Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Name of God - #3 in a Series on the Ten Commandments

Exodus 20:1-7
1          And God spoke all these words:
2          "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
3          "You shall have no other gods before me.
4          "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.
5          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,
6          but showing love to a thousand of those who love me and keep my commandments.
7          "You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

I have a friend in the ministry who was traveling on a jet, going from one city to another.  He was seated next to two businessmen who were engaged in a spirited, profanity-laced conversation.

My friend says, "I had finally had it when they began running the Lord's name into the gutter. I raised myself up from my seat and turned around so that I was looking down on them from my perch."

Rob said to the men, "Are either of you in the ministry?"

The fellow in the aisle seat scoffed, "What would ever make you think that?"

Rob answered, "Well, I am in the ministry. And I am amazed at your communication skills in expressing theological concepts.”

The business men looked at him with a blank stare and finally one of them asked, “What theological concepts?”

Rob answered, “You just said God, damn, hell, and Jesus Christ in one sentence. I can't get all those theological concepts into a single sermon!"
You shall not use the name of the Lord in vain – that commandment often makes us think of profanity, and how we use the name of God in front of a profane word.

          My father was most skilled at using those colorful metaphors.  He managed some textile mills in the South and I think he managed the workers with the stern look in his eyes and the cuss words he would yell out.

          But using the name of God in vain is not limited to profanity, but anytime we use the name of God as an expression, we use the Lord’s name in vain.

          In the old movie, “Oh God,” with John Denver and George Burns, God comes to earth as a human being in the form of an old man, George Burns.  He has come to communicate his message through John Denver, and at one point Denver’s character becomes very frustrated and utters, “Oh God.”

          To which George Burns says, “Yes, what do you want.”

          “Oh nothing,” says Denver.  “’Oh God’ is just an expression.”

          “That’s why I’m here,” says God or George Burns.  “I want people to know that I’m more than just an expression. I’m something more.

          And using God’s name as a cuss word, or as a meaningless expression, is not the only way to use the Lord’s name in vain.

          Have you ever thought about how prayer might be a form of using the name of the Lord’s name in vain?

          Have you ever prayed a prayer you did not mean, or voice a prayer that meant nothing to you.

          One year, when I was in High School, my father decided that I needed to spend the summer being tutored in Math. He decided, without any input from me, that everyday, I was to go to Mrs. Frank's house to study math.

          I tried to talk my father out of it, and after exhausting my better arguments, I pleaded with my father, "Please, don't send me to Mrs. Frank.  She's got to be the oldest lady in town. What will I do if she drops dead of a heart attack?"  (That had never happened to one of my teachers, but I always felt that I had the potential for causing one to drop dead of frustration.)

          "Don't worry," my father said. "You want be so lucky."

          "But why Mrs. Frank," I asked. "What does she know about math? She's the Latin teacher."

          "Oh I'm not talking about that Mrs. Frank," my father said. "I'm talking about her mother."

          So there I was, spending my summer with the mother of the oldest woman in town.

          Everyday, I tried to make conversation in an effort to change the subject away from math. This was a ploy that usually did not succeed, until one day when our tutoring session was changed from the afternoon to a morning session.  Right in the middle of listening Mrs. Frank explain how to approach a problem, I heard the 10:30 mill whistle.

          Now understand, we were living in a small town, and the mill whistle could be heard all over town, and it regulated life. 

          8 am – time for the first shift to go to work, time for me to go to school.

          4 pm – time for the second shift to go to work, time for me to give up on homework.

          Midnight – time for the third shift, time for me to go to sleep.

          But there was also a 10:30 whistle, and I could never understand why that whistle blew – nothing happened at 10:30 am.  Why blow the whistle?

          "Hey, Mrs. Frank,” I said, seeing my opportunity to change the subject away from math.  “Have you ever wondered why the mill whistle blows at 10:30?"
"I know why," she said.

"You do? Tell me," I asked.

"It is a call for prayer."

"Prayer?" I was mystified. "What are you supposed to pray for? Quittin' time?"

          "No," she said, "it is a call for the workers in the mill to pause for just a moment, and for the community to stop and to pray for peace and an end to the war."

          "That's wonderful," I said, with all sincerity, thinking of the daily television news stories about the horrors of the then current war in South East Asia.  "I think we all need to pray for the end of the Vietnam War."

          "Oh no," Mrs. Frank said. "Not the Vietnam War. World War II."

          "World War II! That ended ages ago!  Hasn't anybody ever told the man who blows the whistle that it ended?"

          "Of course he knows," said Mrs. Frank. "I guess somebody told him to start it, nobody told him to stop, and somewhere along the way, he's forgotten what it means."

          I wonder sometimes – is that the way a lot of people pray?

          It’s empty and meaningless.  It’s a ritual that doesn’t have any substance.

          The Lord’s Prayer can be full of meaning and purpose – or we can say it from memory, without meaning.

          Have you ever thought about the phrase, “God bless America?” 
          Rob Bell is a pastor in the Midwest who always feels uneasy when he sees that bumper sticker.  He says he always has a feeling that the bumper sticker should instead read, “God HAS blessed America.”  Because God already has blessed us so much.

          But there is another thing about that phrase. 

          It can be said full of meaning – as prayer that God would bless us.  Or it could be said as empty political ploy that means absolutely nothing.

          And that is what is central to this commandment.  When we use God’s name, do we say it with meaning, or not.  When we do things in God’s name, does it have meaning or not.  When we call upon the Lord in prayer, does it have meaning or not?

The name of God is holy because it represents God Himself and it reflects the character of God.

To treat the name of God disrespectfully is to treat God disrespectfully.

          To treat the name of God flippantly or lightly is to treat God flippantly or lightly.

To say or use the name of the Lord without sincerity is to treat God Himself insincerely.

          But to treat the name of God reverently is to treat God with reverence. God is not a common, everyday household item for which we care little and which we can take for granted.  God is holy.

          God is not a useless thought or an empty phrase uttered without meaning or purpose. God is holy.

          God is not the 10:30 whistle, which is outdated and for which nobody shows any interest. God is holy.

          The way we treat the name of God reflects the way we relate to God. To treat the name of God as holy is to treat God Himself as holy.

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.