Saturday, January 09, 2016

No Other Gods - #1 in a series on the Ten Commandments

Old Testament Lesson                                                                Exodus 20:1-17
20 Then God spoke all these words:
I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before[a] me.
You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lordyour God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation[b] of those who love me and keep my commandments.
You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for theLord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.
Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 10 But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 11 For in six days theLord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.
12 Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
13 You shall not murder.[c]
14 You shall not commit adultery.
15 You shall not steal.
16 You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
17 You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

New Testament Lesson                                                              Matthew 4:8-10

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written,
‘Worship the Lord your God,
and serve only him.’”

Sermon                        What’ll Ya Have - What’ll Ya Have?    Maynard Pittendreigh

                I have been to some of the finest restaurants in the world. 

Shula’s Steak House in Miami is pretty nice. 

Tavern on the Green isn’t too bad. 

Antoine’s in New Orleans is OK. 

But my favorite restaurant in all the world is in Atlanta.
It’s probably a good thing I don’t live in Atlanta any more, because I loved eating is this restaurant as often as I could.

        THE VARSITY. 

If you ever go to Atlanta, you have to make a trip to the Varsity.
It is over 80 years old, and it is the world’s largest Drive In Restaurant. They sell more Coca Cola there than any other place in the entire world.
Now when you go, you stand in line with about 200 other people – except there is no line – there is just a mob that you slowly move through the mob.
And when you finally get to the counter, no one politely says, “May I help you.”  They yell at you.  “What’ll ya have?  What’ll ya have?”  I think it must be a requirement because that is the universal way they greet you at that place.
Throughout the South, people know that if you don’t go to the Varsity, then you haven’t really been to Atlanta.
But I love the way they greet you – “What’ll ya have, what’ll ya have?”
Now – in America, that is the way we have come to treat religion.
What will you have?  What’ll ya have?  What’ll ya have?
In America we pick and choose what we want our God to be.
What’ll ya have? 
I’ll have a loving and merciful God please, with a side order of joy.
What’ll ya have?
I’ll have a God who will strike my enemies dead, dead, dead – with a side order of peace and harmony for me and my family.
What’ll ya have?
I’ll have a God who will bless MY political party, but not the other ones.
What’ll ya have?
I’ll have a God who is an “energy field created by all living things, that surrounds and penetrates living beings and binds the galaxy together.” 
Oh wait, that’s not God, that’s how Obi Wan describes the Force in Star Wars.
But that’s my point – in our culture we worship whatever God we want to worship, and we get to choose what God will be like.  We don’t seek God, we invent God.  It’s like looking at a menu and someone comes up and says, “What’ll ya have?”  That’s when we place an order and describe the kind of God we want.
Build A Bear – have you ever heard of one of those shops?  They sound like a perfect place to take a child or grandchild.  I believe there is one here in Orlando at the Florida Mall.  I’ve never been there, but I know the concept.  You and the child go to the Build A Bear shop.  The child picks out a bear, then picks out clothing, then shoes, then accessories.  And after spending a few minutes, and I assume spending a few dollars, the child has built a custom designed teddy bear.
And we treat faith as a “Build A God” shop. We take a little of this, and reject a little of that, and then we have the God we want.
Which is not necessarily the one true God.
In the Bible, one of the most radical experiences the people of Israel have with God is that they realize that God is not created or designed by humans.  We don’t get to shape God to be what we want God to be. 
God gets to be who He wants to be.
Up until the Old Testament time, societies and religious leaders always made decisions about who the deity would be, and about what the deity’s character would be like.
But when the Hebrews of the Old Testament encounter God, they realize they have encountered someone they cannot create, design, or control.
God, who introduces himself by name to Moses, telling Moses that the divine name is “I Am.”
God doesn’t ask, “Who do you want me to be?”
God says, “I am.”
Which in Hebrew means more than just, “I am.”  The word in Hebrew gives a sense of not only the present, but also the past and future.
“I am who I am.  I have always been who I have been.  I will always be who I will be.”
For us to think that we have power over God to make Him whatever we want Him to be is to forget the first Commandment.  “I am the Lord your God.  You shall have no other gods.”

And if you think the Ten Commandments are irrelevant, think again.

We are living in a time when people of all faiths are attributing all kinds of craziness onto God. They do this because they long for God, but instead of seeking the true God, they create and design a god of their own making.  Because let’s face it – it is easier for us to invent a god of our own design, than to risk seeking and getting to know a God we cannot control.

Why do people fly planes into tall buildings, killing thousands of people?  They do it because they create their own God.  They designed a god who wanted them to kill innocent people. 

Why are there so many nations and tribes and groups of people engaged in what they call “just or holy wars?”  They do it because they create their own God.  They designed a god who was warlike but who was too weak to do anything without human terrorists and armies.

Why does the Taliban forbid young women from attending school?  Because they designed a god of their own liking.

        Today I am beginning a series of sermons on the Ten Commandments.  The first commandment is “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.”

        That means two things for us in today’s society.

        First, it means that we cannot create God, design who he is, or control what he does.

        Secondly, since we cannot create, design or control God, it naturally means we must seek God.  To find out who he really is.

        Proverbs 8:17 says that God loves those who seek him.  And then it goes one step further.  God says, “Those who seek me, find me.”

        There is a verse in the Old Testament book of Jeremiah that tells us that we need to seek God, and it also promises that we will find God when we seek him with all our heart.  (Jeremiah 29:13)

        Which by the way, if you want to seek God, the Ten Commandments give you a great clue.

        The first commandment begins, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the Land of Slavery.”

        Which means, that while we have no control over God, God almighty has control over us.

        Which is a wonderful thing.

        The Ten Commandments begins with a statement that reminds people that God is involved in our lives.  God loves us.  God does good things in our lives.

        The Ten Commandments were given to Moses not long after God has led the people out of Egypt, where they were slaves.  These are fresh memories for Israel.

For God to say, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery… you shall have no other gods,” is like saying to some of you,

“I am the Lord your God, who blessed you with that new grandchild.”

“I am the Lord your God, who gave you a job.”

“I am the Lord your God, who rescued you when Hurricane Charley hit years ago.”

I am the Lord your God who takes part in your life, who participates in your life, who cares for you.

We tend to think that the Ten Commandments are a burden. 

We tend to think of them as a list of do’s and don’ts, and many of us get the impression that their purpose is to take all the fun out of life.

But the Ten Commandments are not a burden.  They are a blessing.  They are here to give us guidance on how to seek God, to know God, and to enjoy God.

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.