Psalm 16 depicts worship as not mere words, but actions. Not only does the Psalmist praise the name of God with song, prayer, and offering but is able to say they have chosen a different pattern of life.
Others may “run after” other gods, the Psalmist says, engaging in the blood offerings to earn their favor, but I choose a different path. I live with eyes to those on the path God is giving us, choosing to follow in their steps. I look with gratitude at the gifts God has given me – even a broad space to live and grow – devoting my life to God’s path.
True worship we are shown is not just words but action, particularly actions that de-throne the false gods of this world.
What are the false gods of this world? I don’t believe the false gods that seek to threaten the reign of the living God in our world are images used in other faiths, as in Israel’s day. In fact many practitioners of other faiths worship the same One God we do under other names and other images, so they should be viewed as partners on our sacred journey through life not opponents.
But the sort of images and other gods Israel was drawn to were representations of the great powers that were at work in their world – the power of fertility which brought children, the power of family bonds, the power to victory in war, the power to success. These all were necessary gifts to seek from their Creator, needed in life, but when they became the central pursuit of life through making them gods through idol work that replaced the One, liberating, life-giving God, it meant centering one’s life on those pursuits rather than the life of love for others, care for the earth, helping one’s neighbor, and living in gratitude and faithfulness that were to characterize followers of the God who led Israel from slavery to freedom.
We don’t necessarily carve idols and build altars to such powers, but we very easily choose to live with them as our central concern. We can put off time in service in the community, time with our kids or families, because we need to fight to earn that next big buck or big promotion. We can tear down other people, ignoring their needs and rights while treating them with disdain, because our politics is the real center of our life rather than following in the path of the One who teaches us to love our neighbors as ourselves. In fact we do sort of build idols for these paths of life don’t we? On T-Shirts, on bumper stickers, in the music we listen to, we can end up glorifying whatever it is we live for other than the God who says we discover God’s presence in the eyes of the least among us.
I think if we are honest we saw this in the debates that raged about the Supreme Court ruling that gay and lesbian families are protected with the same rights, including marriage, as anyone else and in the debate about governments in the south flying the Confederate flag. So many spoke as if the people hurt by how things had always been — families with no protections and people of color who had been historically harassed, bullied, ostracized, lynched, and strung up with that flag flying to celebrate this – didn’t matter. The pain caused to others by our own insensitivity to our neighbors was less important than our family traditions, our cultural norms, our personal preferences, or our wanting to feel right.
As always, the folks saying this were likely, just as those hurt by their rhetoric, to go each Sunday to the house of God to say the words of faith.
That example, together with our psalm, reminds us that it takes more than mouthing pious words to truly worship. True worship is about putting those words to action.
May we find it this day and all our days.
Your progressive redneck preacher,