2015 Lent 24

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Jeremiah 16:10-21; Jeremiah 17:19-27

I’ve never been brand-loyal.

I suppose the closest thing I’ve come to brand loyalty is owning three Volkswagens in my life.

Twenty years ago I purchased a used Golf.  It was good enough in its own way.

Some years later, the price was right and the timing was better so I leased a new Jetta.  This car was smart.  It drove like a top, was occasionally mistaken for a Mercedes, and suited my growing family.

And I guess my present car, a minivan, a Routan, came to me similarly: the timing and the deal were right.  0% interest over six years and I’ll own it outright.  (And that six years is nearly up.)  Better than cash!

But I’ve also owned others cars.  Quite a few too!

Let’s see, a 1968 Dodge Sportsman van was in there, as well as a 1972 Ford Pinto.  But, technically, my dad owned these so I’m not sure they count.

Then there were mine: starting with a 1973 Datsun 510; then a 1970 Triumph TR6; followed by my first real dependable beast, a 1980 Mazda 626; and a very un-dependable monster, a 1968 GMC 1500 pick-up.  Next came the Golf and the Jetta.  Then, with four kids (and the help of my father in-law), I landed an eight-passenger 2000 GMC Safari; followed by a 2006 Mini Cooper S, after selling the Jetta.

I loved that Cooper!  But the GMC Safari gave up the ghost and two car payments were not in the seminary family’s budget and it was too small for seven (we now had five kids) and so, alas, goodbye Cooper and hello Routan, our only vehicle for the time being.  Since then I have acquired a cheap and dependable, albeit occasionally smoking, 2006 Nissan Sentra S.

Oh, and I can’t forget the two basket cases I owned long enough to fix and then sell: a 1980 BMW 320i and a 1998 Volvo V90 wagon.  A few motorcycles have insinuated themselves in the mix too.

But my point is, as I hope you can see, I’m not really that brand-loyal.

It’s the same with sports.

I’m a huge fan of the game of baseball.  It’s a game of strategy and subtlety, complex enough to keep me interested and entertained for a lifetime.

And all my life I’ve had people try to convince me why one major league team is better than another; why that team deserves my loyalty; why all other teams are second-rate in comparison (at best!), and so on.

But I just can’t do it.  I can’t bring myself to the point where I am a die-hard fan of the Giants, Padres, Dodgers, Astros, Rangers, Braves, Yankees, or any other team which “deserves” my fanhood.

And my tempters say, “Why not?”

And I say, “Can’t I just enjoy the game for what it is?”

Anyway, no brand loyalty here.  It goes against some sort of innate grain.

Now, looking at these passages (I mistakenly commented on Sunday’s passage yesterday; so today we have two–yesterday’s and today’s), on the surface it looks like brand loyalty is exactly what God wants us to have.  You are not to worship any other gods but me, God says.  No Astros, no Dodgers, no Rangers, and no other team except mine!  The Angels!

But below the surface is that what’s really going on?

The ancient people of Israel were confronted daily by the gods of other nations.  Idols is a word we hear often.  But these gods, or idols, merely represented the systems and philosophical ideals in place within daily culture.  The people of Israel couldn’t avoid the hierarchies, sacrificial foods, currencies, and ideologies–the gods–of Egypt, for instance; but they could navigate their way through them.  They had to!

In the same way we have our own idols today, all around us, confronting us seemingly everywhere in our culture–whether ideologies, like “might makes right”; or realities, like an economy dependent on credit.  We can’t avoid these; so we should navigate through them the best we can, with integrity, not allowing ourselves to succumb to the shallow allure by which we end up hurting ourselves worst in the long run.

So, it’s really not about brand loyalty at all.  God is not telling the people of Israel to be fans of his team and his only.  God is telling them–and us–not to be fans of any team.

Enjoy the game for what it is but don’t become so infatuated with any one team that it consumes your being–don’t let how you feel on any given day during baseball season depend on whether your team wins or loses.  Or, to bring it full circle, use your car because you must; but don’t sacrifice your family to it.

Brand loyalty has its limits.

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