Sweetwater Presbyterian

Small in size, Big in Faith and Love

July 2019

The 2nd Commandment

The 2nd Commandment

The story of the ten commandments begins with disaster and the breaking of the 2nd of the 10 commandments. Moses was up on the mountain receiving the 10 commandments when the Hebrew people down below got tired of waiting for Moses to return from his time with God. So in their impatience, they decided they were going to make their own god - a god who would be before them; a god they could see and, they thought, would lead them. They give up their gold jewelry, melt it down and form it into a shape of a calf and they begin to worship it. The worship turns into a big party and as God says, “They are out of control!”
Now God, is mad. He is as bad as he has ever been. You know those pictures of people’s head exploding they are so mad, that is how mad God is. And what he wants to do is to just send down a giant lightning bolt and kill them all! God says, “I’m going to wipe them all out and start again!” But Moses quickly says, “Whoa God! Let’s take a step back. Let’s stop and think this through…..” Moses says to God, “What will people think if you destroy your own people? What will the Egyptians think of you if you went to all that trouble to rescue these people from them and then you just destroy them? How will that look? Remember God, these are
your people.” So God takes a deep breath and realizes Moses is right but he isn’t going to let them off the hook either. He sent the priests to kill 3,000 of them and then caused them all to be sick with a plague.
God takes the worshipping of idols very seriously.
There are 2 great passages in the book of Isaiah which talk about idols - they are sort of tongue in cheek type stories that put what an idol actually is in perspective. (Read Isaiah 46:5-7and Isaiah 44:12). Both passages remind us that idols are made by humans and they can’t do anything cause they are just gold or wood. The idols are worthless…… yet it is so easy for us to give our allegiance to idols.
Maybe what we need to do is understand the definition of worship….. to worship is to give value to something; to make it worth something. When we come to this church on a Sunday morning for worship - we are sacrificing our time and our resources to come here to show that we value God; we want to take our time and our effort to give back to God a piece of ourselves. We come to worship God. The purpose of worship is not for ourselves, but for God. Now we do receive a blessing from worship; we leave feeling good or refreshed or renewed - but that is not the purpose of our being here - the purpose of our being here is to worship God. We don’t come so that we get something, we come to give something to God.
The stories in the Old Testament are filled with moments of worship. You will be reading a story about an Old Testament character and all of a sudden it will say, ‘and so and so stopped and worshipped God’. Doesn’t mean that the character quickly organized a worship service like we are use to, it just means that the character took a moment to stop and honor God, to give value to God for something, to let God know God was important to them. And the Bible ends with stories of endless worship. When you read the book of Revelation, about every third chapter stops amidst all this horror happening and has a chapter where everyone is worshipping God. They bow down and sing praise songs and just let God know how important he is.
The second commandment is all about worshipping God - about giving God value - and about not giving that same kind of personal commitment; that same kind of praise and glory to something else.
Because God knows how easy that is to do. God knows how easy it is for things to slip into our lives and we begin to worship whatever that thing is before we know it. In fact a lot of the regulations God puts on the people in the Old Testament are because he knows how easy it is for us to begin to worship things instead of the Almighty God. And what else God knows is that the only thing that will truly fulfill our lives, the only thing that will bring us peace and joy and comfort - is the God of the Bible; the God of Abraham and Issac and Jacob; the God of Jesus Christ.
When God brought the Hebrew people into the promised land after he had freed them from Egyptian slavery, he told them to wipe out everyone who lived in the land. Kill them all. Sounds horrible to us - but God sees it as an act of love.
Because the promised land is full of idol worshippers; full of people who do not know of and God knows will not follow God. And what God knows is that if his people, as faithful as they are, move into a territory full of idol worshippers it won’t be long until his people have abandoned their worship of God and began to worship the idols of the nation. So what happens….. God’s people do not wipe out all the people in the land and it is not long before God’s people have abandoned God and begun to worship the idols of the people who lived in the country. Just as God predicted. What God then tells us is this - look at your life. What is it that stands in the way of your full worship of God? What is it that pulls you away from God and from the church? It is not necessarily anything that is bad and it certainly isn’t stone statues standing somewhere, idols for us are the things that are around us all the time, Just like the people living in the promised land with their idols..
Jesus says in Matthew 6: 19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eyes are unhealthy,[d] your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! 24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money - or for that matter anything else.
The 2nd Commandment reminds us - as humans we cannot serve 2 Gods - we cannot give our hearts to God and to anything else because the anything else is going to win out every time.
But the 2nd commandment has one more component to it…
“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
There is an eternal component to this commandment. God is pointing out that what is important to us is reflected on those around us - God uses children here but this really applies to anyone who associates with us. What God is saying is this - people can see what is important to us. People can see where our loyalties lie. If people see that God and thing things of God are sort of what is left over after the other important things in our lives - then what kind of witness is that? But if we are willing to put the things of God first and people, and our children, can see that God takes priority in our lives, then we are truly living out the witness God has called us to do. We can influence our children and the people around us just by giving God worth and value in the decisions we make and the priorities we set. And that can affect people for generations to come. Amen!

