Wednesday, January 13, 2016

In Gods We Trust - #2 in a series on the Ten Commandments

Exodus 20:1-17

And God spoke all these words:

"I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

"You shall have no other gods before me.

"You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

"You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

"Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

"Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.

"You shall not murder.

"You shall not commit adultery.

"You shall not steal.

"You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

"You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor." 

Who knows the motto of the Boy Scouts?  

Be prepared!

Here is a question ONLY for men – how many men know the motto of the Girl Scouts? 

Be prepared!

States have mottos.  One that I like is Arizona’s motto.  Anyone here from Arizona?  Here’s their motto - "It grows as it goes.”

That motto has been criticized for appearing strange or even nonsensical at first hearing. However, it is a 2000 year old quotation from a Latin poet.  It refers to the sound of a thunderbolt increasing in strength as it moves across the sky, and as a motto it refers to a symbol of dynamic progress. "It grows as it goes.” Now it makes sense.

Countries have mottos – the motto of the nation of Belize sounds like it was written by that nation’s tourism industry.  The motto says, “Under the shade I flourish.”

It just sounds so relaxing.

What is the motto of the United States?

“In God We Trust.”

We had no official motto until 1956.  Until then, E Pluribus Unum, “Out of Many, One,” was the unofficial motto, but in 1956, at the beginning of the Cold War, congress adopted “In God We Trust” as our motto. 

Only one state in the nation shares that same motto, “In God We Trust.”


The only problem with this is that we don’t live by it.

This is NOT the motto which gives direction to our lives.

Imagine a Boy Scout or Girl Scout living by the motto, “Be unprepared.” 

Or imagine Arizona’s motto not being “It grows as it goes,” but instead, “It just withers and fades away.”

In the bulletin today the sermon title is correct.  It may look like a typographical error, but it is true.  We don’t trust in God, but we trust in many, many Gods. 

In GodS (plural) we trust.

Where your greatest trust is placed, there you will find the God you worship.

The Second Commandment teaches us, “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.  You shall not bow down to them or worship them.”

Now granted, idols in the days of Moses were statues of false gods.  People would make these things and then bow down and literally worship them. 

We don’t do that – at least I don’t think anyone here is doing that.

However, we do put our trust in things that are often made with human hands.

We put our love in things.

We cherish and adore these things.

We worship gods of all sorts.

John[1] was a man who lived a lavish life style.  He and his wife, a former Olympic champion, traveled all over the world, but had never ridden in a commercial jet – they’d always flown in their private jet. 

One day, he had to go somewhere that was unfamiliar, and John was known to have trouble following directions.  In those days before GPS systems, his solution was to hire a taxi.  But he refused to ride in a lowly taxi, and insisted on driving his own, expensive Bentley.  So he hired a taxi to drive in front of his car, so he could follow.

        One day, his wife Lisa was checking her messages.  She thought her husband was at work, and when she checked her messages, there was her husband.

"I love you very much, I love the children very much,” it began.

        The message continued.  John said he couldn’t go on with his life. 

        He gave detailed instructions where to send the police to recover his body.

        By the time the police arrived, he was dead. 

At his funeral, one of his friends said, “This suicide will always be a mystery.  John had everything.  He was successful in business.  He had the best cars.  He had the biggest homes.  He was rich beyond comprehension.[2]

It was as if the one giving the eulogy was listing the gods in whom John had trusted. Business.  Success.  Cars.  Fine homes.  Prestige. 

How many gods do you trust?

How many gods do you adore?

How many gods have you made in your life for you to worship?

The second commandment instructs us not to worship idols, and keep in mind that idols are more than simply graven images, statues or inanimate objects which primitive people bow down and serve.

Our idols can be almost anything.

Success is an idol which some worship. 

We teach our children and grandchildren to be successful.  We want them to be a success in life.  As pastor, I want my church to be a success.

Who would NOT want to be successful?

But for many, this good and healthy goal becomes an idol we worship and adore.

And when success is the idol we worship, we find it is a god that does not satisfy.

Years ago, there was a comic strip in the newspaper showing in the first panel a young worker in the mail room.  Above his head was one of those “thought balloons” revealing what he was thinking – “Oh if I could just become the Supervisor of the Mail Room, I’d be so happy.”

The next panel showed the Supervisor of the Mail Room, and he was thinking, “Oh if I could just become the General Manager, I’d be so happy.”

The next panel showed the General Manager, and he was thinking, “Oh if I could just become the President of the Company, I’d be so happy.”

The last panel showed the President of the Company.  He was sitting at his desk thinking, “Oh if I could just be a simple worker in the mail room, I’d be so happy.”

King Solomon once reflected on his success, which I would dare say outpaces any success any of us have.

“I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. I developed water systems for the community.  I had a tremendous number of workers under me.  I owned more than anyone in the community.  I had gold and silver.  I became greater by far than anyone.….Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.”  (Paraphrased from Eccl 2:4-11)

Do you trust God, or do you trust your own success? 

What will save you?  What will give your life meaning?  God, or your own success?  Which do you bow down and worship?

