carried their ashes to Bethel. 5He deposed the idolatrous priests whom the kings of Judah had ordained to make offerings in the high places at the cities of Judah and around Jerusalem; those also who made offerings to Baal, to the sun, the moon, the constellations, and all the host of the heavens.
21The king commanded all the people, “Keep the passover to the LORD your God as prescribed in this book of the covenant.” 22No such passover had been kept since the days of the judges who judged Israel, or during all the days of the kings of Israel or of the kings of Judah; 23but in the eighteenth year of King Josiah this passover was kept to the LORD in Jerusalem.
24Moreover Josiah put away the mediums, wizards, teraphim, idols, and all the abominations that were seen in the land of Judah and in Jerusalem, so that he established the words of the law that were written in the book that the priest Hilkiah had found in the house of the LORD. 25Before him there was no king like him, who turned to the LORD with all his heart, with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses; nor did any like him arise after him.

            The land of Judah was a hot mess. Idolatry was rampant. God’s chosen people had turned away from their God.  They were worshipping Baal and Asherah, even the elements like the sun and the moon. They had built idols and shines.  There were prostitutes at the temples and sacrifices made to false gods at high places.
            Judah had failed miserably at holding up their end of the covenant with God. 
“I the Lord your God am holy” God had told his people, “And you my people shall be holy.” But these were not the actions of a holy nation. These were the actions of a people who had let the nations around them water down their faith. They had let false gods – idols – into their lives and were brazenly worshipping them. 
            You see, Judah had lost sight of the Lord’s law. Literally. They lost their Torah until one day the priests in the temple found it and read it. They were so moved with fear and grief that they took it straight to the king who made known to all the people the terrible sins they had committed.
             King Josiah says in the previous chapter, “great is the wrath of the Lord that is kindled against us, because our ancestors did not obey the words of this book.”
            Fortunately for The Judahites, there was a chance to renew the covenant – to restore their right relationship with God.  Immediately, Josiah began the reforms in the nation to get back on track with God’s law. He had the Asherah poles torn down and the idols smashed.
Josiah got everyone in on this reform. He set the people into action cleansing the land of sin and reinstating the celebration of Passover. The first few verses of this chapter tell us that all people, “small and great” were part of this reformation. Everyone was called to be a part of the reform.
            I know many people who would say that this world we live in is a hot mess like Josiah’s Judah. There is so much sin, so much garbage, so much evil all around that just It’s easy to look around in our world today and wonder where God has gone? What are we, God’s people to do?figuring out where to start scan feel like an impossible task.

Unhealthy social structures and hierarchies that puff up some groups of people while tearing down or imprisoning others surround us. They are part of the very fabric of our modern culture.
These hierarchies have become idols, friends. I would argue that this assignment of different values to different people, is the biggest idol we have to smash today. People are classified, categorized, sorted and separated.
The Taliban said this week that they would again target Malala, the teenager speaking up for equal education for girls.
This government shutdown is at it’s core about the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer and the rich want to keep it that way.
Saturday night, right here in Pittsburgh, a gay couple was surrounded outside a bar and one of them beaten – simply because they’re gay.
The other day in Beaver County, several men were stabbed in a bar because they disagreed about sports teams.
Tell me this isn’t out of control when someone’s even willing to devalue another human being because of what sports team they cheer for!  We will categorize and dehumanize others for just about any old thing.
People devaluing people, seeing them as "something other" is an idol and it’s got to go!
It’s not just out there in the “secular world”! When Josiah cleansed the land of idols, he started with the ones in the temple.
Even in the church, we fall prey to devaluing idols of racism, sexism, classism, and denominationalism. We are called to be a united body, but we prefer to compartmentalize ourselves.
Today’s epistle reading is from 1 Corinthians 12 and it reminds us that there are a variety of gifts and talents and services among Christians. We are to celebrate and lift up this diversity. Diversity is good! It’s when we forget that it’s the same Spirit within us all that we can get ourselves into some trouble.
They say Sunday morning is the most racially segregated time of the week. Pastors, both local and national, encourage social structures that make women and girls second-class citizens. Rich people don’t want poor people in their church and poor people don’t want rich people in their church. The church is not immune to the idol worship of social imbalance and disunity.
If we’re going to set about speaking justice into the lives of people and turning over these divisive social hierarchies, we are wise to remember that God calls us to start in our own house – in the church!  Josiah ordered the priests to start the cleansing IN THE TEMPLE.

            The people of Judah were given an opportunity to renew their covenant with God and we are given a new covenant through Christ.

When Josiah cleansed the land, reform didn’t stick after he died. The following kings didn’t have the same passion and the people had only half-heartedly participated in the first place. If Christians only go about halfheartedly attempting to affect change and reform or try to change it by human power, nothing much is going to happen or last. We can make all the motions, but without serious transformation and cleansing of our “temples,” nothing will stick. If we’re just doing it because the guy in charge told us to, it’s not going to fly.
 Change. . . real honest change. . . comes from within the hearts of God’s people. It comes from Jesus Christ.
            We cannot effect change by simply getting people to go through the motions or by railing against the “world out there.” This is so much more than behavior modification. Josiah’s people modified their behavior, but their hearts didn’t change and the moment Josiah was gone. . . so was the change.
This is about real inside out transformation, friends!
            It is the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, through our unity with Jesus that we are able to be welcomed into right relationship with the One True God. This is a transformation that starts within the church and within each Christian. We can’t do his thing called  justice by our own power but we can live abundantly without doing it
            We’re all in this together. We are the Body of Christ and when one member suffers, so do all the members. Life with Jesus leads us to compassion for those around us and life with Jesus leads us to care about the value of every person around us. Life with Jesus is the common bond by which we join to one another.
            We are all called to be a part of this reformation. Doesn’t matter if we’re male, female, black, white, rich, poor, Presbyterian, Methodist, Catholic, Baptist, Non-Denominational or whatever. All the people are called to clean out the idols in the church!
            We can and we should desire change in the world, but we cannot even begin to touch the idols in the world outside the walls of the church until we start cleaning out the junk in our own temple.

Let’s pray:
New every morning is your love, great God of light,
And all day long you are working for good in the world.
Stir up in us the desire to serve you,
To live peacefully with our neighbors,
And to devote each day to your son,
Our Savior, Jesus Christ the Lord.

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