love, knowledge, idols — priorities!

Many years ago now I visited Becky in The Gambia, West Africa. She was there working as a nurse and nurse tutor, and I was there for a short vacation over the Christmas holidays.

One of the experiences I remember from those 4 weeks in The Gambia was attending a church service in the village of Jarrol. This was a village just a few kilometers upcountry from where Becky was living and working. And it was a very small church – there were only 6 of us there that Sunday morning. Along with Becky and me there were two other health care workers (Australian midwives) – there was a young Christian man who was serving in the Gambian army – and there was the village chief, who was a Muslim. That Sunday I was asked to preach, which I did, and the young Gambian man translated my words into the Mandika language for the chief. As you can imagine, it was pretty informal – I sat on a bench in the church as I offered some reflections on a passage of scripture.

Everything went fine that morning. But then after the service, one of the Australian midwives pointed out that after reading the scriptures I had placed my bible on the ground next to the bench where I was sitting. She pointed out that in a Muslim context, this would have been a sign of profound disrespect for the bible – no Muslim would ever put the Qur’an, their holy book, on the ground. The only saving grace, she said, was that I had at least placed the bible partly on mat that was there on the ground beside me. Continue reading

Samuel and the idols

That sounds like the name of a rock band, but it’s a sermon title…

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When we hear about idol worship, what do we think of?

Maybe when we hear about idols and idolatry, we first think of places around the world where idols are part of the cultural landscape. We might think of those countries where statues or shrines are plentiful in public and private places. In a similar vein, when we hear about idols and idolatry we might think of the Old Testament – passages like the one we read this morning – a story where the people of Israel had got caught up worshipping at shrines set up to the gods of their neighbours.

Now when we think about idolatry and idols in this way – in terms of statues and shrines, and in terms of the gods of the ancient Canaanites, for example – we create a kind of distance between ourselves and the notion of idolatry. We aren’t generally tempted to set up shrines to various gods in our homes. The temptation that the Israelites felt to worship the gods of their neighbours – that isn’t really a part of our experience. So when we initially think of idols and idolatry there is a kind of distance – we’re not immediately sure how this reality connects with our own lives. Continue reading