Thursday, June 16, 2011

Sermon preview--The Third Commandment

Kevin Miller is a preacher and Vice President of Christianity Today International. In the days just after 9/11, he was flying from San Francisco to Chicago. Five minutes before takeoff from San Francisco, a gate agent came on the plane and said, "Get your bags and come with me.” Miller wound up sitting in the airport watching the flight take off without him, wondering what the problem was. Soon, four armed San Francisco policemen showed up and began grilling him. Suddenly it hit him. His friend had been ordered out of the security line and so he arrived on the plane much later than Miller had. When he got on the plane, Miller asked jokingly, "Why were you stopped? Was it your beady terrorist eyes? Explosives?" 11 stray words were the source of all this trouble. Meanwhile, the airline officials were talking to the FAA and the police, trying to decide what to do with him. Finally, an airline rep said, "You realize that you can't talk about these things. We're in a new day. Another passenger overheard you and refused to fly on the flight. The captain was told, and he made the decision to remove you from the flight." They agreed to let him take their next flight out to Chicago, but it didn’t take off until 11:30 that night, and arrived at 5:30 AM. The lead cop looked at him and said: "You win the prize for Idiot of the Day." In Kevin Miller’s words, “So now I'm sitting in San Francisco airport for 9 1/2 hours and losing an entire night's sleep…All because of a few stray words.”

This much is true; we are in a new day. In many ways, stray words are taken much more seriously than they used to be. Just ask any prominent person who has had to publicly apologize for some off-the-cuff remark. In many ways, people are beginning to pay much closer attention to the words they say. On the other hand, there is a new casualness when speaking about God. We have lost the holy reverence that the Old Testament refers to as the fear of God. You can hear it in our speech. And one symptom of that is the fact that we take the third commandment least seriously of the ten. This week’s sermon will be an experience for many of us similar to what Kevin Miller experienced in that airport. We will find out that words we have been using in a casual way—stray words—are taken very seriously by the One who judges our lives.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Sermon preview--The Second Commandment

A couple of weeks ago, I spent all day Saturday at the George R Brown at an event called Comicpalooza. This is an annual convention for fans of comic books, anime, sci-fi, and other related entertainments. Why was I there? Because my daughter wanted to go, and I love her. But the last time I was more out of my element, I had walked into a women’s restroom by mistake. There were several thousand people at the GRB. At least 1/3 of them were dressed as some superhero or another. Of the rest, most at least had on some kind of fan gear. And by the way, these weren’t kids, for the most part. I’d say the median age in that place was around 35. Occasionally I would see someone who looked fairly normal, and I’d be tempted to take him aside and say, “Have you ever seen so many weirdos in one place in your life?” But I was afraid he would produce a magic wand and change me into a toad or something. Then again, while I was feeling all smug and judgmental, it occurred to me that if someone from another civilization—like say, Moses—was to attend a football game with me, he might have much the same response. He’d see thousands of people—many of them well-lubed from a pre-game tailgate party—screaming and shouting, alternating between violent anger and ecstatic exhubrance, some of them with painted faces or painted bodies, singing ritualistic songs, and he’d conclude he was participating in the rites of some strange cult that worships an oblong brown object. There are a lot of things we do that seem like worship. Some people, mostly men, give up their precious time off and spend lots of money so that they can ride in a magic cart, whacking a magic ball with one of a bag of magic sticks. And when the magic ball goes into the water, they say magic words! (Curiously, the magic ball does not reappear) Some other people, mostly women, offer costly sacrifices at the altars of gods called Prada and Nordstrom and Saks and Ikea. They spend money they don’t have on stuff they don’t need, with a great deal of faith that these magical items will bring them joy and fulfillment.

My point is that if someone observed our lives objectively, they might have a difficult time determining what it is we truly worship. What is worship, after all? It is delighting in something, rejoicing in something, so much so that we will sacrifice to it, make it our identity and source of fulfillment. And what we worship determines the course of our lives. That’s why when God was creating a new nation during the Exodus, in giving His chosen people their code by which to live—the Ten Commandments—He starts with two consecutive commands that govern our worship. Last week we looked at the first commandment, which is about keeping God first in your life. This week, we'll look at the second commandment, found in Exodus 20:4-6.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Sermon preview--The First Commandment

This week, a blog I like to read posted a video of Billy Graham being interviewed by Woody Allen on a TV show in the 1970s. It’s amazing to watch these two men, so very different in their outlooks on life—at one point, Allen tells Graham, “I am determined to convert you to agnosticism,” and Graham retorts with, “Many people have tried”—who were so very gracious toward one another before a national audience. Later in the interview, the subject of premarital sex comes up. Allen asserts that the Christian understanding—that sex is for marriage, period—doesn’t make a lot of practical sense. He points out that we certainly don’t buy a car until we give it a test drive, so why would a man marry a woman without…well, you get the picture.

We’re beginning a series on the Ten Commandments this week; taking a break from our year-long study of the parables of Jesus to do this. You might be wondering why. After all, many people these days—including many Christians—feel a sense of weariness with the rules of Scripture. Like Woody Allen, they feel like some—if not many—of the Bible’s commands are outdated, maybe a little arbitrary, designed by fusty old ladies and judgmental preachers to keep the rest of us from having fun. Others of us are a little embarrassed at the way Christians have often over-emphasized the rules to the detriment of the message of the Gospel. After all, Jesus didn’t come to give us more rules to follow; He came to set us free. The Pharisees were the ones who were focused on rules, and they’re the ones who conspired to kill Jesus. So why spend ten weeks on a bunch of thou-shalt-nots? And still others will say, “There are thousands of commands in the Bible. What’s so special about these ten?”

Hopefully over the next ten weeks, you'll see what's so special about these commands so important, God wrote them in stone with His own finger. We'll start this Sunday with the first commandment. Take a look at Exodus 20 this week to read the entire list.

Here's a link to the video. It's worth a look.