2 Kings 17:32-33 (from The Message)
They honored and worshiped God, but not exclusively - they also appointed all sorts of priests, regardless of qualification, to conduct a variety of rites at the local fertility shrines. They honored and worshiped God, but they also kept up their devotions to the old gods of the places they had come from.
First of all, Happy New Year. I’m sure that nearly half the people who made resolutions have already broken them. I’m not being negative; just observant. Gyms are normally pretty full for the month of January but then (the workers tell me) it begins to dwindle. Of course, going to the gym now can be deadly if you don’t wear a mask all the time. Many people resolve to be more faithful in their religious observances. That, too, can fall by the wayside. It’s even more difficult because being in a heavily populated worship space can also be deadly. But a fresh start to take care of our bodies as well as our souls is not a bad thing.
2 Kings 17 is a long chapter that deals with the fall of Israel to the Assyrian exile. This is the famous beginning of the “ten lost tribes” and the chapter is severe. Since the Bible was written by priests, it is all the more evident here. Israel was lost because they didn’t worship God. It is a purely priestly perspective. Anyway, Assyria imported people from all over to fill the land...people who would not rebel against Assyria and (most importantly) would pay taxes. Things did deteriorate so Assyria brought some priests back to re-establish some Hebrew traditions. They did...and, in a way, things did settle down. But still, as it worked out, not only did they worship God, they worshiped everything else, too. This, by the way, is the beginning of the Samaritan people.
Of course, priests insist that people should ONLY worship God. We’ve probably heard at least one or two sermons in our lives that get in our faces about the tribute we pay to other things instead of God: work, family, sports, money, property, belongings, and devices. There is always a tension between faith and culture. There was in the aftermath of the Israelite exile (the Judean exile is yet to come and will be totally different).
2021 will be no different than 2020 in the sense that this tension remains. It is eternal. We’ve seen the extremes of people who claim to live by the Bible only. It manifests itself in many ways; from the way people dress, to the way they speak, to the way they live (I think of the Amish), to the rolls they give to men, women, and children. Some churches still advocate the abuse of women because the Bible says they should be submissive. Some churches forbid instrumental music...and the choirs sound really interesting.
For us, 2021 will continue the balancing act between what God wants and what we want. And who’s to say what God wants? Usually...it’s the priests...the clergy! That’s a self-watering garden, you know. But we will continue the balancing. It’s not a bad thing, either. So happy New Year and welcome to 2021’s version of the balance beam!
Go! Tell it on the mountain; over the hills and everywhere.
Go! Tell it on the mountain that Jesus Christ is born.
Eternal God, help us as we engage in the eternal balancing of Christ and culture, of church and society, of the profound and the profane. Amen.
Pastor Rick Moser