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You will have no other gods before Me (Exodus 20:3)
In the Name + of Jesus. AMEN. The First Commandment is critical for you. Nothing else is as important. It expresses your one solid point of reference. It tells you whether you are, or are not, off course. Do you worship true God? What if you worship false gods? How will you know? There is only one way to find out. Go back to the one solid point, the First Commandment.
There are other points, other gods mentioned in the First Commandment. You know them very well. To the question, “Do you worship true God,” you may answer, “Of course. Just look and you’ll see for yourself.” “Look at my bank account.” “Look at my children.” Look at my house and furniture.” “Look at my friends.” “Look at the car I drive.” “Look at these pictures from my holidays.” “Look at my church.”
All excellent stuff. But can they bear the weight of your life? Can any of that stuff hold you up when pride, and anger, and fear, and guilt, and shame knock you down, drag you to the end of your rope, leave you in the valley of death?
In the Bible you hear God’s challenge. “Try the other gods and see what they’re worth.” What you will discover is that there is nobody and nothing that can stand the strain of being treated as your god except God Himself. And don’t worry if this comes off as strange or doesn’t apply to you this morning. If it hasn’t happened already, each of you will experience this truth one way or another. Bankruptcy. Miscarriage. House fire. Betrayal. Ticketed for drunk driving. Luggage lost and food poisoning. I don’t recognize anyone and I don’t particularly like this pastor. One way or another you will learn the truth about who are your gods. They will all break under the strain of being treated as God. Then you who rely on them will be broken with them.
When God says, “You will have no other gods,” He says “I am number one and there is no number two or three or four.” And maybe this sounds to you like God tooting His own horn. I’m the Big Cheese and if you know what’s good for you you’ll get in line. Many people you meet imagine God this way. Get in line. Behave yourself. Be a good neighbor. Be a good Christian. All that tells you is how they really feel about God. But God isn’t like that at all. When He says “I am number one”, He doesn’t do it for His sake. He says it for your sake. He knows that He can be God for you. All your life and well-being are from Him to you as gift. God is not a tyrant who makes slaves, like the other gods. He allows you to reject Him. And if you do it long enough, if you persist in telling God how it will be for you and Him, going on and on about how you can get by just fine on your own, God will finally say, “If that’s the way you want it, that’s what you’ll get.”
Many people, outside and inside churches, expect God to take second or third or fourth place to their wants and needs. They hear that they must love God more than husband and wife, children, family, friends, and possessions, and it sounds like He wants to cut back your love for them. But that’s just not true. It’s actually the opposite. You love husband and wife, children, family, friends, and all the good stuff God gives to you when you love God most. Then your love for them is good and healthy, full, certain, and your love for them is held within God’s love for you. Gracious, generous, self-sacrificial love. The same is true for your enjoyment of all the stuff God gives you, whether it’s your beloved, or a car, or furniture, or corn, all the gifts He gives to you.
For one hundred and fifty years now this congregation has sat here – in the first two churches Northwest of Webster and in this current building – in the village of Webster. She has been saying, “Here is a solid point of reference for all you people in this community. Here God’s Word is spoken and brought home into your lives and homes. The straight stuff straight from Him.
When you come in here, when you gather to worship, you first check your reference point. First you listen. Do you hear, “In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”? That’s a solid point of reference. Before Him you can get stuff sorted out. You can see yourselves with clarity. You get rid of what has gotten in the way. You confess your sin and ask forgiveness. Forgiveness is given in the Name of Jesus. With sin forgiven, you then draw in close to thank and praise and point to Savior God. You pray. You listen to Him speak to you through His Word. Then this Word is unfolded and opened up to you in the sermon and brought home to you. You then receive His body and His blood. Can’t get a more giving God than that. You say a big prayer that ties everything up with God. You receive His blessing. Then you go out, on into another week, forgiven, connected more strongly to Him. You can now tackle another week with strength and direction from God.
Not that there aren’t snags. You bump against all sorts of stuff that pains and hurts you. All sorts of stuff that seems and sounds like God lied to you. You want so much to share what means so much to you with family and friends and neighbors, but they couldn’t care less about Jesus or the Church or your hope. They’re just fine. Then there are the sharpest snags. Those that are close to home. Someone in your own home is very happy with running his or her life as if they’ve taken over for God. In your heart there is stubborn resistance too. You like to keep some stuff for yourself. You put up a sign that puts God on notice: “Keep Out.”
When God comes first though, you are in for some bumps and bruises and pain and hurt. But as you come to know Him more and more you will be amazed about the God He is FOR YOU. And from that gratitude, graciousness, generosity toward your fellow Christians and everyone else too.
One hundred and fifty years seems like such a long time, but it’s just a start. You can look back over your shoulder at past victories. You can look around this morning and see more victories. But there is a lot you don’t see. And there are many more victories that lay ahead as Christ continues to come to have more and more His way with you. When Christ is with you and you go along the way with Him, you always get more than you imagined. If you are just fine, satisfied with yourself and the way you are taking care of stuff, stay away from Christ. Stay away from His gifts, because you are really in for something when Christ takes over, when you call Him Lord. When you do that, then you are onto something solid. You have your certain reference point today and forever.
Today you give thanks to God for what He has done for you here the past one hundred and fifty years. You praise Him for what He does today for you. You worship Him who promises you that He will never leave you or forsake you, because He cannot go back on His baptismal promise to you. He will not betray Himself. So you can say with the saints in every generation, with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, in certain hope, to the one solid point of reference, “We are yours, Lord. You are our only God, our one and only Savior. Build us solid to You and use us as instruments of your grace and truth.” In Jesus’ name. AMEN.