Our 2016 Lent Evening Prayer catechetical series--"God's Design for Life"--continues with "Life with a Name," a sermon on the Second Commandment.
How does your mouth show what’s in your heart? How do your lips confess the trust of your heart? In Romans 10(:9-10), St. Paul says: “…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” See how heart and lips are tied together? What you trust in your heart comes out in what you say with your mouth. And what you say with your mouth reveals what you trust in your heart.
God’s design for life tells us what not to do and what to do. What does God tell us not to do in this Second Commandment? He says, “Do not misuse the Name which I give to you. Do not take My Name in vain. Do not us My Name in empty or frivolous ways. Do not use My Name to support or cover up lies.” In fact, God takes this commandment so seriously that He adds a threat to it: “…for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain” (Ex. 20:7). When you curse, swear, use satanic arts, lie or deceive by God’s Name, you are using God’s Name in an empty or frivolous way. You are not guiltless!
And just how might you do this? How might your mouth show the emptiness of your heart? Let’s ponder two ways. First, you might use God’s name to cover up and gloss over your sin and wrongdoing. It’s bad enough that each of us likes to cover up our wrongdoing. We are just like Adam and Eve—we sin, then we cover up with skimpy, little fig leaves called excuses. Then we play hide and seek among the trees when God comes looking for us. But we make our wrongdoing even worse when we use God’s Name as the fig leaves. “Well, God doesn’t mind.” Oh yeah? Who says? We often use God’s Name to cover up our wrongdoing when we say something like this: “Well, I know God forgives me.” Oh yeah? When did He tell you He forgives you for that particular wrongdoing? Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with trusting God’s forgiveness. The problem comes when we use God’s Name and God’s forgiveness to cover up and hide our wrongdoing. How often we say, “God forgives me,” not of repentance, but only to cover up our sin. Don’t admit the sin; just cover it up. Don’t confess the sin—say, to your pastor or a fellow Christian—just gloss over it and try to forget about it. But that’s like concocting a home remedy for cancer and then saying that your doctor prescribed it for you. It’s just not the truth.
Here’s a second way that your mouth might show the emptiness of your heart: when you use your mouth to speak about God in empty or frivolous ways. How might you talk to God or about Him in empty ways? How might you sing in frivolous ways? Several years ago I came across a most unusual song. It was called “Milk.” Part of it read: “Milk, milk, milk / Drink the milk, milk, milk / Read the Word, Word, Word / And grow strong / Shoo-be-do-bop, shoo-be-do-bop.” Sure, it might not sound like false teaching. It might even seem a bit fun for some. But how does it enable you to use your mouth to glorify God? It doesn’t—not much; there’s no substance to it. This song even went on to call God “Mr. Milkman.” Hardly reverent! There are so many better things to put in our mouths and hearts. That’s just one absurd example to show the point. What we say or sing with our mouths does matter. Many songs may be old favorites, or they may be new and catchy. But when you look at the message, they put us creatures in the spotlight and leave God out in the cold. They talk more about us and our emotions that shift like sand, but not so much about God and His rock-solid deeds of salvation. What matters, in the end, is how we use our mouths to glorify God and not ourselves—“for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain”
But the promise is greater than the threat. Where God’s Law has just cut you with the scalpel, the Gospel brings healing. Not only does God tell us what not to do with His name, but He also tells us what to do. And this is a wonderful, gracious, and merciful invitation. God gives you His Name for you to use. God wants you to call upon Him in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks. That’s His grace. Your Lord invites you: “call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me” (Ps. 50:15). This is how to use God’s Name reverently and properly. Listen to what God is saying to you: “Here is My Name. I want you to have it and use it well. Call upon Me, because I want to deliver you and help you.” You see, when you are in trouble—whether it’s doubt, despair, sickness, terrorist attacks, war, or even persecution—God promises to deliver you. And when He delivers you, He does so for His honor and glory.
This is marvelous help and comfort! It cures and heals your double-sided, empty-heart syndrome. First, God gives you His Name so that you may freely admit that you are a sinner. You don’t need to cover up your sin. Sin is your true trouble. And when you call upon God for rescue from sin, He always delivers you from your trouble of sin. No, God does not do this because you called to Him. He does it because of Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. That’s why God sent His only Son to the cross. Jesus Himself bore and honored God’s Name for you. Jesus was cursed to remove the curse from you. Jesus Himself called upon His Father to deliver you from eternal trouble: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Lk. 23:34). Because of Jesus, God does forgive you and help you.
The gift of God’s Name also cures and heals you from talking about God in empty and frivolous ways. God gives you His very own, life-giving Word. Why settle for pablum songs on milk when you can have God’s mighty Psalms and hymns that teach you what God has done and still does for you in Jesus? In the Church’s liturgy God graciously teaches you how to call upon Him. After all, the Church’s liturgy is simply God’s Word in song and prayer. You know these strong words: “O Lord, open my lips. And my mouth will declare your praise.” Or these: “O come, let us sing to the Lord, let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation.” Or how about these mighty words: “Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world; have mercy on us.” Now, this is keeping the Second Commandment! You see, we don’t need to live under the tyranny of pop-creativity or the latest fads or even the “shoo-be-do-bops.” God is so gracious that He gives us the very words that glorify Him and honor His name. In this way God tenderly invites you to pray, praise, and give thanks.
God’s design for life is life with His Name. So, we can urge and encourage each other to honor God’s Name and to keep it constantly on our lips. True honor to God and His name is that we use our mouths to call upon Him. After all, our mouths declare and confess our trust in our God and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.