Sunday, November 08, 2020

Unreal Idols and Real Ikons

Sermon for the twenty-second Sunday after Trinity

What a strange way to end a letter! No "yours sincerely", no "all my love", no "warm regards". St John's first letter ends simply with

"Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen."

It's possible that we lost the rest of the letter. If we did, then that's a shame but it cannot have contributed to our understanding and relationship with God. If this is it then it seems a very abrupt way to end a letter.


Clearly St John wishes us to impress upon us that idolatry is a big problem and he has spent much of his letter telling us why: we are to worship the true and living God and not created things.

St John has spent much of his ministry in Ephesus and has seen the idolatry of the Greeks and Romans with their whole phone-book's worth of gods to worship: Artemis, Zeus, Apollo, Poseidon.... Since St John is Jewish, he is also aware in his culture that there are people who worship Baal, Ashtoreth and the disgusting Molech. In such an environment, how is anyone to know the true God?


St John begins his letter drawing us to the fact that he has seen God, hugged Him, even laid his head upon the divine breast. He knows Jesus: he knows God.

He knows that there can be only one God. Another St John - this time St John Damascene - says that if there were two true gods then one would limit what the other can do and God can do all that can be done. Thus there is only one true God that exists: Jesus bears witness to Him and the Holy Spirit bears witness to Him.

Further, the Apostle St John whose letter we are reading, says that on earth there are three witnesses that God is with us in Jesus: the witness of the Holy Spirit throughout His ministry, in His miracles and in His preaching; and in the witness of the blood and water which poured out of His side on the Cross. All this points to one truth, one reality: that God Himself became flesh and dwelt among us.


This is the truth. Any god that is not seen in Our Lord Jesus Christ is an idol - a thing of our own creation.These are shadows and phantoms without any substance and whose demands haven't the power even to save a flea.

St John is clear, our faith in God is expressed in our striving to lead sinless lives by which he means lives that seek God and stick to Him like glue. When we sin we must confess and repent and we will find ourselves back with Him. We cannot  say that we love God and then ignore Him and what He asks us to do for then we are worshipping a false God which looks like the real one but who agrees with our sinfulness: if God wants us to be joined with Him, why should He tolerate anything that separates us from Him.


Unrepentant Idolatry is a sin unto death because we refuse to let go of the god that we have created and who accepts what we do without question. The true God will show us our sins and bear them for us upon His Cross. His pain and suffering will bear witness to that. Will our struggle to know and fight against our sin bear witness to our love for Him?

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