Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (A – Proper 11)
July 17, 2011
Text: Is. 44:6-8
Beloved in the Lord, this morning the LORD speaks to us of the First Commandment through the mouth and pen of the Prophet Isaiah. “Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: ‘I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god” (Is. 44:6; ESV; emphasis added)! When God first gave the Ten Commandments to Moses and the children of Israel, He said, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Ex. 20:2). Therefore, on the basis of this great redemption, on the basis of the fact that no other god has been able to deliver you, because no other god exists, on the basis of the fact that I have purchased you to be my very own people, “You shall have no other gods before me” (v. 3). “What does this mean? We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things” (Luther's Small Catechism [St. Louis: Concordia, 1986]).
“You shall have no other gods before me.” Before me. The kids who went to Higher Things last week know the theological Latin phrase for this, Coram Deo, the theme of our conference. It means “before God” or “in the presence of God” or “in the face of God” or “in God’s sight.” Thus the First Commandment does NOT mean that we can have other gods as long as we put God first and don’t put the other gods before Him. No, it means this: You shall have no other gods in the presence of the one true God. Get them out of His face! Get them out of His sight! You are not to have any other god at all! Because the one true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, has redeemed you to be His own people. As He brought the children of Israel out of slavery in Egypt, He has brought you out of slavery to sin and death. It cost Him the blood of His Son, Jesus Christ. It had to be done, because apart from Jesus, coram Deo, before God, you are an unrighteous sinner, a vicious enemy of God, and a stinking corpse. But now that Christ has shed His precious blood for you, buying you back for God, and now that you are baptized into that reality, baptized into Christ, into His death and resurrection, now… now you stand coram Deo, before God, as God’s own child, righteous, with the righteousness of Jesus Christ, His Son. Therefore you are to have no other gods. You are always in the presence of God, coram Deo, and in that presence, He alone is to be your God. He is jealous for you. He will not share you. You are to fear Him above all things. You are to love Him above all things. You are to trust in Him above all things (which is what faith is, by the way). Because He put you above all things to make you His own.
Well, you may be saying, the good news is, Pastor, that I only worship the one true God. I only come to church here. I only pray to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I don’t pray to the god of the Muslims or the Jews or the many gods of the other false religions. I don’t have any figurines carved of wood and stone to which I pray. So I have this commandment pretty much in the bag. I don’t have a problem with idolatry… Really? Of course, it’s true that there is such a thing as blatant idolatry, blatant worshiping of false gods, whether they’re carved from wood or stone or are the more sophisticated gods of the other world religions. Israel was guilty of this blatant idolatry, worshiping the idols of the nations in Canaan, and as a result, God sent them into exile in Assyria and Babylon. Isaiah was sent into this very context as God’s prophet, to announce God’s judgment against idolatry and to comfort the exiles with God’s promise to restore them as His people and redeem them from their sin. Israel’s idolatry serves as a warning to us in the New Testament Church. So if you’ve avoided that kind of blatant idol worship, good for you! But as you know, that doesn’t get you off the hook. Because a god is whatever you fear, love, and trust the most. Our society, for example, ever since the so-called age of Enlightenment, has displaced God with science and reason. Science and reason are two of the chief gods of this age. Health, wealth, and prosperity are three more in the pantheon. Sex and self-determination (autonomy) are two of the favorite deities in our culture. “It’s my life and my body and I’ll do what I want with it!” But the problem is not just society or culture or other people. It’s you. Because even though you do a good job keeping the First Commandment outwardly, even though you attend church regularly and publicly decry the evils of society, inside you are full of idolatry. Really. What do you fear? What do you love? What do you trust? That’s your god. It can be a thing. It can be a person. It can be (and is!) yourself. It is all of those things. If you’re counting on your 401-k or Social Security to provide for you in your later years, you’ve made those things into your gods. It’s not wrong to have them, but they could be gone tomorrow. God will provide for you. Trust Him alone. Money is a big god for Christians. Sex, too. If you love fornication, if you love looking at pornography (which, by the way, is demonic… it allows demons to come and wreak havoc with you), if you love these things even though you know they grieve your God, you have displaced Him with perversion. People can be gods, when you love your family or friends more than you love God, or trust them more, or even fear them more. Stuff can be gods, especially when you covet, because you are counting on the thing you covet to fulfill you and make you happy and whole. And of course, the main god universally worshiped among us is the self. That is, in fact, the definition of sin. It is to place the self before God as god. That is what Adam and Eve were seeking in the Garden. That is what you seek every time you sin. You say to God, “I will be my own God, thank you very much. I will decide what is good and what is evil. I will determine my own course. And as a matter of fact, I will save myself.”
Repent, beloved. Turn again to the God of your salvation who has purchased and won you with the holy, precious blood and the innocent suffering and death of Jesus Christ His Son. For your idolatry has separated you from God. Whatever god reigns in your life, when you unite yourself to a false god, you no longer stand before the one true God, coram Deo, in Christ Jesus, but you are once again in your sins, and you’re damned. Because none of those other gods can deliver you from sin and death and hell. None of those other gods can redeem you. Thus says the LORD to you this morning, “Who is like me? Let him proclaim it… Is there a God besides me? There is no Rock; I know not any” (Is. 44:7-8). You’ve fashioned many gods after your own image, but the truth of the matter is, they are not gods. They are nothing like God. They can’t even begin to compare to God. For not only did they NOT create you, they cannot save you. They cannot help you. They can’t even hear you when you cry out to them. They don’t deliver on their promises. They don’t fulfill you, they don’t make you happy, and they don’t complete you. But God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, does. He is your Rock. He is your sure foundation. Great is His steadfast love toward you, so great that He sent His only-begotten Son to die for you and for His sake forgives you all your sins. He saves you and gives you life. He brings you out of exile in sin and the kingdom of Satan and brings you into the Promised Land of His Kingdom, the Church, and His heaven. He is the first and the last, the be all and end all, the beginning and the end. He created you for Himself. He redeemed you for Himself. And He will have you for Himself for all eternity, standing coram Deo, before God, with the righteousness of Christ, covered by the blood of Christ, God’s own child.
It’s happening here and now as you stand before this altar, coram Deo. God places His Name upon you once again, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the Name into which you are baptized. He forgives all your sins. He speaks to you in His Word. And He places the very body of Christ on your tongue and pours His blood down your throat for the forgiveness of all your sins, that you may with all confidence stand here, coram Deo, without sin, because Jesus has taken all your sins away and nailed them to the cross. It is all by grace, without any merit or worthiness in you. Because that’s the God we have. He is longsuffering, gracious and merciful and full of steadfast love and faithfulness. Other gods? Why would you want them? Get rid of them! You have everything you need in the one true God, the King of Israel, the LORD of hosts. Look, He places His feast before you. Come with great rejoicing to His Table and kneel before Him to receive His gifts. For He is your one and only. He is the only God. And here He gives Himself to you. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.