Let's end our reflections this week by reconsidering last weeks devotions. Each day of the past week we pondered the purpose of the ritual practices of our Christian/Baptist tradition; Communion, Baptism, & Worship specifically. In today's verse, we see Aaron the the Israelites create another ritual, a festival to 'the Lord,' which was not to the Lord at all. Rituals are not empty. They are forms of practicing our faith which help us consciously or unconsciously discern how our beliefs operate in our everyday lives. They teach us how to act our beliefs. Today's verse shows us that we also engage, again unconsciously, rituals or practices that shape us in ways that are counter to becoming the humanity created us to be. They are tempting but they disfigure the image of God we are born with.
In 1 Corinthians Paul's great issue with the way the church practices communion is that it reinforces the social hierarchy that communion is meant to undermine and erase. Roman culture was built on the foundation of a clear demarcation of what people had value. Caesar at the top, wealthy men, wealthy woman, lower classes, then slaves. In our own experience, we should recall the restriction in our own history on those who were allowed to vote. Initially, this was free, land-owning (wealthy) men of European heritage (not black). There was a clear hierarchy of dignity, honor, and humanity. The communion meal was meant to offer the Christian community a way to practice living into the promise of the prophet Joes that on the day of the Lord (resurrection day) the Spirit would be given to ALL people, young and old, men and women. There was a radical new equality in the community as all were dignified by the Spirit. But the Corinthian church, in having the wealthy claim the seats of honor and the best food and wine, leaving leftovers for lower class church members, was not practicing this dignifying or subverting the social norm that devalued women, workers, and slaves.
Our practices form our habits. Communion was meant to habitualize dignifying all people created by God.
In terms of today's verse, we don't get to see what the great concern of worshipping a golden idol, apart from God's wrath. But what is the practical concern? Once again, the prophets reveal it most often. Isaiah specifically rails against Israel when they observe the proper rituals but do not advocate for or create a just society. They allow poverty, take advantage of the poor for profit and ignore the vulnerable. In the story of Elijah and King Ahab, we see it even more clearly. Ahab is roundly criticized for worshipping both God and Baal. This worship of Baal is lived out in Ahab's use of his power as King. He is interested only is acquiring more wealth and land. He seeks mastery over others. His subjects are not treated as beloved creations of God, but as pawns to use or enemies to defeat in his lust for more property and power. Israel's testimony is clear. Worship of Baal and its rituals and practices disfigured Ahab.
Which leaves us to ponder carefully not only the religious rituals we practices but also the idolatrous ones. This isn't necessarily a reference to other faith traditions. What we do habitually shapes who we become. James K.A. Smith uses consumerism as an example in his book Desiring the Kingdom. He describes our national ritual of shopping. The practice of seeking and acquiring the latest gadgets and fashions make us feel fulfilled as people (for a time, until the next release of fashion or gadget is released). He suggests that as a result of our self-image being built on what we can purchase, those who do not have the finances to keep up with the latest and the greatest fashion and technological advance, are unconsciously considered less valuable as people. It would be easy to deny this, but I personally remember NOT being the cool kid because we couldn't afford the new Nike Jordans. What we practice, shapes who we are, and how we relate to one another. This doesn't mean we stop shopping. It does mean we become more aware of the deeper meaning to even the simplest of our habitual practices so that they do not disfigure us as well. What are some of the habitual practices, or the messages we hear repeatedly, that have a shadow side that draws us away from realizing the image of God in which we were created?