Idols rise up,
idols rise up.
Sunday School taught me,
not to worship golden calves.
I am a good person.
I have never worshiped a golden calf.
I have never knelt down,
raised my eyes to a static, burnished image of a farm animal
and said to it, “You are my god.”
Second commandment, kept.
What Sunday School never told me,
what I had to find out for myself the hard way,
is that idols don’t look like golden farm animals.
Only when you are a child
are you allowed to think they are that easy to spot.
Idols don’t look like a calf.
Idols look like a deliverer.
Idols look like an answer.
Idols might, temporarily,
even look a lot like God.
Idols aren’t small, either.
A golden calf,
placed next to Almighty God,
looks puny, ridiculous.
Who would believe in that?
Who would put their trust in that?
Only a fool.
But idols aren’t small.
They are big.
They can be as big as God.
Idols speak, too.
They tell us how wonderful we are.
They tell us what potential we have.
They tell us what a glorious future we have before us.
They sing their siren song,
music to hurting souls,
soothing the frayed ends of pain just long enough
for us to get a little sleep,
a little rest,
a little folding of the hands —
for us to check out
for at least one, blessed minute.
Idols will gladly hold our burdens for us while we sleep.
And, if in the fog of awakening away from home,
we don’t notice some things have been changed,
some things have been added or removed,
what of it?
We got to escape for a minute.
We can count the cost later.
Idols rise up, immediately.
Immediately, idols rise up.
And we worship them.
We tie them to us,
we drag them with us to the next altar,
and we are never free.
How are we to survive?
How are we to find God among the look-alikes?
How are we ever, ever to be saved?
God is a hard sell,
because God will not be what we want God to be,
and God will not tell us what we want to hear.
When idols rise up, however,
God is always present.
God is always close by.
God is always one of the choices.
When idols speak,
God might remain silent.
God is not typically into shouting matches.
Nor will God spew forth rainbows and confetti
just to keep our attention.
Yes, God is able,
but God does not usually compete that way
with the things of this world.
But when idols rise up,
and their words are flowing sweet and fast,
look into their eyes.
It can’t be done.
You can try, but they will not meet your eyes.
They are not able.
There is no Spirit behind those empty openings;
there is nothing present to gaze into your soul
and mirror anything back.
You can spend your entire life gazing at idols,
and idols will suck your life from you,
and you will always feel hungry,
you will always feel thirsty,
you will always be in want.
You will spend your life returning again and again to an empty well
which the best you have to offer still will not fill.
There is another choice, however.
always and eternally,
Emmanuel, God with us.
If we can turn for a moment
away from the endless flow of enticing promises,
there will always be God.
In God’s eyes will be love, welcome,
and the reflection back of our very best selves.
In God’s speaking
will be our names,
uttered with tenderness and pleasure.
In God’s presence
will be the subtle, alluring, relentless pull
of a love that will not let us go,
beckoning us to come,
be touched, be healed . . .
and, in turn,
touch and heal the world.