In 2016, we're using our Lent Evening Prayer services for catechesis. Focusing on the theme "God's Design for Life," we're looking at the Ten Commandments, reciting the appropriate portions of Luther's Small Catechism and then giving catechetical sermons, in the pattern of Luther's Large Catechism.
This first installment focuses on the First Commandment.
God says, “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Ex. 20:3).
Before you begin construction on a new house, you must have a design, a set of blue prints. The blue prints show how the designer, the architect, wants the building to look and function. Before you begin sewing on a new dress, you need a pattern for the dress. The pattern shows how the designer wants the pieces of material to be cut and stitched together. During these Lent Evening Prayer services, we’ll look at God’s Design for Life. What kind of blue prints or pattern does God, the Designer of all life, provide? We can see His design in the Ten Commandments.
Tonight we look at the bedrock foundation of God’s design for life: Life with Trust. We just read through the First Commandment and its Catechism meaning, and we reviewed the Close of the Commandments and its meaning. When God designs life, He begins with fear, love, and trust in Him. Life built without this foundation will never stand for long.
Should you really fear God? You better believe it! He’s bigger than you are. He can strike you down with hardly a flick of His little finger. Can you love and trust God? You better believe it! He is the only One who can help you in time of need. God’s design for life is centered on fearing, loving, and trusting Him and nothing or no-one else. But that’s precisely the problem, isn’t it? When you fear, love and trust God alone, you are keeping this commandment. But when you fear, love or trust anything else—anything, anyone, and in any way—more than God, you are breaking and trampling this precious commandment.
Whatever you fear and trust, that is your god. Adam and Eve were created with proper fear, love, and trust. Before they fell into sin, they feared, loved, and trusted in God first and foremost. He provided only good things and always good things for them. He was their true and only refuge, their true and only devotion. But then along came the tempter. He succeeded in diverting Adam’s and Eve’s eyes from God and His promises. No longer did Adam and Eve fear God. They looked down on Him. No longer did Adam and Eve love God. They actually despised Him, thinking that He had been holding out on them. No longer did Adam and Eve trust God. They doubted Him. Instead, they feared Satan. Instead, they trusted the forbidden fruit. Instead, they loved themselves. So they fell from the palm of God’s hand. And we’ve been falling ever since.
What do you fear, love, and trust? That’s always the key question. What is your false god? You see, idolatry is not merely a matter of statues and shrines. As Luther said in his Large Catechism: “[Idolatry] happens not merely by erecting an image and worshiping it, but rather it happens in the heart. For the heart stands gaping at something else. It seeks help and consolation from creatures, saints, or devils. It neither cares for God, nor looks to Him for anything better than to believe that He is willing to help. The heart does not believe that whatever good it experiences comes from God” (LC I:21). That’s idolatry—breaking the First Commandment. And that’s what is in your heart and mine.
What do you fear, love, and trust? It could be almost anything—anything except God, that is. Ponder these examples. Perhaps you fear, love, and trust money and possessions above all things. If you have money or certain possessions, you think you need nothing else. You may get secure and fearless because you trust and boast in what you own. Or there’s the other side of the coin. When you don’t have money or certain possessions, you are full of doubts and despair. You fret. You worry. You complain as you try to get the money and possessions. Whatever you fear, love, and trust, that is truly your god.
How about this second example: pleasure. This is quite prevalent in our American culture. Pleasure is the chief false god of our age. Everything is geared toward our emotions, making us feel good, and having fun. You and I trust things only if they immediately make us feel good. If you have to work at something or wait for some reward or delay gratification, you throw it out. You and I also fear any adverse or negative experiences. If it’s uncomfortable, we just can’t have it. We value pleasure so highly that some people will do just about anything to prevent other people from getting upset. Or, when you do become upset, you want other people to change what they’re doing or saying to please you. Can you say “safe zones”? Whatever you fear, love, and trust, that is truly your god.
A third example, just as in Luther’s day, would be religious works. This is when your heart fears, loves, and trusts in your own religious service or activities more than it fears, loves, and trusts in God Himself. In his Large Catechism, Luther decried the practice of honoring St. Apollonia if anyone had a toothache. He also targeted the practice of making a vow to St. Sebastian or St. Rochio if someone dreaded the bubonic plague. As Luther said, “Everyone chose his own saint, worshiped him, and called to him for help in distress” (LC I:11). How might we fear, love, and trust in our own religious works today? Some people look to angels to help them, rather than the Triune God whom the angels themselves serve. Some believe more in “the power of prayer” more than they do in the power of God Himself. Sometimes we even get the notion that, somehow, we are doing God the favor of being in His house, and He is blessed to have us, rather than the other way around. Whatever you fear, love, and trust, that is truly your god.
God has harsh words for everyone who does not fear, love, and trust Him above all things, completely, absolutely, 100%. “He says, ‘I the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Me….” (Ex. 20:5-6). Yes, we should fear His wrath. God does threaten to punish everyone who breaks this First Commandment. And that includes each and every person here tonight. You see, you and I do have our doubts, our fears, our worries. No matter how big or how small, these things get in the way of perfect fear, love, and trust in God. We simply cannot do it. Not perfectly, anyway.
Now, God does give a glorious and precious promise. He also says that He shows “love to a thousand generations of those who love [Him] and keep [His] commandments.” God does promise grace and every blessing to all who keep His commandments—His design for life. But who can do that? Who can keep God’s design for life? Only one Person. Only Jesus, the Savior.
Adam and Eve fell to temptation and fell into sin. Jesus replayed the scene with Satan. He was tempted by the same deceiver who tripped up Adam and Eve. But Jesus did not fall to Satan’s evil wiles. He did not sin. Instead, our Lord Jesus did fear, love, and trust in God above all things.
The Jews of Jesus’ day had a saying. They said, “If one Jew keeps the whole law for one day, the kingdom of God will come.” Well, one Jew did keep the whole Law, and with perfect fear, love, and trust. He kept it not just for one day, but for His whole life. He kept it not just for Himself, but for all of us too. And what happened? They crucified Him for it! But do you know what? The kingdom of God did come, and it’s still coming. God kept and still keeps His promise. God gives you grace and every blessing because of Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
You see, Jesus knows that you cannot keep this First Commandment. That’s why He kept it and still keeps it for you. That’s why He endured God’s wrath for you, in your place. That’s why He gives you His perfect fear, love, and trust in God. Yes, we should fear, love and trust in God above all things. And when God looks at you through Christ, that’s exactly what He sees—a person who fears, loves, and trust in Him above all things. And that is your trust. Because of Jesus, God is your God and gives you every blessing and every protection in time of need.
What do you fear, love, and trust? The God who designed you to fear, love and trust. The God who knows that you are quite incapable of fearing and trusting Him, yet He still wants to be your God. The God who gives you His Son, crucified and risen, to be your shield against wrath, to be your grace and every blessing. That is God’s design for life, a new life with trust. Amen.