The Dummies Guide to Reality: First things First
Get your priorities straight. That's the first goal for church, for family, for work. The opening chapter of the "The Dummies Guide to Reality" does that. It puts first things first.
God is first because God is not just real, God is reality. It's the same as when Scripture says God is love. That's not a statement of what God is like. That's not saying God is loving. No, God is love itself. Or it's like Jesus statement, "Only God is good." There is nothing good outside of God. The first thing to know about reality is that God is reality. Outside of Him nothing is real.
This even pagans know as we heard in Acts 17. Paul tells the pagan Athenians that as they well know in God "we live, move, and have our being." Or as Paul himself says in Romans 11 "for from Him and through Him and to Him are all things." The first step toward idolatry is to think we have reality or existence apart from God. The second step toward idolatry is to think that God is only as real as we believe Him to be. No, we are only as real as God says we are.
Paul says in Romans 1 that even pagans know the truth that God is eternal power. Everything else gets its power from something else. God is the only self-powered thing there is. Yes, this extends even to bad, evil things. God is not, cannot be the creator of evil, but He is the power behind it. What powers an F-5 tornado and a crop saving rain is God. The power that enlivens the hands of the life-saving surgeon is the same power that energizes the hand of the gun-toting gang banger. There is no other power source for what is real, for what exists in the universe except God.
And as I said on Thanksgiving this God is not you. Paul says everyone from church-going Christians to primitive tribesmen know that this self- existent, self-powered God is divine. That means, you don't speak about God by speaking about man in a louder voice. God is not a big version of you. He doesn't just have more power, better thoughts, better ways. No there is a category difference between God and mankind. No human is able to search the judgments of the Divine; the human that tries to follow the paths of the divine arrives at madness because "His paths [are] beyond tracing out."
In "The Dummies Guide to Reality" God is the only reality; therefore, God is first. That is, God is to be feared, loved, and trusted above all things. In Exodus God gives the First Commandment as, "You shall have no other God's besides me." The word we render "besides" is literally "before" but not in the sense of order but place. We are not to place before, in the presence of the true God any other thing as god. Because we don't overtly do this, because we don't like Aaron point to the Golden Calf and say, "These are the gods that brought you out of Egypt" we think we're not idolaters. Not true. We're like Gulliver always consulting his watch. The Lilliputians see this and conclude that it must be his god because he does nothing without consulting it (I, 2).
Whatever we fear first and foremost is our God, and I fear just about everything more than I do God. I fear today, tomorrow, and yesterday more than the true God. I fear sickness, pain, and death more than the true God. I fear taxes, people, and government more than I do God. I even fear things that have no substance like other people's opinions more than I do God. Proverbs 29 says, "The fear of man is a snare," and I step into it daily. Jesus tells me not to fear men or even Satan himself who can only kill the body and do nothing more. Instead I should fear God who after bodily death can send me to eternal death in hell. But what do I do? I tremble before the unreal rather than the real.
Ask even a dummy what he loves and he will be able to tell you right quick. Whatever is first on that list is your god; whether that is spouse, child, country, or most likely self, that's your god. And if God is not loved first, God is not loved at all. Jesus identified the First Commandment as loving God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and the Second as loving your neighbor as yourself. The best me, myself, and I are to come in is tied for second; yet I find they're first. I'm in good company. Job who remained faithful despite losing the things and people he loved fell away rather than lose self. So do I.
Even a dummy knows that whatever he trusts in above all things that's his god. "'Me' seems to have emerged as the idol of our generation," said a book 33 years ago (Schulz, Idols, 46). Think that's changed in a generation? Augustine said a similar thing over 1,600 years ago. Man prefers what he has made rather than the One who made him (City of God, vii, 160). If you want to find the god among any people just find the source of law for them. If our source of law is congress, than congress is our god. If our source of law is the Supreme Court, there's our God. If our source of Law is no higher than self or any other man, than man is our god (Eidsmoe, Constitution, 409). Those who say such things as lotteries, aborting, or gays marrying are moral because they are legal are confessing who their god really is.
Even a dummy ought to be able to see this, but in the case of religion it's a little more subtle and dummies like me need a guide. Luther said that strange gods are more often devised by an erring notion or conscience (LW, 9, 130). This is the Christian who says it is against the love of Christ to make a mother have a child she does not want; or, unfair before God not to let loving homosexuals marry. Can you see how this is a much more powerful idol? The force of the true God is behind this idol. Such force is hard to break from. No, it's impossible.
Jeremiah says the OT Church "went after worthlessness, and became worthless." The Psalmist says, "Those who make idols are like them." Bloodthirsty gods produce bloodthirsty people. [Witness the Romans.] If someone thinks that chance rules the world, his actions will be random. [Witness the millennials attraction to randomness.] (Idols for Destruction, 295). So what are your idols like? Even a dummy like me can tell you that you will become like them. But in the end, says C.S. Lewis it doesn't really matter. It really makes no difference whether your idol "was women or patriotism, cocaine or art, whisky or a seat in the Cabinet, money or science." It doesn't matter to a man dying in a dessert by which route he missed the path to the only well (Weight of Glory, 131).
Ouch! That smarts. Now you know why Advent as a season of repentance fell out of disfavor. It calls a different tune than the holly, jolly one called in stores, in ads, and TV specials. But they're calling a Christ-less tune and therefore it's really a death march. We don't want to commit the same error by leaving Christ out of the First Commandment. Luther said the most stern and severe voice of God is heard in the First Commandment, but he also said this same proclamation "I am the Lord, your God" is the most "'completely comforting voice'" that was ever or will ever be heard (Luther in Mid-Career, 244). Not to hear this voice in the First Commandment is to despair of God's forgiveness. This also is a sin against the First Commandment because it maintains that God is not compassionate and so deprives Him of his chief glory (LW, 4, 68).
Now we're getting to presents, stockings, eggnog, and Christmas cheer. The truth of Christmas is that God who is first over all things put you first. He did what the prodigal son's father did. He humbled Himself to claim you before the whole community that knew you had completely dishonored Him. He said, "This pig-stained person is My son, is My daughter run get all the signs that he and she belong in My house." Cleanse them with Baptism; send their sins away with Absolution; and sacrifice the fattened calf to feed them.
Even a dummy like me knows that it was no fattened calf that God sacrificed to reclaim you and feed you. It was His only beloved Son. The One who never left the house of the Father but always feared, loved, and trusted Him above all things. In order to claim you, in order to bring you back into His house of salvation, He rejected His only beloved Son. He chose you before His first and only true Son.
Do you see from Romans 8 how this is to resonate within you? Paul asks, "He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all--how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?" How can I fear, love, or trust anything more than the God who gave up His only Son to save Me? If God would not let my sins, my fearing, my lack of love, and my failure to trust Him above all things come between me and Him what can? If in order to remove these things between me and Him, He shed the blood of His only Son, what won't He do to maintain the relationship?
You don't have to convince God to send your sins away from you. You don't have to beg God to do it. That was the first thing on His list in sending His only Son into the world. This is the truth behind Jesus saying, "Fear not little flock; it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." Some of you have a present at home right now that you just can't wait to give to a kid, a parent, a spouse. If that little kid knew how badly you wanted to give it to him, he would just ask for it right now and you couldn't help but hand it over.
That's how badly, how earnestly, how firstly God wants you to have salvation for eternity beginning now. He doesn't want you living like a stepchild in His house constantly fearing that you might be one bad mood or one small sin away from being pitched out of the house. No! There are many rooms in God's house and Jesus has already come and prepared one for you. In fact, it was the first thing God did for you. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Advent Midweek 1 (20151202); First Commandment