Sermon for 01-09-11: “The Ten Commandments, Part 1: No Other Gods”

January 10, 2011

Originally, this sermon was supposed to be the first part of a 4-part sermon series, and it was going to cover the first three of the Ten Commandments. I only got through the first commandment! That’s O.K. There was no reason it had to be only four parts! Enjoy. Feel free to leave feedback.

Sermon Text: Exodus 20:1-3

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The following is my original sermon manuscript.

There are few passages in scripture more controversial than the Ten Commandments. Every couple of years in our country, it seems, we have a national debate about whether or not it’s appropriate or legal to post the Ten Commandments in courthouses or other public places. On that question, I stand alongside my law professor in college. He wasn’t, as far as I know, particularly religious, but he said, “The Ten Commandments are such an important foundation for all the law that followed, of course they should be posted!”

Whenever this controversy gets stirred up, I notice that some well-meaning Christians start posting Ten Commandment signs in their front yards, as a protest. Have you seen these? I personally don’t do that, for the same reason I don’t have a little “fish” symbol or some other Christian bumper sticker on my car: I’m a sinner. Just as I often fail to live up the standard of Christ-like love, I also break the Ten Commandments. I don’t want to, and I am trying by God’s grace not to… but I do. I don’t want to be perceived as a hypocrite.

Because you know what’s even more important than posting the Ten Commandments in courthouses and public places and front yards? Actually obeying them! Isn’t that the hard part?

Another controversy, believe it or not, is the question of how to number them. There is surprisingly little agreement among Christians and Jews on how to do it. Catholics and Lutherans, for example, make Commandments 1 and 2 into the first commandment. Then they split the tenth commandment, “Thou shalt not covet,” into two: number nine is coveting your neighbor’s wife; number ten is coveting all his other possessions. To Jews, meanwhile, the first commandment is v. 2: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” That doesn’t sound like a commandment, does it? Then they combine “no other gods” and idol-making into the second commandment.

I don’t really care how we number them—it could be nine, ten, eleven, or twelve commandments for all I care. But I think our Jewish friends are onto something: The Ten Commandments ought to begin with verse 2, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” We ought to begin there because these commandments are, first and foremost, a gift of God’s love and grace.

God acted first—by making a covenant with Abraham and his children, before they could do anything to win God’s favor, loving them, making them his people, and graciously delivering them, freeing them, saving them from slavery in Egypt. Remember what God has done for you! Now live your life in this way, as a grateful response to this gift God has given you.

Remember! Every year, when Jews celebrate Passover, they remember what God did for them in freeing them from slavery in Egypt. Is it any wonder that when Jesus celebrated a Passover meal with his disciples, he challenged them and us to remember his sacrificial death on a cross, through which we find forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with God. “Do this in remembrance of me.”

Last summer, I went to something called Georgia Pastors’ School at St. Simon’s Island, where the guest preacher for the week was Walter Kimbrough. For decades, Kimbrough was senior pastor of the Cascade United Methodist Church, an historic African-American congregation in Atlanta. In one sermon, Dr. Kimbrough talked about that question that we often ask one another: “How are you doing?” And what do we say? “Fine.” We don’t ask because we really want to know, and we don’t answer honestly. Our dog might have just gotten run over: “How are you doing?” “Fine.” But Dr. Kimbrough has too much integrity to lie to people. He insists on answering the question honestly. He’s not going to say he’s fine if he’s not doing fine. Consequently, when people ask him, “How are you doing?” he almost always answers, “I’m doing fantastically wonderful!” And being around him, you sense that he answers this way because he means it.

I want to be fantastically wonderful, too. I think God wants us Christians to be fantastically wonderful. I’m convinced that the world needs to see the church filled with people who are either fantastically wonderful or at least on their way toward becoming fantastically wonderful! And if we’re going to be fantastically wonderful for any length of time, it can’t simply depend very much on what’s going on in our lives at the moment. For example, being fantastically wonderful shouldn’t depend on whether or not our favorite sports team wins—or whether our most hated rival team loses. Not to say I’m at all unhappy that the New Orleans Saints lost yesterday… I’m glad about that, but even if they won, it shouldn’t affect whether or not I’m fantastically wonderful.

