The Serious Second Commandment
As commandments go this is the one we probably regard as the least serious. Contrast this with the fact that God has attached to this Commandment the solemn threat, "The Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses His name." Contrast this with the fact that Luther, in the Large Catechism, says because we violate this Commandment we have "plague, war, famine, fire, flood, wayward wives and children and servants and troubles of every kind." Furthermore, Luther says we have "no government, no fidelity, no faith - only perverse, unbridled men whom no teaching or punishment can help" because we have so little concern for this Commandment. The Second Commandment is very serious.
But misusing God's name is not as serious to us as USING four letter words. Many, if not most, parents consider whether on not four-letter words are used in a movie before deciding if their kids can watch it. So does the motion picture rating system. Just one particular four-letter word and it gets a PG-13 rating. But the same movie can misuse God's Name a dozen times and still be PG. That the world should have so little regard for the Name of God is understandable, but us, His people? What is commonly called profanity, euphemisms for sex, for human waste, or body parts is rude, crude, and shows poor education and upbringing, but God doesn't threaten to punish it as He most certainly does the misusing of His name.
Yes, it's a big deal to God if you call upon Him to damn things. This shows either you do not think He is listening or that He doesn't indeed have the power to do it. It's a big deal to God if you swear an oath using His name in false or frivolous matters. It's a big deal to God if you consult psychics, horoscopes, mediums, or tarot cards. The future belongs to God not people. When we seek to know the future we're trespassing on the property marked out by God's name.
But by far the most serious misuse of God's name is to lie or deceive by it. We are guilty of this when we label our personal beliefs, opinions, ideas, or feelings as that of God's. To say that God teaches this or that when God doesn't is to lie or deceive by His name. When we say, "I don't think God would do this or that," based on our own opinions or ideas that is exactly what we are doing. But everybody does this, don't they? Everybody forms beliefs, opinions, or ideas about God apart from what God has revealed about Himself in His Word. Some say God doesn't want babies baptized, others say God doesn't forgive sins by the words of a man. Still others say the Body and Blood of Christ cannot really be in the Holy Communion. This is nothing but lying and deceiving by God's Name. But so is any opinion, idea, or belief about God we form apart from His Word.
To curse, swear, use Satanic arts, lie or deceive by God's name are all violations of the Second Commandment. But why when Luther gets to the positive side of the Commandment, doesn't he say the opposite? If the just mentioned are what violates the 2nd Commandment, why doesn't Luther go on to say, "But we are to not curse, swear falsely or frivolously, use Satanic arts, or lie or deceive by God's name?" Why isn't the keeping of the Second Commandment simply the opposite of breaking it?
Because any pagan, any upright person can do that. It isn't particularly Christian not to curse, swear, use Satanic arts, or lie or deceive by God's name. All good parents won't let their kids do that. I don't even think secular, public schools will tolerate that sort of thing. But to call upon God in every trouble, pray, praise and give thanks, that takes a miracle of God.
Human reason concludes God punishes. Human reason concludes that God would no more tolerate a misuse of His name than corporations or celebrities tolerate the misuse of theirs. But human reason cannot rise to the thought that God wants to be called on in trouble, prayed to for every need, praised for His grace and thanked for His forgiveness. To human reason God is locked safely away in heaven, far away from human problems, unconcerned with the prayers of sinners. God is the one who hurls lightening bolts and punishes sinners; why on earth should they be moved to praise or thank Him?
Only those who know God in Christ know a God to be called on in every trouble, to be prayed to for every need, to be praised and thanked by sinners. Friends, do you know such a God as this or do you only know the God of the world who sits high in the heavens judging the hearts of men by a pitiless standard? A God who is less understanding, less loving, and less giving than Santa is?
Such a God was the only one known by the Church of Luther's day. People knew a judging God. Even God in Christ was thought of in these terms. Paintings of the day emphasized Jesus as Judge. Horribly graphic pictures hung in their churches displaying Jesus sitting high above humanity sending sinners to hell to suffer unspeakable torments. Dear friends, it is because you and I have such a God as this that we do not call upon Him in every trouble, pray, praise and give thanks.
Friend, if I told you I knew a person who was a wonderful counselor, wise, full of compassion and tenderness, would not you run to him or her for counsel? The Bible reveals to us that God in Christ is a Wonderful Counselor. What problem, what sin, what difficulty, what failure, what mess of yours will He fail to help you with?