The First Commandment

The First Commandment

Sometimes we underestimate how really smart God is. And I think sometimes we are too critical of the expectations God has for us. We read a commandment or some directive from scripture and think “I can’t believe God expects that of me!” But sometimes we aren’t really reading what God is saying and we need to take a step back instead of just reacting to what we think we hear! As we look at the wording of the First Commandment, I want you to think about what God is really saying to us.
One of my seminary professors was also an archeologist. I learned a lot about what archeologists do and how the system works in the archeology world. Of course it is like most professions where you have to work your way up from the person who lays on the ground with a little brush and and slowly brushes away the sand and the dirt making sure that nothing is missed or damaged…. from that you gain more responsibilities and you become the one who receives the treasures found in the ground and work on cleaning them up and then you become a cataloger who keeps track of all the finds and does research to find out about a particular item. Eventually, with enough experience and enough education and enough letters after your name, you become responsible for an entire archeological site as my seminary professor did. The locations of these places where digs take place usually mean someone with lots of money ‘buys or leases’ the land from the country where the dig is taking place and the archeologist in charge can work in this area as long as the country they are in allows them and as long as the funding stays put.
My seminary funded my professor who ran a archeological site in Israel - and as a result we have one of the premier museums of artifacts at the seminary!
Where this is going is that Dr Tappy found something very interesting as he was supervising this dig in Israel - which was actually a large portion of a town full of houses of the ‘everyday Hebrew people’. It was a Hebrew town and he got a glimpse into the normal life of a Hebrew. But what he found was really interesting…. in the Hebrew house, the people who lived with the 10 Commandments, the people who knew the first commandment to be “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” - these people had shelves full of little gods….
In the culture in those days, for those who were not Hebrews and did not have the Almighty God to care for them, it was the custom to have a god for every need. And to represent those
gods you would have a little figurine to represent the god of whatever you needed. So if you wanted to catch fish you would have a little figurine to the ‘catch more fish god’ and if you wanted to have safe travels on your vacation you would have a little safe travel on your vacation god - for whatever need you had, you had a little god on your shelf. If you came up with a new need - your tomatoes weren’t doing so well so you would go to the store where they sold little gods for your shelf and you would buy whatever you needed and take it home and then pray to that god for your tomatoes. Eventually you would accumulate lots and lots of these little gods which served whatever need you had……
And the Hebrews, even though they knew they were to only worship the Almighty God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, had decided to hedge their bets and ‘just in case’ the Almighty God didn’t come through with a particular need, they had their little back up gods to go and worship and pray to.
Let’s look at the wording of the 1st Commandment:
I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me. Exodus 20:2-3. It is interesting in this commandant God first points out which God he is - Hey People - remember me? I


am the God who brought your forefathers out of Egypt, out of that horrible life of slavery, who brought you through the wilderness, who gave you this land to live in. I am the God your have been taught about all your life.”
That is the first portion of the commandment and sitting here in this sanctuary in the midst of worship we think - ‘Yes. That is who God is. God, the creator of the world, God the creator of me, God the provider of our salvation through his son Jesus Christ. I know who God is.” And we do, when we are sitting here. But what happens when we leave and go out into our every day lives, are we really any different that those Hebrews who looked to little statues for help and security?
What is your first reaction to a need? Is it prayer or is it action? Is your first thought when you need something to go to God or is it to find a solution to the problem? Go to the store and buy what you need? Ask your financial advisor or your banker? Call a Hot Line or go to a website? Buy or download a self-help book?
Book stores aren’t that popular anymore but if you go to one, gauge the self help section of books as compared as to the other section of books….. or google self-help and see what you come up with. It is amazing the amount of ‘self-help’ opportunities out there that don’t mention anywhere relying on God, or bringing the need to God.
We aren’t really any different than those Hebrews of thousands of years ago. We just have a more educated approach to where we look for help…. The ancient Hebrews went to the cupboard and found the proper little wooden god and asked it for help - we go to books and resources and ‘experts’ for the same reason.
Back to the first commandment:
I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me. Exodus 20:2-3
God has identified himself and at the same time reminded the Hebrews of what it meant to get out of slavery. The Hebrew would then immediately think about the wilderness journey where they learned what it meant for God to take care of them and provide for them. And that is what God wants. When God says I am the Lord your God he wants us simply to remember who he is - God is the creator and God wants nothing more than for us than to go to him first with our wants and our needs and our problems and our questions. Doesn’t mean that the solution may not be a book or a person or a website that God will send us to.
Notice how the commandment says - don’t have any other gods
before me. That before is a key word and notice how the word ‘gods’ is plural. What God knows, and this is where I started with reminding us how really smart God is, and how God is not only smart but he is also realistic. God knows that the human heart will lead us to things other than God. God knows that we are so easily swayed by the things that are around us all the time. God knows that we will have other gods. But what he is saying is “I realize that you will go to other things beside me for your help, but I want to be first. Come to me first - let me be the number one God in the face of all the other avenues of help you can receive. Consult me before those other gods.
Remember this Psalm (Read Psalm 121).
This first commandment reminds us who we are and who God is. We are the people of God. There is a verse in the book of Revelation that says that we are:
his called, chosen and faithful followers. Revelation 17:14. And that is all God really wants from us… he wants us to remember who he is and who we are…. He is our God and we are his called and chosen and what he wants from us is to be faithful followers.
God says: I am the Lord your God. I have called you, I have redeemed you in the blood of my son Jesus Christ, I have gifted you with my spirit who lives in you and what I want from you, is to put me first. Amen