Meeting Times at 4th United Presbyterian Church

Cafe' Worship: 9:15 a.m. each Sunday in Gathering Hall (activities provided for children; coffee; snacks)
Adult Sunday School: 10 a.m.

Sunday Worship: 11 a.m.

Bible Study: each Thursday at 6 p.m.

Community Forum: last Thursday of each month at 6 p.m. with meal (no community forum in November, 2011)

About the 4th United Presbyterian Bible Blog

Posts on this blog are from me, Rev. George H. Waters, one of the two organizing co-pastors of 4th United Presbyterian Church. Our other organizing pastor was Rev. Sonya McAuley-Allen, who is now pastor of a church in Charlotte, N.C. Since June of 2011, Rev. Elizabeth Peterson has been our parish associate pastor for new church development. The earliest posts are sermon notes from the few I have typed the last two years. Then, there is a series of notes posted on the book of Romans. After that, it varies from week to week, sometimes church news, sometimes reflections on a happening, a passage of scripture, or even some pictures. This blog is meant to open the conversation we have going on in our church to others in our community.

The picture below is of our church's sanctuary, built in 1913.

Monday, June 15, 2009

"A Meditation on the Second Commandment"

“You shall not make for yourself a likeness of anything that is in the heavens, or in the earth or in the waters under the earth. You shall not bow down to them and serve them.” -Deut. 5

The first commandment has already announced: “You shall have no other gods before me.” Why the need for this second commandment? Don’t be creating images to worship. I AM THE LORD YOUR GOD. If you do let the religious imagination run wild, you will end up fashioning idols and then bowing down to what you have made with your own hands.

But, the Jews of King David’s day seem to have a clearer understanding than the people of the Exodus. Those people who followed Moses through the Red Sea out of Egypt had lived in a time when their God was one of many gods, and the point of that first commandment was that they were to be loyal to their God, the God of Abraham, I saac, and Jacob, who had delivered them through Moses. The believers of Moses day appear to have believed in a world where there were many supernatural beings, many gods, but they had experienced Yahweh, their God, their deliverer, their savior, who had chosen them. That’s why the first commandment reads: “You shall have no other gods before me.” I am first. You shall not depend on them, and honor them. You shall be loyal to me.

So, the ten commandments were given in a religious environment that was polytheistic. That is, the Hebrew people of that day believed that the world was populated with many supernatural beings or gods. Yahweh, their ‘God, was their hope, but not the only supernatural being or god.
By the time Psalm 100 was written, which most scholars believe over a 1,000 years after the Exodus, well, by that time, the Jews were distinguished from the rest of the peoples, not only by the fact that their ‘God was Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But, they were distinguished from most all the people by their believe that there was only one great supernatural being and creator and ruler of all life. By the time Psalm 100 was written, the Jews were monotheists. Their world only had one God. God was not the greatest of the gods, but the only God. Every other so-called god was just the work of human hands and imagination. Now this monotheistic belief may have still been contending with the old belief at times. But, in Ps. 100 it seems clear, that it is not matter of bowing down to Dagon and Baal instead of Yahweh. But, there is a new type of idolatry to worry about. There is a new type of challenge to God’s throne.

Listen to the Psalmist: “Know that the Lord is God. It is he that made us and not we ourselves.”
Now, those words in Psalm 100, don’t have to do with imagining that a golden calf, or some representation of a heavenly being, has power to save or help us. No: “It is God that made us and not we ourselves,” well, those words are all about remembering or learning for the first time, that we have a Creator and that we are his creatures.

Instead of worrying that the Jews will worship some golden calf or some other image of a god other than Yahweh, the Psalmist is worrying that the Jews will imagine that they are on the throne, that they are the rulers of their own destiny, that they don’t need to look farther than their own heart and mind and councils to find the ultimate meaning in life. “It is God that made us and not we ourselves.” Having come to a belief that all those so-called gods were simply made up. Having come to see that all these so-called spiritual forces could be explained in other ways j- through human understanding. The Jews are left in a world with just human beings and a God they cannot see or touch or verify through their senses.

In a world where superstition has vanished, God can vanish too, if one’s religion is part of their superstition. But, remember, true faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was alive even when the Israelites thought thei r were all sorts of other supernatural powers and gods that threatened their loyalty.

Of course, you can believe that the universe is filled with spiritual supernatural beings or you can believe that the only supernatural being is God. You could believe in angels, demons, or not, and still be a Christian. Because, the commandment is ‘you shall have no other gods before me.” If your loyalty and praise is for the God of Jesus alone, then your faith is true, no matter what type of world view that loyalty and praise comes out of.

I am thoroughly influenced by the Jewish anti-superstitious type of view. And, this is furthered by the learnings and views of modern science and the Protestant criticism of superstition and the Protestant emphasis on God as the one supernatural being, and the lack of emphasis on either angels or patron saints. But, a person can be more of a superstitious person, believing in many spiritual forces in the universe. You can see the world, not like a Jew, but more like a pagan, and still experience God in the middle of it. Now, if you come to Christianity with a more superstitious world view, certain old ways will be challenged as more and more you see that the only truly sacred is that which God blesses.