Being fantastically wonderful shouldn’t depend on whether or not we have lost that extra weight we’ve been trying to lose, or found the love of our life, or landed our dream job, or got accepted into that prestigious college, or achieved financial security. Being fantastically wonderful can’t depend on whether or not we have an ice storm that closes school for a couple of days.

The secret to being fantastically wonderful is constantly remembering what God has done for us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. If we remember, we don’t have to be afraid when those voices in the world tells us, “You should really be afraid”; we don’t have to worry when those voices in the world tells us, “You should really be worried”; we don’t have to pay attention to that nagging voice of self-doubt that tells us, “You’re not good enough. God doesn’t love you. You can’t really believe that God will forgive all of your sins—after all that you’ve done?” When Jesus was hanging on the cross, there was a man, probably a violent criminal, who hung on the cross next to him. He said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He had done nothing to deserve being a part of God’s kingdom. And now he could do nothing to even try to pay it back or earn it. In spite of this, Jesus tells him, “Let me tell you the truth: Today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Jesus will remember you! Remember what he’s done for you! Can you believe it? Doesn’t that change everything? Doesn’t that fill you with joy? If it doesn’t fill us with joy, what is wrong with us?

And because of all this amazing stuff that God has done for us, God says, “You shall have no other gods before me.”

Good thing we don’t have that problem, huh? After all, the majority of Americans who never darken the door of a church believe in one God, right?

Did you hear about junior Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck last week? Luck, by all accounts, is a great quarterback who would be the number one draft choice in the NFL this year, if he left school a year early and declared for the draft. Analysts say he is ready today to play in the NFL. He would make about $50 million for doing nothing other than signing his name on a contract.

So what did Luck do? He essentially turned down about $50 million last week, saying he wanted to complete his degree and play his senior year at Stanford. And nearly every sportswriter in the country and every sports talk radio person—at least those outside of Menlo Park, California—called him a fool and a nut! How could he turn down all that money? Doesn’t he know that he turned down an opportunity to have lifetime security—I heard a talk radio host say that. Lifetime security! If he would only leave school early, he would never again have to worry about making ends meet again. He could buy whatever he wanted.

Meanwhile, what if he gets seriously injured his senior year? He may lose out on a chance to go to the NFL! And can’t he just go back and finish his degree later? I’ll admit that there’s a part of me that wonders why he’s doing it. What would I do if I were in his shoes?

Luck clearly believes he’s doing the right thing—and look at the potential price he’s paying for doing it! When there is so much at stake, would we have the courage to do the right thing? Remember the rich young ruler in the gospels. He asks what he must do to inherit eternal life, and Jesus tells him to go sell all of his possessions and give the money to the poor. And he walks away disappointed—because that’s asking too much… I’m afraid that the only difference between him and me is that Jesus never asked me to do that!

I don’t know what Luck’s religious beliefs are. I bring him up because this example illustrates what it might look like to obey this first commandment. Here’s what it might cost! These are the questions it might raise in people’s minds. This is the kind of reaction and resistance we might encounter.

Regardless, Luck is clearly someone for whom the almighty dollar is not god. We should commend him for that. We know that money doesn’t buy happiness or love. The headlines in the tabloids at the grocery check-out line remind us of that. So many of these celebrities seem so miserable, and their personal lives are such a disaster! Money doesn’t buy us any real security. We could die tomorrow—then what’s all that money worth?

But money is a really first-rate false god, because it promises so much! It promises so many good things—happiness, love, security, fulfillment, contentment… But its track record is awful. It utterly fails to deliver. Of course there are plenty of other false gods. Can we name some of them? [texted responses?] Food, relationships and sex, body image, career, alcohol and drugs, sports…

God gives us this first commandment, “Have no other gods before me,” because God wants us to know true love, true security, true fulfillment, true contentment, and true peace. In fact, God wants us to be fantastically wonderful. And these Ten Commandments show us the way.

So… “How are you doing?”

2 Responses to “Sermon for 01-09-11: “The Ten Commandments, Part 1: No Other Gods””

  1. Jane Rogers Says:

    Good point, Brent! Aren’t we as God-believers called to act, talk, live and react differently from those who don’t know God? I would hope anyone who looks at me could see that I am ‘fantastically wonderful’!

    • brentwhite Says:

      I genuinely believe so, Jane. I’m not saying that being a disciple is an obvious path to this kind of happiness, but it’s ultimately the only way.

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