If I told you that someone I know had millions of dollars to help people caught in binds, even those who were in messes due to their own fault, wouldn't you be begging me for his or her name? Well, our text reveals to us that Jesus is the Mighty God. Do you think somehow that the Mighty God lacks what it takes to help you?
No, no that's not it. You don't doubt that Jesus is all powerful. That all power in heaven and on earth has been given into His hands. What you doubt is that His power is there for you. If I told you that I knew a man of incredible wealth and power who had a fatherly attitude even to the most wretched of men, would you be afraid to go to him? No, and that's why God reveals to you that Christ is the Everlasting Father. He has a fatherly heart towards sinners.
Folks I am a sinful father. But when my kids ask me for an egg do I give them a rolled up scorpion instead? Well, if I, even though I am evil, know how to give good gifts to my kids, how much more does your Everlasting Father Jesus Christ know how to give you good gifts? The problem is you keep casting your eyes to heaven where God sits in all His power, might and judgement. Jesus, however, told you to look at Him. He said "whoever sees Me has seen the Father."
I don't know about you but I don't see Jesus far away at all. I see Jesus in my flesh and blood. I don't see Him shaking and baking sinners either. I see Him calling sinners to Himself dealing with them kindly and gently. I see a God in Jesus begging to be asked and promising to answer. Telling me to knock and saying He will gladly open. Urging me to seek and promising that I will always find. Friends, that's the attitude of a father, isn't it? What father, what parent, doesn't ache for his children to come to him with their problems - even the ones they bring upon themselves. When a child of mine brings me a problem, even one of their own making, even one out of their own sinfulness, do I cast them out of the house? No, if I, a rotten sinner, don't do this, how much more must Jesus, my everlasting Father not do it either?
But still we approach Him like dogs that have been whipped one to many times. We cower when He raises His hands though it is to bless us. We wince when He makes a move towards us thought it is only to give something good to us. We just can't get it through our heads that our Jesus is the Prince of PEACE not punishment.
Folks, when earthly companies describe themselves, we tend to take them at their word. Walmart is the home of low prices. CompUSA is the computer super store. HEB is your hometown store. Well Jesus tells us He's the Prince of Peace. That means all that He does is characterized by peace not war, not judgement, not wrath. Ah but you think your sins have made a great big mess out of that too. But your many, many sins, your lack of faith, your lousy Christianity can no more alter what God in Christ is than your failures or faithlessness change what Walmart, HEB or CompUSA are. Friends, if God in Christ can only be what we allow Him to be than He wouldn't only be a lousy Savior but a weak God.
God came into our world and announced unilaterally a peace treaty. He said, "There is peace on earth and good will to men." He said this not because He looked into your heart or anyone else's. No, He looked into His own heart, and said, "I for the sake of Jesus' holy life and His innocent suffering and death forgive the sins of all. I make peace with the world by the blood of My Son."
Dear friends, how come kids rush to Santa at the mall? How come they freely ask for all sorts of things? Because Santa is there for them to come and ask. Your God came into flesh and blood for the purpose of you calling upon Him in every trouble, praying, praising and giving thanks. As kids are with Santa, so you can be with Jesus. It is a proper use of Santa to sit on his lap and ask. It's a proper use of Jesus for sinners, whether they have been naughty or nice, to sit on Jesus's lap and ask in His name.
"But, but, but..." I'm sure you can raise a hundred "buts" to this great statement. Do you do that with other Christmas gifts? I mean when someone gives you a gift certificate to go out and eat, do you give the giver reasons why you can't? Do you protest to the people who give you clothes why you can't wear them? To the giver of tools, do you explain why you can't use them? No, you use what you are given the best you can.
What did the reading tonight say God gave us? "For to us a Child is born, to us a Son is given." If you give gifts expecting people to use them, what makes you think God is any different? If you are hurt when people give you reasons for not being able to use your gifts, what makes you think God is any different? God has given you His own Son. To load your sins on, to find your holiness in, to call upon in every trouble, to pray to, to praise and give thanks. Like the gifts we give to each other, God has given you His only begotten Son for the purpose of using Him. But unlike the gifts we give to each other, God doesn't want you waiting till Christmas to open His. No, He wants you right now to lay your sins on Jesus, to lay your cares on Jesus, to praise and thank Jesus for taking care of all of them. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Advent Midweek II, 12-8-99
Second Commandment, Isaiah 9:6,7