“NO EMPTY NAME”

EXODUS 20:7; MATTHEW 5:33-37

 

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           Martin Luther, the Father of the Protestant Reformation said, "Anyone who knows the Ten Commandments perfectly knows the entire scriptures."  How many of you agree with that statement?  Let me repeat it.  “Anyone who knows the Ten Commandments perfectly knows the entire scriptures.” 

            I don’t agree with it either.  While we understand his point, we know that’s a significant overstatement.  Knowing the Ten Commandments perfectly, and not knowing the person behind the Commandments, not knowing the saving grace of God, either the God who brought the Israelites out of Egypt or the person of Jesus Christ, would be a great loss, a great shortcoming.  By that I mean, let’s remember to whom the Ten Commandments were given.   Moses didn’t go to the Israelites while they were still in slavery and say, "If you live by these Ten Commandments, God will set you free."   God’s saving grace came first.  God saved them from slavery, and only after saving them did God give them the Ten Commandments, so while the Ten Commandments might capture the heart of the Old Testament, the Ten Commandments do not tell us all we need to know about God.

            But, I understand what Luther might have been getting at.  If you know the Ten Commandments, you know how life works best.  Follow these Ten Commandments, whether you are a person of faith or not, and life will go better for you.  Unfortunately, we have not followed these Ten Commandments, and because of that, Jesus had to come to our rescue and put us back on track, but if we know them and follow them, we will live life as it was meant to be lived.

            Unfortunately, that’s the rub, at least in our day.  Even though the Ten Commandments might be posted in churches, in court rooms or in front of public buildings, most of us do not know them.  I draw your attention to the Gallup Organization here in Omaha.  They found some gaps in the American soul.  Listen to their findings, and I’m quoting the report.

 

            Most Americans say they believe in God, in a divine Jesus, trust the Bible and want religious education for their children, yet statistics show Americans are ignorant about the doctrines and history of their chosen faiths.  Half of the nation’s Christians do not know who delivered the Sermon on the Mount.

            We revere the Bible, but don’t read it.  We believe the Ten Commandments to be valid rules for living, although we can’t name them.

 

            And I’m not sure about this, and we will not do this so do not become anxious, but if I had you turn to your neighbor and had you recite the Ten Commandments, I bet the majority of us could not name all ten, and we are church people! 

            So, in this summer sermon series we are brushing up on the basics.  We are taking another look at The Ten Commandments which, in a nutshell, contain the wisdom of God.  The Commandments remind us how life functions best and thus far we have studied two of them:  You shall have no other God’s before me, and You shall make no graven images.  This morning we turn to the third commandment.  Listen to it.

 

            You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.

 

            You probably remember this commandment differently.  An older translation of this commandment—the one that's probably filed somewhere in your memory banks—is this: "You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain."   That’s the King James version.  Some of you use a study bible, and many of you in our adult Sunday School have the New International Study Bible that translates this verse as, "You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God."  

            Let me ask a question.  Do you have a thing about your name?  Do you care if people misuse it?  Your probably do because names are important to us.  Prospective parents search through baby books to choose the right name for their bundle of joy, so you can imagine how upset that father was when his brother ended up naming his children.  The father lived in a country where it was the custom to name the newborn children immediately after birth, and it was the father’s duty to name the child.  Unfortunately, when the father discovered his wife had just given birth to twins, he fainted on the spot, and so while unconscious the father’s brother named the twins.  When he awoke he found out that his brother had already named the children, one a boy and one a girl.  The father’s reaction was one of shock.  “What do you mean my brother named the twins!  My brother is an idiot, a numbskull.  What did he name the girl?”

            The doctor said, “He named her Denise.”

            The father said, “Oh, that’s not bad.  What did he name the boy?”

            The doctor said, “He named the boy, Denephew.”

            Names are important to us, and we dislike it when people misuse our names. I dislike it when someone calls, usually a telemarketer, and says, “May I speak to Mr. Mayor.”  It’s pronounced “Meyer” not “Mayor.”  And I dislike it when someone adds an “s” to the end of our name.  It’s not “Meyers” it’s “Meyer.”  And I particularly dislike it when people link my name to something not true.  When people say, “Well, Pastor Meyer said this or that,” and it’s not something I said, it fries my bacon.  Well, God had a thing about the misuse of his name, and let’s consider two of the most common misuses.

            You have no doubt guessed the first misuse, the one we often associate with this commandment, using God’s name as an expletive.  I grew up in a home where the name of Jesus was mentioned often.  Jesus’ name was probably mentioned an average of twenty times a day.  Whenever my father became frustrated or angry he would say, “Jesus Christ.”  I even remember the way he said it, the inflection in his voice, “Jesus Christ.”  He even continued using the name as an expletive during and after my times in seminary, and I don’t think it was a statement of faith even though he was a Roman Catholic.

