Small Catechism, Ten Commandments, Commandment Two
Using god’s word faithfully is proclaiming Christ and Christ crucified!
For those of you who might be new to us, I need to explain a little bit about this morning’s sermon. For going on ten years, now, on the fifth Sunday of the month, the sermon is focused – not on one of the readings from the bible – but on a bit or a piece of Luther’s Small Catechism, something he believed contained everything you needed to know about Christianity. A Believing for Dummies, I guess you could call it. I’d choose something – not in a deliberate, intentional sort of way – but whatever grabbed me, at the moment. Whatever piqued my curiosity, at the time.
This time, it’s the second commandment. “You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God.” You’re, probably, more familiar with the King James Version. “Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.” Anyway, I figured it would be all about what you said in the heat of the moment. When you hit your thumb with a hammer! When you stubbed your little toe on a chair! More the “expletive deleted,” socially unacceptable kind of thing. But I kept reading. “You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God. What does this mean? We are to fear and love God, so that we do not curse, swear, practice magic, lie, or deceive using God’s name, but instead use that very name in every time of need to call on, pray to, praise, and give thanks to God.”
Like I said. Pretty much what I expected. Pretty much what I remembered from my own afternoons in confirmation. And frankly, my first inclination was to find something else, something more. Something more interesting. Something more inspiring. But for some reason, I decided to take one more step instead. You see, Luther wrote the smallCatechism as a guide for parents teaching their kids about believing, at home. A kind of primer to help learn the A,B, Cs of the faith. But he, also, wrote a largeCatechism for the teachers and preachers in the church. For those who did what I’m doing, right now. Up close! Personal. Where he wrote only a handful of words about the secondCommandment in the smallCatechism, he wrote five full pages in the largeCatechism.
It’s still anchored, still rooted, in the things he laid out in the Small. But in the Large, it’s heavy – real heavy – on lying and deceiving. On the “God as my witness,” “So help me God” things. “Using the name of God to support falsehood or wrong of any kind …” That’s how he puts it. But there was something else. Something that surprised me. Something I hadn’t expected. Something that wasn’t there in the smaller Catechism.
The greatest abuse [of God’s name], however, is in the spiritual matters, which affect the conscience, when false preachers arise and present their lying nonsense as God’s Word!
The greatest abuse, the greatest misuse, of the name of God is when preachers say, “Thus saith the Lord,” and the Lord never said it! When they tell you, this is what god is like, and god is nothing like it! But the people hear it and the people believe it. After all, true or false, they’re still the preacher.
I read those words and I was surprised. I know I had to have seen them sometime before. But for some reason, they never registered. They never sunk in. Using god’s name … Well, it has to do with what’s happening on both side of this smartphone! What I’m doing here … and what you’re doing there … At this moment, according to the secondCommandment, we both have a duty, a responsibility, an obligation. Mine is to proclaim gospel! I’m here to preach goodNews! Not opinions! Not expectations! Not novelties! And you’re there to hear gospel, to listen for goodNews! And together – in the preaching and the hearing, in the proclaiming and the listening – faith is created! Just like it was, in the beginning!
The greatest abuse [of God’s name is] … when false preachers arise and present their lying nonsense as God’s Word!
I’d like to say, Brother Martin wasn’t pointing fingers at anyone, in particular. That the good doctor didn’t have someone in mind when he said those words. Truth is, he, probably, did. And we, probably, do as well. But that’s not why he wrote them. He wanted to give us a mirror in which we could look at ourselves! He wanted us to see that we’re here for gospel! We’re here for goodNews! And not for the lyingNonsense! No matter how popular the preacher. No matter how highfalutin the message!
By grace! For Christ’s sake! Through faith! That’s what we proclaim as the church! In god’s mercy! Christ was given to die! And for his sake, god forgives! That’s what you listen for! That’s what you hear! Bottomline, god loves us! Period! Not because we’ve earned it! Not because we deserve being loved! God loves us because that’s the kind of god we have! That’s the kind of god who has us! God loves us! Loves us with all god’s heart! Loves us with all god’s mind! Loves us with all god’s breath, all god’s being! And to preach anything else … to proclaim anything less … to listen for or hear anything else or less … is what Luther calls lying nonsense! It’s misusing, abusing, the name of the LORD your god! Taking it in vain! Making it hollow, empty!
Friday morning, I was out cutting the grass. It’s when I do my best thinking. Meditating. Contemplating. Anyway, I got to thinking about all this … the pandemic … covid-19 … what’s happening here in Midland … And it struck me that the virus is an equal opportunity infector! It doesn’t discriminate on the basis of anything! Race! Creed! Color! Gender! Age! Sexual orientation! It’s here for all of us! But why? Why don’t we believe, why aren’t we able to believe, the same thing about god? For some reason, we think god is picky, choosey. God loves only the some, the few. I think that’s the lying nonsense of which Luther was writing. God loves! That’s what god does! God loves! That’s who god is! And you shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God! Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD your God in vain!
There’s more to it than the occasional “God damn it!” or “Jesus Christ!” In some ways – most ways – that’s the least of our worries. The greatest concern is what we believe! Right here! Right now! It’s what I’m speaking! And it’s what you’re hearing! The greatest abuse is when false preachers arise and present their lying nonsense as Gospel! The greatest abuse is when false preachers arise and present their lying nonsense as goodNews! The greatest abuse is when churches arise who do the same!
But the best us? The greatest use? That’s when the gospel is proclaimed and heard! When goodNews is administered AND received! Because when that happens … when that happens, my friends, faith is conceived and the church is born! Faith is conceived and the church is born again!