Whom Shall We Worship?

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After watching some football this past weekend, Rev. Keith E. Lawder, President/CEO of the Georgia United Methodist Foundation, shared the following devotion during this week’s staff meeting. He begins with text from The Ten Commandments, Exodus 20:1-6.

Exodus 20:1-6: The Ten Commandments

Then God spoke all these words:

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.

You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.

After watching some football this weekend, I think the issue that sort of leaped into my mind as I was doing my personal devotion this morning is, what does it mean to take a knee? What does it mean to take a knee? In football, of course, we are familiar with what’s called the victory formation. That typically happens at the end of a half or at the end of the game where one team is trying to run out the clock. And so the quarterback takes the snap, takes the knee and then just runs out the clock for the rest of the game.

But the history of taking a knee goes back, of course, much further, and it really has a liturgical history. It goes back in the Church and it comes out of the Eastern Orthodox tradition as well as the Western Catholic tradition. It’s a sign of respect. And it is done to this day in some of the sacraments in both the Orthodox Church, the Catholic Church and also in the Lutheran Church. And it involves bending at least one knee down to the ground as a gesture of deep, deep respect. And typically it’s done before receiving the sacrament.

Another time that you might have seen this done is if you have ever been to a military funeral. And after taps have been blown and the flag that is draping a coffin is folded very carefully and very precisely, that flag is offered to the spouse or to the family member of the one who has died. And so the soldier walks over with the flag carefully folded in a triangle and gets down on one knee and hands the flag over. And that bending of a knee is a gesture of deep respect and reverence.

Whom shall we worship?

I think the issue for us, particularly those of us who like to watch football on Sunday afternoons, and who watched a lot of the stuff that went on yesterday afternoon in terms of the linking arms, down on one knee, raised fists in the air – all of that sort of stuff - I think the issue for us is whom shall we worship? Whom shall we worship?

We have made idols out of a lot of different things have we not? In the Ten Commandments, we’re not supposed to worship idols. Well, it’s even hard to figure out who exactly are the idols in all of this. Is it the game of football? Have we made the game of football sacrosanct? Have we made our own opinions about things? Have we turned our own opinions into idols? Do we even have a president who seems more interested in self-worship and our worship of him then perhaps worshiping God? Have we turned the flag into an object of worship? Is that really what our flag is meant to be: an object of worship going beyond an object of respect? What are we doing here? Or, are we worshiping a movement? Have we created new idols to try to make sure that our opinion is the one that survives and not somebody else’s opinion?

If we truly worship God, what does that mean in all of this? I think if we truly worship God, then we need to stop these things that divide people, that impair conversation, that keep us from having a meaningful discussion with people. If we truly worship God, then I think we need to invite serious conversation. We need to see the differences between our viewpoints as opportunities and not as an opportunity for hostility but opportunities for peacemaking.

The second Scripture that I wanted to share this morning is also very familiar. It’s from 1 Corinthians and 1 Corinthians 13 talks about the gift of love. A lot of times these verses are read at weddings. And though Paul, when he wrote them, was not writing about a wedding, I believe they apply to us in our discussion about whom do we worship.

1 Corinthians 13:1-13: The Gift of Love

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end.  When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

I think in all of the discussion, whether it’s in the Wall Street Journal or on the tabloids or whether it’s in Twitter, I think we have missed the point. I think if we are to truly worship God and not idols, then we have to follow the biblical injunctive that we love our neighbor and we need to realize that all of this other stuff is going to pass away. But love lasts. All of the other stuff is temporary. All the fame is temporary. All the adulation of football players is temporary; all the charging around and hiding behind the flag is temporary.

What we should see when we see someone taking a knee is an act of deep reverence and respect and love. And we need to get beyond our own political agendas whatever they may be and start acting like we love each other. And when we do that, then I think we will also see clearly and not dimly as if in a mirror.

Closing Prayer by Rev. Stephen A. Waldorf, GUMF Vice President of Development

Father, as we start this week not knowing as to what will transpire, one thing we can count on is that there is nothing, no opinions, no football games, no people who want to been seen or heard or noticed that is near as important as what You will do through your Spirit working in us. And so Lord, we pray there will not be things that disturb us so much that we lose sight of our focus. And we also pray that as Your children, as Your emissaries, as Your walking images of You on this earth this week, that we would not only find but also look for the opportunities to bring peace, to bring healthy and wholesome resolution. And Father, help people know that all that we do and all that we read is not anywhere close to the truth if it doesn’t follow your love and your forgiveness and the care You have given us.

And so Father, we lay ourselves out on the line for You that in each and every situation, may we hear You prompt us as You give us that nudge in the back, or as You stir up our minds to say something about this. May we have the courage to act, because this is a hurting world, and yet it’s Your world. You have provided the healing and the salvation that we need. And so we look to You to give us the courage to share that with people this week. We pray in Your name. Amen.