But, as we have lived through a few centuries of the modern age, we see that the old superstitions, the old idolatries have been replaced with a new idolatry. Whereas human beings used to betray the true God by seeking salvation from mediums and withcraft and other types of spiritual practices, human beings in our day seek salvation in our selves, as if we had become the source of all good and life and salvation. I may be reading Psalm 100 in too modern a sense, but the words are plain. It says: “It is God that made us, and not we ourselves.” I don’t know how to read that except to say: “God is God; human beings are not the Creator, but the created.” A proper understanding of Darwin might have brought that message home.

It might be a good way to start learning this by saying: “I am a creature, just like a squirrel is, and my relationship to God is that of creature to Creator.” Now, we are going to say more about human beings, because God has put us in a special place among the animals of this world. But, before we start saying too much about ourselves, and get carried away. We do well to remember: “It is he that made us and not we ourselves.” You are not any more to credit for your being alive here today than a squirrel or a cat is. And, if any of us runs out in front of a car like that cat did last Sunday, well, then we could end up just like that old cat, and somebody will be loading us into a body bag. We are creatures, not creators. We live, and move, and have our being because of the gracious gift of life from God’s Spirit. We are here at his good pleasure. If God should withdraw his power of life, we would be gone.

And, I think that is a good place to start in allowing this commandment to become a real word for us in the 21st century.

Now, I started out talking about making images of things and ending up worshipping those. Like those who made a golden calf and then thought it could help deliver them from the desert terrors. Moses reminded them in a real concrete way that there was only one savior who could help, and he was the God who had brought them across the Red Sea. Moses ground up that golden calf, and put it in their water, and made them drink it. So, the taste of idolatry would remain with them. For, they had poisoned the pure water of communion with God by imagining help could come from their creations.

Sometimes I think that in modern times we somehow imagine that we are gods, and not creatures. We have been able to chart the courses of the planets, and send people to the moon. We have been able to create a bomb that can destroy life as we know it. We know how to counteract bacteria infections with antibiotics. And, so, sometimes, modern humans have thought that we are a new humanity because of our understanding. But, I think we are still struggling to have faith in very much the same ways that the people of Moses 3500 years ago, and the people of Ezra and Nehemiah 2400 years ago, and the people around Jesus 2000 years ago, and the people of Augustine 1600 years ago, and the people of Martin Luther 500 years ago, or our great-great grandparents 100 years ago.

Now, I want to think in two directions about this. 1) What do we build up, and come to believe will save us? 2) How do we come to think we are the God of our own life: creator, judge, redeemer?

Because, it seems that both of these need some thought. First, I might build up my house, and my bank account, and come to believe that my hope and security and meaning is in those things. That might be a way of fashioning something from my own hands, and then coming to believe that I can be saved by those things I have made. But, as we have found out , that safe money I thought I had – well, its not so safe as I thought. So, I might have saved and saved, and have nothing to show for it. Those who have no investments knew that they were dependent on the Lord for their daily bread; now many who had investments are finding that out too. So, that’s one way of understanding this commandment. And, once you build something up and trust in it, it does come to have a power, almost a spiritual, invisible power over you. You can say you don’t believe in all that stuff, but that possession of yours can come to rule you (just like the ring overbore the will of Gollum and everyone who touched it in the Lord of the Rings).

Now, let’s move to a more personal view of this. What about me, and how I create and uphold and view myself in this world? Now, I am getting back to those words in Psalm 100 – “it is God who made us, and not we ourselves.” Now, I’m not talking about bank accounts, or shiny cars, or homes, but you and me. And, making ourselves out to be the creator, savior, center of our lives. I’m talkling about sitting ourselves up on the throne as ruler or captain of our fate. This is certainly has a modern feel to it. Could I really come to imagine myself as my own creator, ruler, judge? I think so. I think this is probably the type of idolatry that haunts and hurts many of us. Its what I spoke about a few weeks back when I talked about getting down out of the captains seat and giving it back to God. And, I think this type of superstition, and that’s what I want to call it, is the hardest to see through and the hardest to get over. If someone tries to get you to worship a block of wood or the devil or something, you[ll not have any trouble saying “no.” Because, your mind is already programmed to reject superstition like that. But, the superstitious believe that you are your own god, your own savior, your own creator, your own judge; well, that is one superstition that modern science has to come extent created, and certainly not destroyed.

By faith, and the experience in faith of the living God, we know “It is he that made us and not we ourselves.” We came into this world by “God’s grace We came in with nothing, and we won’t be able to take anything with us. The Egyptians thought they could take all their riches and even favorite servants and pets with them, so when the great ones were buried they would take all that with them, and have certain people and pets killed to be buried with them. We think: that is crazy!!! But, sometimes when we build our life around all these same things, we seem to believe that somehow we can take it all with us too. We can’t. We are not gods. We are creatures. We are humans, part of the animal kingdom first. And, then, second, graciously chosen to commune with God through Jesus Christ. We are specially chosen to mediate God’s presence to the creation, to represent God’s will for the creation, but we are creatures – flesh and blood. We had no more to do with our being born than a chipmunk does. We are no more to be credited with being alive today than a crow is. “It is he that made us, and not we ourselves.”

Thank God that we are not God. That God is God and that we are his creatures – the work of his hands, just like the mountains and rivers and polar bears and eagles and ants. Let us take our place as those who bow down and worship him. Let us give God his place in the center of the world, in the center of our hearts, In the center of our families, in the center of our church. Let us never imagine that that place as the center of everything belongs to anyone but God. A’men.

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