My friend's uncle was a Buddhist and prominent in his community, so when he died recently, the memorial service she and her family attended was a large one, with over 300 people in attendance.
When they arrived, she and her sister were briefed, with other family members, on the protocol of a Buddhist memorial service.
At the front of the room was a large incense urn. Behind it they could see a statue of a god. To the right was a photo of her uncle.
The man instructing them said that at a certain point in the service, the family would file to the front, put some incense into the urn, bow from the waist and then turn and bow to the photograph of their deceased family member.
Alarm bells were going off for my friend and she and her sister looked at each other, then said to their guide, "We can't do the first bow, we're Christians."
"Oh, it's nothing," said the man (I'll call him Barry,) "I used to be a Christian too, until 1990. This is just to show respect to your uncle."
"Well, Barry," said my friend, "I don't know which god you served up until 1990, but with mine, that's up in the Top Ten List of Things Not to Do."
The service began and the two of them felt the tension increasing as the moment of "showing respect" approached. There were other family members there who are Christians and she watched them to see what they would do. They went to the front and bowed, as they had been instructed.
My friend's heart was beating so hard that she felt like it would jump out of her chest; it was like a loud drum in her ears. She felt as though all 300 or so pairs of eyes were on them as she and her sister took their turn to go forward. She felt huge pressure to conform as everyone else seemed to be doing, and yet she knew she couldn't.
Both sisters went forward but did not bow or put incense into the urn, but they turned towards their uncle's photo and bowed in respect.
It took courage not to bow to an idol at the risk of causing offence to a community and close family members and I admire my friend's courage not to cave under pressure. I can't help but think though, of her words to "Barry" about the "Top Ten List of Things Not to Do."
Bowing to an idol seems so obviously wrong and yet people went along with it. But are the items on that list in their less obvious guises, less of an issue because they are more culturally acceptable these days? Not at all. But they are ``the law;`` and though I cannot discount it, I have no hope of keeping it. I thank God for Jesus.
Romans 8:3-4 (The Message)
3-4God went for the jugular when he sent his own Son. He didn't deal with the problem as something remote and unimportant. In his Son, Jesus, he personally took on the human condition, entered the disordered mess of struggling humanity in order to set it right once and for all. The law code, weakened as it always was by fractured human nature, could never have done that.
The law always ended up being used as a Band-Aid on sin instead of a deep healing of it. And now what the law code asked for but we couldn't deliver is accomplished as we, instead of redoubling our own efforts, simply embrace what the Spirit is doing in us.