One Reveals our Chief Sin
I fear you think the only ones who should be concerned about the 10 Commandments are the ones who don't want them in courthouses or schools. No it is us. April 30, 1999 the comic strip "Non Sequitur" depicted Moses with two tablets with the words "Don't Do Bad Things" inscribed on them. Moses is looking to heaven saying, "It might leave a little too much room for rationalization. Maybe you should try breaking it down to a few specifics." Five years later Google came out with the unofficial slogan of "Don't Be Evil." What once was laughed at as an obvious joke is now considered some sort of Zen profundity.
We need the 10 Commandments in general because we're satisfied with CARC. That's an acronym for Common American Religious Creed which is, "It really doesn't matter what or whom you believe in. After all, we all believe in the same god. As long as you are sincere in your belief and try to do your best, everything will turn out O.K. in the end" (Schulz, Idols, 18). In particular, we need the 1st Commandment because we're satisfied with the confession of the Pledge of Allegiance: "One nation under God," or the one on our coins "in God we trust."
The 1st Commandment shows us that our chief sin is not that we don't fear love, and trust in the Triune God above all things. No, we don't fear, love, and trust in God as everyone in the world does know Him. Our chief sin is not that we can't get our heads around the depths of God being 3 divine Persons in 1 divine Being or Essence. No our chief sin is that we don't worship the God the half-naked savage on a Polynesian island knows.
Romans 1states that all people everywhere have no excuse for not knowing and worshiping God correctly. Why? Because God has since the beginning of the world made Himself known according to His eternal power and His divine nature. Our chief sin is not that we forget the doxology, speak only of God not of Jesus, or forget that the Father begets, the Son is begotten, and the Holy Spirit proceeds. Our chief sin is we don't even fear, love, and trust in God as someone can and should who has never heard a Bible study, never seen a cross, never celebrated Christmas.
When we fret and worry about how we're going to handle this sickness, this situation, this pain, that future, we're saying that God is not big enough to handle it. We're saying the One who reveals in nature that He is the God of eternal power can't be trusted to handle our temporal problem. When we think we've gone back to God too many times, that we've asked too much, too often, we're blasphemously saying God doesn't have eternal power.
Well at least I'm not bowing down in front of an idol or praying to a block of wood. True; you're doing something worse. You're making God in your own image. You're denying God's divine nature. You're not afraid to think of God as being no better, bigger, or loving than you are. He can only do as much, endure as much, solve as much, love as much as you can. You actually believe you have a right to fear, love, and trust in Him only as much as you think you should.
Our chief sin is not that we make idols of money, success, family, and happiness. Our chief sin is that we don't trust that God is merciful, gracious, and loving enough to help us with our needs and problems. We don't trust that God is near to the brokenhearted as He says is. We don't believe that God hears and answers our prayers as He says He does. We don't get any comfort or consolation from the fact that God says He gathers our tears in a bottle and records why each one falls because we don't believe He is that compassionate.
How angry, how enraged, how mad you'd be if I treated you contrary to how you revealed yourself to me. You've never been anything but nice to me but I treat you like a jerk. You've never been anything but honest around me but I treat you like you'd steal from me the first chance you got. You've never been anything but helpful to me but I treat you like you haven't lifted a finger for me. How could you not be so angry you'd hurt me if you could?
And yet when we treat the One who opens His hands and satisfies the desires of every living thing as if His hands are closed to us, we think that shouldn't bother Him. And when we treat the One who numbers all the hairs on our head as if He doesn't count our problems, we don't think that should make Him angry. And when we treat the One who cares for animals, disgusting crows and growling lions, as if He cares nothing for us we think nothing of it. It's not that big of sin. I didn't murder, fornicate, or steal. No, I did something far worse. I made an idol. I made a God contrary even to how He reveals Himself in nature. I made a God who isn't powerful enough or loving enough to help me. I made a God who isn't worth fearing, loving, or trusting at all.
The solution is not that I start doing what I'm not doing, although if you listen to TV or internet preachers that's exactly they're solution to the condemnation of the Law. Okay, you messed up; do better. But then we're back to the comics and the comedic Google: "Don't do bad things." "Don't be evil." The solution isn't you and doing better; the solution is Christmas.
