Summary: When you grow accustomed to the way things are, you no longer see things for what they are... idols that affect the way we think and live and ultimately deter us in our devotion to God.
Series: All-American Idols
Title: Becoming Ill-At-Ease with the Way Things Are: Idolatry
Text: Acts 17:16-34
Thesis: When you grow accustomed to the way things are, you no longer see things for what they are… idols that affect the way we think and live.
While in North Carolina recently I notice that Clay Aiken, one time runner-up for the title of American Idol is now running for Congress in that state. His odds seem pretty good in that while I was there his opponent passed away. But more to the point, I confess to being a bit off-put but the name “American Idol.” I know it is merely a competition to determine the top potential recording artist in the estimation of the viewing public. I am something of a geezer so I may be out of touch but it seems the term “idol” is kind of a strong term for a pop star but when I see pictures of the hysteria that goes on at a Justin Bieber concert… maybe “idol” is the right term. I remember when my cousins… a little older than me returned from an Elvis concert in Des Moines, they seemed similarly enamored with Elvis. I prefer to think the adoring public of a pop star does not bow before or pray to an American Idol contestant. What does happen with American Idols and other pop-artists is that they receive excessive adoration. Hopefully in the next few week we will be able to get at what real American Idols look like.
Every year U.S. News and World Report people publish an issue ranking America’s best colleges and universities. The categories include: Best National Universities, Best Liberal Arts Colleges, Best Regional Colleges and Universities, Best Value colleges and universities and Up and Coming Schools.
It is not surprising that the top national universities include: Princeton, Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Stanford, Duke, MIT and so on…
Beyond academic rankings, depending on what ranking you read there are a number of towns that make the list of best College towns. Those lists include towns like Ann Arbor, MI, Madison, WI, Berkley, CA and Boulder, CO. Sometimes college towns are ranked as best party school. Places like Iowa Sate in Ames, IA and C.U. in Boulder, CO make those lists.
Interestingly one of the best college towns listed is Athens, GA… home of the Bulldogs and known for its art and music department which produced The B 52’s, a new wave band in 1972 and R.E.M., a popular alternative band in 1980. In my estimation I think R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts” is one of the most hauntingly beautiful songs I’ve ever heard. And they are right out the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia
Our text today focuses on another famous university town, Athens, Greece. Athens, Greece was at that time the greatest university town in the world… it was not known for being a party school or for producing rock bands but as a center for learning that attracted students from all over the world. Athens was the place to go if you wished to discuss “the latest ideas.”
Our text begins with the Apostle Paul making an observation.
I. The Observation
While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was deeply troubled by all the idols he saw everywhere in the city. Acts 17:16-21
In our culture we do not see any idols per say. I grew up in a tradition that thought of religious icons as forms of idolatry. Of course Crucifixes and Virgin Mary statues were at the top of the list. Also highly suspect were those little statues of St. Christopher glued to the dash of the family car to assure you of safe travels. Not too long ago a lady, selling her home, told me she buried a statue of St. Joseph head down in her yard and sold her house the next day. The little adage goes something like, “St. Joseph can sell your house for you while standing on his head.” Those kinds of things as well as signs of the zodiac, horoscopes, fortune-telling, weegie boards and good luck charms were thought of as witchcraft and as such, also idolatrous.
Of course our crosses are acceptable because we have taken Christ off the cross. However someone recently asked me how many crosses we have on display when you drive into our parking lot… Some of my colleagues jibe me about practicing bibliolatry… referencing our name and the large bible displayed out front.
I speak of these things, which may or may not be relevant, because they are things one might observe about our culture.
This morning we need to begin with a context from which we will observe the events from Acts 17.
1. The Ten Commandments begin with God stating: “I am the Lord your God and you must not have any God but me (or other than me). You must not make for yourselves an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I the Lord your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affections for any other gods.” Exodus 20:3 and 4