"Last God Standing" Sermon 6/22/14, Exodus 20:1-11
My first aim this morning is to convince you beyond a shadow of a doubt that you most certainly believe in God, most devotedly worship God, and most assuredly love God.
Some of you I know pretty well; some of you I don’t know very well; some of you are here for the first or second time, and I hope to at least know your name soon enough. But I do know something about all of you: you reverence, love, and trust God with all of your heart, all of your mind, all of your soul, and all of your strength.
I know myself well enough; and sometimes I’m a complete stranger to myself. But I do know something about me that does not change: I reverence, love, and trust God with all of my heart, all of my mind, all of my soul, and all of my strength.
I know that you and I seek God for all good things - in God, we find meaning and purpose, guidance and direction. In God, you and I come to understand right from wrong, and fair from unfair.
I know that you and I run to God as our refuge in times of trouble - in God, we find comfort and reassurance, compassion and care. In God, we find shelter from the storm and strength to step out once again.
I know that you and I call out to God, trusting that God will answer - God hears us and understands us. In God, we have a name that fills our heart with hope, and our face with a smile.
I know that you and I make time for God. For God, we break from our routines and patterns. For God, we let no obstacle stand in our way, let no lesser interest interfere.
I know that you and I most certainly believe in God, most devotedly worship God, and most assuredly love God.
What I do not know, is which Gods we are talking about.
In speaking of the God in whom we seek all good, find refuge in time of trouble, call out to and make time for, I do not know if I have been describing in your life (and mine) the God of Moses and Israel - the God revealed in Christ Jesus, the crucified and Risen One - or if I have been describing your political allegiance or your sports devotion, your beauty or your brains, your strength or your skill, your children or your charity, your mommy or your money, your hobby or your hubby, your career or your charisma, your reputation or your recreation, your sofa or your smartphone, your fitness or your funniness, your glory days or your grudges, your Ben & Jerry’s or your bottle, your creations or your congregation. Your service or your self.
But I do know that someone or something has pride of place in your heart, holds ultimate sway over your life.
Martin Luther wrote in his Large Catechism, “A god is that to which we look for all good and in which we find refuge in every time of need…that to which your heart clings and entrusts itself is, I say, really your God.”
Even atheists believe in God. Everyone reverences, loves and trusts someone or something above all else.
I don’t know which gods I named caused a nod in your heart or a twist in your stomach, but I do know that most of what I named are, in and of themselves, good things, great blessings even. Things for which we are grateful.
But when a good thing, becomes a god thing, you will be left with no-thing in the end.
3you shall have no other gods before me. 4You 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. 5You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God…”
Timothy Keller defines an idol as,
“anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give. A counterfeit god is anything so central and essential to your life that, should you lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living. An idol has such a controlling position in your heart that you can spend most of your passion and energy, your emotional and financial resources, on it without a second thought. It can be family and children, or career and making money, or achievement and critical acclaim, or saving ‘face’ and social standing. It can be a romantic relationship, peer approval, competence and skill, secure and comfortable circumstances, your beauty or your brains, a great political or social cause, your morality and virtue, or even success in the Christian ministry. When your meaning in life is to fix someone else’s life, we may call it ‘co-dependency’ but it is really idolatry. An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, ‘If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I’ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.’” (Tim Keller, Counterfeit Gods, xvii-xviii)
What are we to make of this God who revealed himself through the Law given to Moses on Mount Sinai? Who issues these demands for total devotion, saying “for I the LORD your God am a jealous God.” Who promises that both obedience and disobedience to the law will have generational impact on your family tree.
When will we get to Jesus, gracious and compassionate? God’s publicist, sorting out God’s difficult statements made in the past.
Jesus, gracious Lord, what is the greatest commandment?
“Well, do your best and God will do the rest; have the best of intentions, and be sure to love your neighbor as far as they deserve it, and even a little bit more, because you’re a nice guy. And if you come up a bit short, that’s what grace is for.”
How Christ actually responded?
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Not part of your heart, not most of your soul, not the best of your mind, but ALL of you.
By human reason, this means once we have devoted all of our heart, all of our mind, all of our soul, and all of our strength to God, there should be nothing leftover for spouse, children, friends, and good endeavors.
unless we are otherwise in bondage, enslaved to idols, and God is demanding our entirety so that God can free us entirely.
Before the first commandment was uttered to Moses, God spoke:
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery."
If the God who commands, is the God who delivers from bondage, then to resist the commands is to prefer bondage. If you don’t want the God who sets you free; which God do you want?
When we love God ultimately; we are freed to love other people and other things properly.
Jesus isn’t asked, “teacher what are the top two commandments?” They ask, what is THE GREATEST. Jesus could have stopped after “love the Lord your God with all that you are.” But he can’t help himself. He has to add the second - “love your neighbor as yourself.” The second is like the first. Don’t talk about loving God, unless you are also prepared to talk about loving your neighbor as yourself.
Love of God frees us to love our neighbor. To love your neighbor is to love God. God wants our total devotion so that we can become properly devoted to the same things God is devoted to - to creation, to people, to all creatures of our God and King.
The best way to love your spouse or kids or parents or friends or neighbors is to love God more, and not demand of family or friends or work or substances or finances or diversions that they provide all good things, every refuge in trouble.
Ultimate love of God is cultivated by obeying these first three commandments - by removing idols from the seat of worship in your life; by learning to call upon God’s name not in vain but in praise and prayer; and by stopping for Sabbath to rest and to reflect on God’s Word.
One belongs to the other. When we Sabbath we stop long enough to call God by name and ask for God’s power to smash some of these idols to pieces and turn the rest of these idols back into real people or actual gifts from our Creator.
Do we have ears to hear Moses and Jesus?
Will we concede that the Holy Spirit’s most difficult work in us will not be pruning some vice to make us more nice, but uprooting all idols we’ve set up as God’s rivals?
Luther spoke truly when he wrote, “the first commandment is not fulfilled in this life, but in the future life.” What’s the future heavenly life like? Well, when heaven and earth are reunited in the renewal of creation, there will be 1,000 blessings and 1 God, rather than 1,000 gods and 1 me to be blessed.
But in this life, our hope and salvation rests in this: God’s first and greatest commandments are fulfilled only by God’s first and greatest joy, Jesus Christ...
...Who determined to be our one God, with no others before him, who found a way on the cross to be hung among our idols, our sins, our death,
Who even in the throes of human suffering, crucified and seemingly God-forsaken, did not take the Lord’s name in vain, but called out “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit,” and died.
Who slept in the Sabbath of death, the final sabbath of the old world. Once again, God rested on the 7th day.
And he rose again on Easter, the first sabbath of the new creation. From the grave of sin and hell, Jesus is the last God standing!