God the Son gave up the privileges of divine nature to take on human nature and its obligations. Do you get upset when someone doesn't accord you the privileges of your age, position, status, or stature? I think even laid back people who "whatever" this and "that's cool" that have a point when they think someone dismissed them, and they don't bear it well. I know I don't, but Jesus did. Likewise, I really get upset when someone holds me responsible when I'm not. That doctor isn't obligating me for what my insurance is to pay. That charge on my credit card doesn't belong to me. Yet, Jesus took my obligations, all of them, willingly.
Flesh this all out, and I mean that quite literally. Jesus, God in the flesh, is to be worshipped, fallen down before. All creatures are to serve Him as the Creator, yet you know your Bible stories. Water didn't well up from the ground to slack His thirst. Manna didn't fall from heaven to feed Him. Men didn't give Him the respect let alone the worship due Him. No, they spit, struck, ridiculed, whipped, and finally killed Him.
But even this isn't the worst of it. This is what men and creation in their fallenness did. What His own Father did is unbelievable. After having taken on obligations that we're not His, and after fulfilling them completely, after no one on earth or in heaven could convict Him of one sin, His own Father held Him responsible for all my bills, my debts, my transgressions, my trespasses and sins. And pay them He did by the sweat of His brow, by the blood in His veins, by the tears on His cheeks. He paid and paid and paid till the Father was satisfied that there wasn't one sin left in all the world that hadn't been paid for in full.
You don't fear, love, or trust in God above all things, but Jesus did in your place and God treats you as if you do. How much love, how much care, how much compassion comes pouring forth from me when one of my kids fears, loves, and trusts in me. No mission too difficult; no sacrifice too great. I'm going to help that child; provide for that child; love that child. In Christ, as you are by Baptism, as you are declared so by Absolution, as you're made so in Communion, God sees you as the perfect son or daughter who fears, loves, and trusts in Him above all things.
Do you think we're ready to turn the corner now? What happens after you've been given a Christmas gift? It's time to use the gift. Our Christmas gift isn't just the Christ of Christmas; it's these 10 Commandments. Isn't that what we've been singing since 1999: "That man a godly life might live, God did these 10 Commandments give"?
The 1st Commandment would have us look for compassion, comfort, help, love, and providing in no one or nothing but the true God. It rescues us from running hither and thither asking every imaginable thing in child-story fashion: "Are you my God?" No created thing can have eternal power; no human can be divine except the One who is both God and Man, the One joined as such in the Virgin's womb. When I'm tempted to believe I'm at the mercy of the State, medicine, money, or politics all of whose mercies don't endure for long let alone forever, I find the 1st Commandment calling me to the reality that there is no power or might beyond the true God.
O yes the 1st Commandment most certainly does reveal my chief sin but once rescued from my sins by the Christ of Christmas the 1st Commandment reveals the godly life I now get to live. Luther said, "Whatever it is that makes a man do something, that motive is his god" (LW, 44, 241). O the terror, the burden, the pain of having guilt, fear, death, lust, worry, pride, or shame as my god! What horrible taskmasters are they! I've served them before, and there is no end to their cruelty. So when my Lord and Savior commands me saying, "I forbid you from fearing, loving, or trusting that guilt, that fear, that lust, that worry, that shame above Me," how quickly the beast is put back in it's cage, and I am free once more.
Yes, the 1st Commandment's shows my chief sin; yes as we confess in our Confessions the Law works wrath, but then Christmas comes and the gift of salvation allows me to hear the Commandments as a redeemed child of God rather than as a condemned sinner. Let me ask you: do you find the rules of grammar, how nouns, verbs, prepositions, and such are to be used a burden in your conversation? Far from it; don't they help your understanding; don't they enhance your communicating? Well the 10 Commandments are no more a burden to the man of faith living a godly life than the commandments of grammar are to a life of communication (Petersen, Five Smooth Stones, 64).
May the salvation that is ours this Christmas lead us to see the absurdity and uncertainty of regarding the Commandments as general suggestions and to know the comfort of fearing, loving, and trusting the true God. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Advent Vespers 1 (2011130); First Commandment