Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Sermon for December 9-10

The Second Midweek in Advent
December 9-10
Text: Exodus 20:7

Dear Friends in Christ,
Modern Americans have a hard time with concepts like sacredness. We tend to be iconoclastic. We like to tare down false traditions - things like the privileges of being born part of the nobility. About the closest we often come to holding something sacred is personal nostalgia. But even that is not really very sacred as we hear in the old John Denver song... “it’d hold eight kids, two hound dogs, and a pig we’d stole from the shed. We didn’t get sleep but we had a lot of fun on grandma’s feather bed.” Now this is not all bad. Some things that come down to us are indeed false and deserve to be cast aside. But there are some things which should indeed be held as sacred. Our founders understood this and often used the word sacred. The signers of the Declaration of Independence pledged their lives, their fortunes and the sacred honor.

What does it mean that something is sacred? It meas it is set aside for some special purpose or use. It is not common. When we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we use a cup that is only used for the Lord’s Supper. We would not use that cup for a party. It has been set aside. It is sacred.

Scripture teaches us the nothing is more sacred than the name of God. What is the name of God? That’s a good question. God is not God’s name. That is a description of who He is. It’s rather like saying man, or dog, or cat. By using the term God, we saying that this is what He is. But it is rather generic. It does not in and of itself, tell who it is that we are calling God. The Old Testament name for God is Yahweh, which means “I AM that I AM”. It became custom among the Jews, for fear of misusing the Holy Name, to never say Yahweh. They would substitute “adonai,” which means simply “Lord.” This then became the custom among Christians as well. Most translations simply use “Lord” in place of Yahweh. Occasionally, Yahweh, is brought into English as Jehovah. But this is an English word that was accidentally created by combining the Hebrew consonants in Yahweh, with the Hebrew vowels for Adonai. And so while most people recognize Jehovah as a name for God, it is getting somewhat distant from the text of Scripture. The Old Testament used other names for God. He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He is Yahweh Shabbaot, that is the I AM Power and Might. He is the Ancient of Days, Son of Man, Immanuel, and numerous names. The Trinitarian name for God would be revealed in the New Testament - that is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Names associated with individual persons of the Trinity would become more common, Christ, Jesus, Savior, Lamb of God, Comforter, Paraclete, and so forth. All these are the name of God.

God uses His name in a very special way. God’s name is what establishes His presence. Thus Christ says, that wherever God has gathered two or three people together in His name, He is there with them. Now God places His name in strange places, sometimes even hidden or private places. We might think of a church building or the ancient temple. That would be true. God has established His presence in buildings and such. But He has also established His presence with people. In the Old Testament the rite of Circumcision was associated with both God’s name and the naming of the child. They would often be interwoven in the name of the child. Common names usually had some Godly meaning such as Joshua - Yahweh Saves. So now God is present, by placing His name upon His people. And each day, the person would be reminded that God’s name was placed upon them as they used those parts. Sometimes I think that God has a perverse sense of humor. But there is a problem with circumcision in that it is was only done for males. There is no female circumcision in Scripture. In the New Testament, circumcision was replaced with Baptism. Now God’s name is placed upon all believers, male and female alike. Where is God’s name placed? Right here, on our forehead.

God’s name is sacred, because this is the means that He uses to establishes His presence with us, in grace. God places His name to save. So we are to hold His name as something set aside. It is not a common thing. But it is also a violation of the Second Commandment whenever we sin. Our sins desecrate the Name of God that has been placed upon us in our baptism. In this way all our sins are a violation of the First and Second Commandments.

The point that must not be lost however is that it is by God’s name that He saves. In placing His name upon us, God is claiming us as His own. We are His property. This is why Christ, God the Son, came to earth. He came to establish the presence of His name among us. Where the name of God is properly used, it is a saving name. And so we must hold this name as sacred and use it only as God commands - in prayer, praise, teaching for righteousness, and the like. We must not ever use the name of God for our earthbound purposes. That is how we desecrate the holy name. Yet, we must rejoice in this name for it is a name that gives life.

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