O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
Based on Gen. 11:1-9
Preached on December 05, 2012
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Fellow baptized saints, why have we gathered here on a Wednesday evening? Surely there are errands to run, or other things to do in our lives. Why have we come here to stop, to rest, to hear God's Word? It is because during this humble season of Advent, we become acutely aware that our Lord Jesus Christ shall return to judge the living and the dead, and He calls us to be ready. We are here because we want to be ready to meet Him. We want His Word to be rolling through our minds when that trumpet sounds on the Last Day. We want His promises to be comforting us when His glory forces all people to their knees at His coming. So this Advent, on these particularly peaceful, preparatory Wednesday evenings, we are going to explore God's Holy Law anew. We are going to ask God to prepare our hearts for His gracious coming.
When Moses brought the Law down from Mount Sinai, it was written on two tables, or stone tablets. The first table held the first three commandments - those that teach how man ought to relate to God. The second table held the remainder - those that teach how man ought to relate to man. This Advent we are going to draw our attention to the first table of God's Law. We are going to hear how God wants us to relate to Him, how He wants us to hold Him, and what that means for our lives here as we wait for His coming.
The First Commandment.
You shall have no other gods.
I remember the first time I learnt this commandment. I must have been four. I remember thinking, "well this is easy to keep - there is only one God. Why would God even say this?" I think in my four year old head, I actually thought His name was "God." I didn't know God is His title and position, like doctor or pastor. I didn't know He actually has a name too - Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I didn't know what a "god" is, or what it means to "have a god" so I did not understand this commandment.
So, what is a god? What does it mean to "have a god"? A "god" is what we look to for all good and that in which we find refuge in all need. Therefore, to have a god is to trust in something with your whole heart. All humans trust in something, it is part of what makes us human. Therefore, all humans have a god, or gods. But all humans do not have the same god, because we trust in different things. One cannot say "I have no god." For as Luther wrote, "Anything on which your heart relies and depends, that is really your god." Whether you have the true God or a mere idol is simply a matter of where you put your trust.
Idols. Idolatry. There is another concept I didn't understand as a child. I thought idols were simply statues that people looked to for help. I had no such statues, so I figured I had no idols. Idolatry was not something I was involved in. But idolatry simply means that you have gods that are not the true God, that you put your trust in something that isn't the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Anything can be an idol, and we make all sorts of things into idols. Money, power, our own good works. We rely on these things all the time, and so turn them into idols. We don't have to build a little shrine devoted to the Almighty dollar for it to become an idol, we simply have to think to ourselves, I am safe because I have enough money in the bank. We don't need a statue of ourselves to trust our own power, we simply have to say to ourselves, I need not worry, I have things under control. We don't need to tell others all the good things we think we've done to trust in our own good works, we simply have to be confident that we have done the right thing, and that has to count for something in God's eyes.
All of this is idolatry. For the money in the bank doesn't make us safe - God does. We do not have things under control, God does. The good we think we do does not justify us before God - Christ does. Even though all good, safety, security, health - though it all comes from God, our hearts chase after other things. Luther said, "[The] seat [of idolatry] is in the heart, which stupidly stares in other directions and seeks comfort and help from creatures, saints or devils. It does not look to God or expect Him to be so good as to help; neither does it believe that whatever good it experiences comes from God."
"The heart of man is a factory of idols." "We are idolaters by nature." There is no end to the way we manufacture things to trust in that are not the true God. Idolatry is born in us and it pleases us very much. We create idols with much greater zeal than we worship the true God. The people at the tower of Babel are case and point.
Yet this practice of idolatry can be far more subtle, and in this season of Advent, as we are trying to be prepared to receive our God and King, it is to these subtleties that our hearts and minds should be drawn. The great danger of idolatry is that we see it as religion. We think it is the highest form of worshipping God, meanwhile it is the violation of His First Commandment. What a clever trick the Wicked One works. He sets up crafty counterfeits that resemble true worship right within Christ's Church. He calls us to flee from the true God, to abandon hearing Law and Gospel, and create our own brand of worship. At his slippery bidding, we create false ideas about God, and rely on them in order to comfort ourselves.
Concerning this Luther wrote;
"It is not enough to say and think: I am doing this for the glory of God; I intend it for the true God; I want to serve the only God. All idolaters say and intend just that. Intentions or thoughts do not count. If they did, those who martyred the apostles and the Christians would also have been God's servants; for they, too, thought that they were rendering a service to God, as Christ says and St. Paul testifies concerning the Jews, that they are zealous for God and that by serving God night and day they hope to come to the promised salvation.
Rather let each see to it that he is sure that his worship of God is instituted by God's Word and not devised by his own devout inclination or good intention. For whoever is given to a worship of God that lacks the approval of God should know that he is not serving the true God but an idol of his own invention, that is, his own notion and false idea and thereby the devil himself. All the words of the prophets are against him."
We do not create God or determine how to worship Him in our hearts. God creates worship by His Word. His Word is spoken to knock down the idols in our hearts. To clear His temple of the thieves. To restore His throne, take His seat on the humble colt and ride it into His kingdom. Before He can take His rightful place as the King of your heart, He first must knock down the tower that you have built, and this is not going to be comfortable. Before Christ can be your true hope, your true comfort, He must take away the things you hope will save you. He must pull the carpet of false security out from underneath you, so that you realize there is nowhere else to turn. Only then does His Gospel, His good news of salvation in Him alone, pick you up and show you all your King has done for you.
For as we have seen, it is impossible for man to keep this commandment, but take heart, what is impossible for man is possible for God. Christ is the visible image of God's Holy Will. He came to fulfill the first commandment. He came to completely and utterly sacrifice His own will, desires and being to the gracious care of His heavenly Father. He came to fear Him, love Him, trust Him, even when His Father punished Him for the sin of whole world. Even then, Christ fulfilled His Father's Will. Even then, He kept the First Commandment. Even then, He feared, loved and trusted His Father above all things. Only Christ, the Son of God, could fully submit Himself to His Father's care. Only He could trust Him the way He deserves to be trusted.
Only in Christ do you see the Father's will. How He thinks. How He acts. How He speaks. But most importantly, how He feels about you. For Christ did not merely come to fulfill His Father's will. But to fulfill it for you. To demonstrate His great love for you, His depthless desire for your salvation. He still wants to be your God, even though you have constantly turned from Him. He still wants to be your source of refuge and strength, even though you look for it in other things. He still promises you are His, created anew by His Word in the water of Baptism. Forgiven and Safe. He will never take His Word from you. He will always speak His Law to knock down your idols, and His Gospel to comfort your hurting heart. He has proven it forever with His death on the cross. There is nothing left to give. He has held nothing back. Trust in Him. Love His Word and cling to it everyday. Struggle with it as it brings towers to ruin within you, only to build you up in His eternal kingdom. For you know how He feels about you, and that will never change.
With this incredible promise as our Mighty Fortress, let us finish our meditation on God's Word the way that St. John ends His letter to the Church. "Little children, keep yourselves from idols." In Jesus' name, Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr