April 21 – The little god of the temporary temple

Sam and Debbie are great friends, the kind of friends that when you are talking you pick up right where you left off no matter how long ago it was that you left off. We first met Sam and Debbie 24 years ago when we first arrived at First Presbyterian Church in Menominee, Michigan.  To say they are good friends is an understatement.

When Sam and Debbie told us they’d be visiting the week after Easter, we knew that one of the days would be our “Philadelphia for those who’ve never been to Philadelphia day.”  We’d go to Independence Hall, see the Bell, walk around, find some lunch, and then head over to the Art Museum to see Rocky and the steps.  So we toured Independence Hall, took pictures of Sam and Debbie standing in front of the Bell, and went to one of the 437 restaurants in Philadelphia that claim the best Philly Cheesesteak anywhere. It was pretty good and Sam and Debbie can answer the question they’ll be asked when they are back in Menominee.  “Yes, we had a Philly Cheesesteak, they said it was the best anywhere.”

From the Historic District, we headed west on Arch Street toward Benjamin Franklin Boulevard and up towards the Art Museum. We kept on going without a stop. No Rocky and no Art Museum steps for Sam and Debbie.

The Art Museum of Philadelphia is housed in a building in the Greek Temple style.  It is impressive, the steep steps rising to the majestic museum with its view back across the city skyline. In the movie of the same name, Rocky ran up and down the steps as he trained for his boxing match with Apollo Creed. They put a Rocky statue at the foot of the steps, and all the tourists to Philadelphia stop at the Art Museum to have their picture taken with Rocky.

Sam and Debbie will go back to Menominee, Michigan, without a photo of themselves standing, hands raised, next to the Rocky Statue.

At the base of the steps to the Greek Temple-like building that house the Art Museum of Philadelphia, they are building a temporary temple to American excess. Rocky has been lost in the scaffolding.

The National Football League has made a mega-road show out of its annual player draft. The road show comes to Philadelphia this year and the league and the city are sparing no expenses. It all takes place next weekend. The great spectator event has to do with the 32 teams choosing which of 253 college players they’d like to give a chance to play for them next season. The drama disappears quickly after about ten minutes, but the beer will flow and the music will blare for hours on end.  It’s how a culture without a worthy God tends to worship.

I love NFL football even if my team preference (Go Pack) may frustrate my parishioners from time to time.  I think the draft is important and even interesting. It’s not because Sam and Debbie didn’t get their picture taken with Rocky that I’m concerned about the temporary temple being built at the foot of the Art Museum steps.

The preaching text for this coming Sunday includes this question the Lord asks through the Prophet Jeremiah, “Why have they provoked me to anger with their carved images and with their foreign idols?”

Does our temple to the bacchanalian gods of the gridiron say something about the emptiness of our culture?  I think it does. Like all such gods, the god whose temporary temple is being built at the foot of the Art Museum steps is a god of our own making who helps us hide from a tragic world of our own making.

The God we worship in our pokey little church at the corner of Gillam Avenue and Bellevue is much more worthy of our attention than the little god of the temporary temple at the Art Museum. Ours is a God who has confronted the tragic world of our own making and is about the business of redeeming it. Sure, enjoy draft weekend, but don’t neglect the God worthy to be praised.

See you Sunday