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Let God Be God
August 5, 2007

Wesley United Methodist Church

EXODUS 20:1-7

I’m beginning my ministry among you by reflecting on our church’s Mission Statement—Love God, love neighbor. Last Sunday I explained that our Mission Statement is a summary of the Ten Commandments. To love God and to love neighbor begins with the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments are our response to the Covenant. God first loves us. We accept and receive God’s love, and then respond by keeping the commandments. How do you love God? First, receive God’s love. Secondly, keep the commandments. 

Let God be God is my summary of the first four commandments: You shall have no other gods before God. You shall not make for yourself an idol. You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God. Remember the Sabbath. These four commandments all mean, “Let God be God.”

It is actually within our ability to prevent God from being God. God gives us the freedom to choose.

The first commandment deals with loyalty. God is prevented from being God when we choose to be loyal to someone or something other than God. This commandment presupposes the existence of many gods clamoring for recognition, obedience and worship. The Hebrews at the time of Moses were not yet monotheists. They had not yet come to believing that there is only God. They believed in monolatry, the belief in many gods. Serving God was a matter of choosing which god to serve. The Hebrews firmly believed that the God who led them out of Egypt was the most powerful of all the gods.

It is easy for us to dismiss this commandment by saying, “Sure, I believe there is only one God.” It is now culturally correct, politically correct, to be monotheists. But, the real meaning of the commandment is not just to affirm that there is only one God. It is a matter of loyalty, of choosing between gods. There are many gods knocking at our door, demanding our time, our money, even to make slaves of us. Even though we have laborsaving, timesaving technology, we don’t have as much unscheduled time as people used to have. How we spend our time is a matter of loyalty. The fourth commandment is: remember the Sabbath. Remember God, and take time for God. Remember the needs of your body and take time to rest. The Sabbath is taking time to rest, time to reflect, time to honor God, time to worship, time to enjoy and appreciate family. Using your time wisely is how you love God.

You shall have no other gods and remember the Sabbath commandments deal with priorities. What takes priority in your life? God or something else? How do you spend your time? The best test of priorities is how do you spend your money? What is really important in your life, what claims your supreme loyalty, is revealed by examining your checkbook and your credit card statements. Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Words are cheap. What speaks loudly is your checkbook. Does God have first priority in your spending? Does God’s work claim your loyalty? Here I am, preaching my third sermon, and already talking about money! I’m sorry, but we can’t talk about our mission statement, we can’t talk about loving God without talking about how you use the resources God has given you. Let God be God, love God, by giving God your loyalty, by putting God first in your priorities.

Besides loyalty and priorities, don’t prevent God from being God by seeking to control or manipulate God. The second and third commandments speak to the human desire to tell God what to do and when to do it!

Do not make for yourself an idol means don’t try to control God. Ancient people believed that an image of a person, a man-made object called an idol, had some kind of power in itself. A person who believes in voodoo, yet today, thinks he/she can cause a reaction in a person by putting a needle in an image. To make an image of God—an idol—is the attempt to exert power over God. Special objects have meaning for us; we do not let the flag touch the ground for example, but we are able to distinguish between the object and that which it represents. Ancient folk had a difficult time making such a distinction. The Hebrews in their wandering carried the Ark of the Covenant with them. The ark contained the tablets on which the Ten Commandments were written. They believed that if they damaged or lost the ark, they would be vulnerable and would lose power.

The third commandment—do not make wrongful use of God’s name—is also about power. The ancients believed there was power in knowing someone’s name. By knowing their names, they had a kind of power over them. They knew something about them. Even today we think names have meanings, and if we know the meaning of someone’s name, we know something about the person. Have you noticed how a salesman uses your name in his presentation? By naming your name, he is wearing down your resistance, exerting power over you, and hoping to influence you to purchase his product. Do you get these phone calls? “Hi, Doug, how are you today?” I assume it is some friend whose voice I don’t recognize until he gets further into his pitch and I realize he is a salesman trying to ingratiate himself by over familiarizing himself and manipulate me. Of course, I resent it. Don’t you? I hang up. The nerve of him calling me by name as if he is some long lost buddy! Don’t misuse my name, and don’t misuse God’s name.

When Moses asked for God’s name, God resisted. God did not want Moses to claim any power by knowing God’s name. God answered, “I am who I am”. How’s that for evasion!

Do not make for yourself an idol and do not make wrongful use of God’s name mean no one should try to control God. No one should try to assert power over God. Sometimes there is a temptation for church members to use their church membership, their contributions, and their church work as idols, and think that they can control God because they have been loyal. Some even think they will get rich. “I have done so and so; therefore, God should do such and such.” And, how disappointed they are, even angry, when they discover they are not rewarded for their good behavior. Sometimes when Christians get a serious illness, or death hits the family, or they lose a job, they wonder what they did to deserve their trouble. They don’t understand why their good behavior—their idol—didn’t work, why they couldn’t influence God to do what they wanted. Let God be God; don’t try to coerce or control God.

We cannot control God. We do not own God. We cannot put God in a little box, tie up the cover with our behavior, or our beliefs, stamp the name of our denomination on top and think that we’ve got God all neatly tied up. Nor does Christianity have an exclusive hold on God. Nor can our nation put “In God we Trust” on our coins, say a prayer in congress, talk about God and faith in political speeches, call ourselves a Christian nation, and assume that we have God on our side. God is not on any side! You shall not make idols of Christianity or the United States! 

There is another meaning to “wrongful use of God’s name.” The Hebrew word translated “wrongful” or “in vain” means evil doing. Misusing God’s name means more than cursing or foul language. Misusing God’s name means to not use God’s name to do harm to anyone. Do not pray God to curse your enemies. For the medieval Crusaders to kill Muslims in the name of God was a wrongful use of God’s name. For Muslims to kill all infidels in the name of God is a wrongful use of God’s name. For radicals to make a bomb to kill oneself and others in the name of God is a wrongful use of God’s name, an atrocity beyond comprehension. For hate groups, the Ku Klux Klan, Neo-Nazis, or other radical so-called Christians to spew out venomous curses and even do violence in the name of God is a wrongful use of God’s name. On a personal level, have you ever been tempted to feel that because you are a Christian, you are better than followers of other religions? Do you feel superior? Do not make wrongful use of God’s name.

Let God be God. Be loyal to God above all else. Put God first in your priorities. Don’t seek to control, manipulate, or use God’s name to do harm. Let God be God. Love the Lord your God.

© 2007 Douglas I. Norris