Money is another idol we worship in this society. 

St Paul said in his New Testament book of First Timothy (1 Tim 6:17-18),  “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.”

Wow, even more applicable in this present day.  “Do not put hope in wealth, which is so uncertain.” 

Some of us have learned all too well how uncertain our wealth can be. 

In the Old Testament, Job examines himself very carefully. (Job 31:24-28)

"If I have put my trust in gold or said to pure gold, 'You are my security … then those would be sins to be judged, for I would have been unfaithful to God on high.”

Job knew full well that idol worship involved so much more than graven images.

Now there is nothing wrong with money – but a lot of people misquote the Bible.  They believe that the Bible says, “Money is the root of all evil.”  But that is not what the Bible says.  It says “LOVE of money, is the root of all evil.”

So which do you love more?  God, or money?  Which do you worship?

For others, it is not so much the money, as the possessions and things money helps us buy. 

You’ve heard the satirical comment perhaps, “The one who dies owning the most stuff, wins.”  Meaning, of course, that it really doesn’t matter how much “stuff” you have accumulated.  At the end of your life, what is it worth?

In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus warns us, “Be on your guard a person’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions."  And he told them a parable about a man who was so successful in his farming business that he decided to build more and more barns.  He was thinking that if could accumulate enough “stuff” in life, then he would be able to say to himself, “I have plenty of good things laid up for many years. I can take life easy; eat, drink and be merry."  But as the parable goes, the man dies before he can get around to enjoying life. (Luke 12:15-26)

Possessions in and of themselves are not bad.  We all have them.  We need them.  But what do we love the most?  God, or the “stuff” that clutters our closets?

Who is your God?

        And for others their idol is security.  They want to be secure in their future.
What could be a better goal than this?  None of us want to become a burden on society or on our children.  We want to be secure today and save and have a secure future for ourselves. 

        And yet, for some of us, security is not a goal, it is a god.

        It is not responsibility, but it becomes irresponsibility. 

        Somewhere the desire for security crosses the line so that it becomes a god we worship, rather than something we trust God will provide. 

Some of you have probably heard the story about a young New York  investor who was vacationing in a small coastal Mexican village.  He stood looking out into the cool Gulf waters.  Near him was a tanned, weathered fisherman bringing onto the pier a large catch of fish.
He asked the man how long it took to catch this much fish.
“Not long at all,” the fisherman replied.
“Well, why not stay out longer and catch more fish?” the young New Yorker asked smiling.
“I have enough for today,” said the fisherman, “this is what I need to feed my family.”
“What do you do with the rest of your time?” the young man asked curiously.
“I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take a siesta with my wife, Maria, and stroll into the village each evening where I enjoy some wine and laughter with friends. It’s a full and happy life,” the fisherman replied.
“Well, I'm a Harvard MBA and I think I can help you. You could spend more time fishing and with the proceeds from the larger catch, buy a bigger boat. Then you could catch even more fish. With those profits you could buy several more boats and hire captains to fish for you, and eventually you could open your own cannery. Then you would control the product, processing, and distribution. You would need to leave this small coastal village and move to Mexico City or LA or even New York where you could run your expanding enterprise.”
“How long would that all take?” asked the somewhat bewildered fisherman.
“Fifteen, maybe twenty years, max.”
“But then what?”
“Well, when the time was right, you could sell your company stock to the public, and become very rich. You could be worth millions,” declared the proud young investor.
“Millions? Wow!  Then what?”
“Then you could retire and move to a small coastal village like this one where you could sleep late, fish a little in the morning, play with your grandkids, take a siesta, and enjoy wine and music with your friends in the evening.”
The fisherman looked at him and asked, “Isn’t that what I’m doing right now?”
Jesus warns us in the New Testament book of Matthew (Matt 6:19-21):  "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
So what about you – is security a goal?  Or has it become a god?

        Others worship sex, and no one did that better in the Old Testament than King Solomon.  For all of his wisdom, he seemed to lack wisdom when it came to women.  He had 700 wives and 300 concubines. 
        A thousand women!
        And at the end of his life, aging old Solomon reflects on his sexual pursuits.  He said in the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes, (Eccl 2:10-11), “I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. (And yet)…everything was meaningless.”
        So what is your god?
        What idols do you pursue, adore and worship?
        Sex, alcohol, drugs, power, prestige, the biggest home, the most expensive car, the most money?
        So where do you put your trust?  What do you love the most?  What do adore?
        Love the Lord your God, and worship only him.  Everything else in our lives should be for his glory.

And now unto God the Father,
God the Son,
And God the Holy Spirit be ascribed all might, power, dominion and glory, today and forever, Amen.
Copyright 2016. 
Dr. W. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved

Ministers may feel free to use some or all of this sermon in their own ministries as long as they do not publish in print or on the Internet without ascribing credit to the author.

[1] I have taken the liberty of changing this individual’s true name for this sermon. 
[2] The Man Who Had Everything, by Beth Landman.  New York News and Features, November 22, 2002.