Sunday, July 23, 2017

Ten Commandments Series

Psalm 8, Mark 2:23–28




Beloved people of God, grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. AMEN.


When Moses went up on Mt. Sinai to meet the Lord, the Lord gave him two tablets of stone containing the Ten Commandments. That is why in our faith tradition we have tended to divide the Ten Commandments into two tables: the First Table containing commandments one thru three; the Second Table containing commandments four thru ten. The first three commandments focus on the love of God. They are summed up in what Jesus called the greatest commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” Commandments four through ten focus on the love of neighbor. They are summed up in what Jesus called the second greatest commandment: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love of God and love of neighbor are the two classic core values in our faith tradition. The Ten Commandments articulate what it means for the people of God to live by these two core values. As the people of God, we live out these core values in response to God’s gracious love for us, especially as it has been revealed in the Exodus from Egypt and in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.


Last Sunday we explored the meaning of the first commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me.” As Luther explains in the Large Catechism, the intent of this commandment is to require true faith in God and to reject all forms of idolatry. This morning we will explore the second and third commandments, the final two in the First Table.


The second commandment is: “You are not to misuse the name of your God”; or as I learned it in Confirmation, “You are not to take the name of the Lord your God in vain.” In the ancient world a person’s name was very significant. To be without a name was to be a nobody. A name revealed a unique person to others. It was a person’s most intimate word.


Dale Carnegie once said: “Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” Consider for a moment what happens when we call a person by name. It is the quickest way to get a person’s attention. If we hear the name of someone we know, it conjures up images of that person; and mutually sharing names unites two people in a special relationship.


The people of Israel, to whom the Ten Commandments were first given, had such reverence for God’s personal name— Yahweh— that they were reluctant to utter God’s name aloud. Although they hesitated to utter the name Yahweh aloud, they had many other names by which they addressed God— for example, “Lord” and “Sovereign.” “O Lord, our Sovereign,” sings the Psalmist, “how majestic is your name in all the earth!”


Jesus addressed God in an intimate familiar way and invited his followers to do the same In the Lord’s Prayer Jesus addresses God as “Father.” In the Garden of Gethsemane, on the night before he was crucified, Jesus addressed God as Abba, which could be translated as “Daddy.” This reveals something about who God is and how we are in a close relationship to God. Jesus teaches us that God appreciates being addressed by name in an intimate way.


In Luther’s explanation of the 2nd commandment in the Small Catechism, he is concerned with not misusing God’s name: “We are to fear and love God, so that we do not curse, swear, practice magic, lie, or deceive using God’s name.” But then he adds a more positive explanation: we are to “use that very name in every time of need to call on, pray to, praise, and give thanks to God.”


The first petition of the Lord’s Prayer is: “Hallowed be your name.” Luther’s more positive explanation is all about hallowing God’s name. We want not just to avoid misusing God’s name; we want to use it in such a way that God’s name is hallowed. Ultimately God hallows God’s own name. But on Earth God’s name is hallowed through us— the people of God. Whatever name we use for God, the point is to hallow it. To hallow something is to make it holy. “Holy” means that which is worthy of honor and reverence and awe. It also refers to the ability to fulfill one’s intended purpose. As people of faith we are confident that God’s name is holy and that God will fulfill God’s purpose for creation. In the first petition of the Lord’s Prayer, we express our desire to fulfill the 2nd commandment in fact as well as in intention. How we live our lives reflects on the God whose name we bear.


The 3rd commandment is: “Remember the Sabbath, and keep it holy.” As we have already discussed, keeping something holy has to do with using it for the purpose it was intended. One key purpose of the Sabbath is to provide the people of God with a day of rest. In Genesis 2:2–3 we read that even God needed a day of rest: “And on the seventh day God finished the work God had done, and God rested on the seventh day from all the work God had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that God had done in creation.”


God, therefore, builds a Sabbath day of rest into the rhythm of creation. Working 24/7 is not the model for human beings. Dr. Matthew Sleeth has written a book on remembering the Sabbath entitled 24/6. As the subtitle indicates, it is his “prescription for a healthier, happier life.” He makes a convincing case that we live in a 24/7 world and are desperately in need of a healthier, God-centered life that includes a day of rest. Such rest doesn’t just happen. We need to be intentional and committed about it. This healthier, God-centered life has the power to transform us physically, emotionally, mentally, relationally, and spiritually.


I appreciate Dr. Sleeth’s insights, but I am not convinced that God wants us to adopt a 24/6 lifestyle either. One could interpret 24/6 to mean that we are to work like crazy six days a week, collapse in utter exhaustion for one day, and then get right back at it again.


One of my favorite verses in the Bible is Psalm 127:2: “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for the Lord gives sleep to his beloved.” In addition to a day of rest each week, human beings need a good night’s sleep after a hard day of work. Constant toil is a sign of anxiety, a sign of a lack of trust in the Lord. To be fair, Dr. Sleeth also fully supports the value of getting a good night’s sleep.


In the time of Jesus the experts in the law had all sorts of Sabbath rules and regulations. On an ordinary day plucking a few ears of corn when traveling through a field, as Jesus’ disciples did, was freely permitted. But the problem was, explains William Barclay, “this was done on the Sabbath and the Sabbath was hedged around with literally thousands of petty rules and regulations. All work was forbidden. Work had been classified under thirty-nine different heads and four of those heads were: reaping, winnowing, threshing, and preparing a meal. By their action the disciples had technically broken all these four rules and were to be classified as law-breakers.” This may seem extreme to us, but as Barclay points out, to these experts in the religious law, “it was a matter of deadly sin and of life and death.”[1] These legal experts were zealous in their efforts to make sure the Sabbath commandment was obeyed. On the one hand, that might seem commendable. But on the other hand, Jesus took them to task for transforming what God intended to be a gift— Sabbath rest—into a burden. Jesus made clear human need takes precedence over a strict interpretation of this commandment. As Jesus said to them in Mark 2:27, “The Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath.”


Luther did not dispute the need for rest, but he emphasized the need for time to attend to God’s word. In his explanation to the 3rd commandment in the Small Catechism, he writes: “We are to fear and love God, so that we do not despise preaching or God’s word, but instead keep that Word holy and gladly hear and learn it.” Luther believed that we needed to worship and to hear and learn God’s word each day. But he was sensitive to the realities of ordinary people. Because worshiping daily is, explains Luther, “more than common people can do, at least one day a week ought to be set apart for it.” Luther’s primary concern was to make sure that the fundamental importance of God’s word was duly instilled in God’s people. In the Large Catechism he stresses that “God’s Word is the treasure that makes everything holy” and that “all our life and work must be based on God’s Word if they are to be God-pleasing or holy.”


The priority of attending to God’s word in our lives cannot be stressed enough. It is important for us to gather on a regular basis on the Sabbath to hear God’s word proclaimed and to receive the sacraments, God’s visible word. It is also important for us to balance our lives by observing a weekly day of rest. We do remember the Sabbath and keep it holy by attending to God’s word and resting. But I want to lift up one other aspect of keeping the Sabbath holy. On the seventh day of creation God rested not just because God was tired. God rested so that God could delight in the wonder and beauty of creation. We are blessed to live in a beautiful state. An excellent way to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy is to enjoy and delight in the wonder and beauty of creation here in Oregon. I am old school enough not to consider worshiping once per month as regular attendance. But surely if the Sabbath was made for human beings, the people of St. Andrew need to spend a number of Sabbath days during the year exploring God’s creative handiwork in Oregon and the whole Northwest. In Jesus’ name, AMEN.





[1] The Gospel of Mark, Daily Study Bible, 63.