            In this regard I think about an incident Henri Nouwen, the Catholic mystic, described during the year he spent at a Trappist monastery.  At the monastery people would come and work, mostly as volunteers, and every now and again one of the construction workers would do an imitation of my father.  Well, this bothered Nouwen and he didn’t know what to do about it, so he asked a senior monk, named Anthony for a good course of action.  Anthony told Nouwen that he was bothered by that behavior as well, and said that he would take care of it.  So the next time the construction worker bent a nail and used the Lord’s name as an expletive, Anthony put his arm around the construction worker and said, “Hey, you know, this is a monastery, and we love that man here.” 

            Do you know what the construction worker did?  He looked up at Anthony, smiled, and said, “To tell you the truth, I do too.”

            And Anthony and the construction worker had a good laugh.

            So, that’s what we most often think of when we think of the Third Commandment, using the Lord’s name as an expletive, but the original audience, the Hebrews thought of something else first.  They thought of misusing the name when it came to taking oaths or making promises.  In fact, that’s the main thrust of this commandment.  We have come to think of the main thrust as a prohibition against cursing, but the main thrust was using God’s name in a idle way when making promises. 

            In other words, God doesn’t want us to make promises in his name and not keep them.  He doesn’t want his name associated with broken vows.  God wants us to think carefully before we ever say anything like, “I promise, so help me God,” or “As God is my witness,” or “It’s the God’s honest truth.”  God does not want his name sullied by our broken vows and promises.

            When we break a promise, especially when we invoke God’s name in making the promise, it reflects poorly on God, not just ourselves. 

            Tiger Woods has had a tough year, and most of his sponsors have dropped him.  Why?  Because they did not like the way he represented them.  When he struck a deal with a company he carried their logo, their brand, wherever he went.  He represented the product.

            Thankfully, God never drops us, but God no doubt gets disappointed with us when we act in ways that misuse his name.

            By the way, you may have wondered why I included that reading from Matthew’s Gospel from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  Well, let me tell you why Jesus warned about oath taking altogether, and not just oaths taken in God’s name.  In the time of Jesus the Jews had figured out a way to get around this issue of misusing God’s name when not keeping promises.  If they took an oath they would swear by heaven or earth or by Jerusalem or by their own heads instead of by God, and then they felt themselves quite free to break such an oath because it did not actually include the name of God.  God, so to speak, had not actually been made a partner to the transaction by name, and therefore the transaction was breakable.  They had not sullied God’s name by breaking the promise.  In other words, they had become masters of evasion. 

            Jesus then declared that it’s not that simple, because our actions reflect on God.  If you are a follower of God and do this, you reflect poorly on God.   You misrepresent God by not being a person who keeps promises.  You need to be trustworthy.  You need to act honorably, not deceitfully, not cutting corners.  You need to represent me in a way that brings honor to me.   The same applies today.  When we trust in Christ and become his followers, it’s as if we put on a uniform bearing Christ’s name, and whenever we misrepresent God or Jesus we dishonor that name.

            The way we choose to live our life--our lifestyle--has the power to build God’s reputation or dishonor God.  It glorifies God’s name or sullies God’s name.  Whether it’s buying stock or commuting on the interstate, or filing our income tax or going to a concert, or folding the laundry or changing a diaper...all of it can be done in Christ’s name.  In fact, if we can’t do it in Christ’s name, we probably shouldn’t be doing it at all.

            Let me close with this.  Imagine for a moment that I’m up here one Sunday morning, and I say, “I want to share with you the top five prayer concerns of my life, and I hope you will join me in making these concerns a part of your prayer life.”

            If you heard me say those words, and sensed I was speaking from the depth of my heart, what would you do?  How would you respond?  I suspect you would take out a piece of paper, write down those five concerns of mine, and make them a regular part of your prayer life.

            Now imagine that it’s not I, but Jesus who stood before you, and suppose he wanted to share the five most important prayer concerns of his life.  Do you have any doubts about how you would respond to his request?  Of course not!  You would grab a pencil and paper as fast as you could.

            Well, that imaginary situation closely mirrors an incident in Jesus’ life.  The disciples had come to him asking him how to pray.  He responding by teaching them a very adaptable pattern of prayer.  In the prayer he lists the five top concerns on his heart, and do you remember how he began ...  Our, Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name.

            That was his number one concern.  The concern most on Jesus’ heart, even bigger than daily bread or temptation, and forgiveness of debts, was that God’s name be hallowed, reverenced, honored, used only in a way that would bring God glory.