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"Aware of an Idol" (Sermon on the Ten Commandments, for Ash Wednesday)
February 25, 2009 | The Rev. Charles Henrickson

Posted on 02/25/2009 8:36:22 PM PST by Charles Henrickson

“Aware of an Idol” (The Ten Commandments)

As we noted, today we begin the season of Lent. In church history, and particularly in our Lutheran tradition, there are several major themes associated with Lent, which often form the basis for services within this season. For example, penitence, repentance, is certainly a Lenten theme, and especially is that so on this first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday. Another Lenten focus is the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, drawn from all four gospels or from just one gospel. Tracking the Passion narrative often is done over a series of midweek Lenten services--we did that here a couple of years ago.

One other Lenten emphasis, historically, is catechesis, that is, instruction in the basics of the Christian faith. In the early church, the forty days of Lent would serve as the final time of instruction before the catechumens were then baptized during the Easter Vigil. And not just for new Christians do Lent and catechesis work well together. The intensity and increased devotion of this season can aid us longtime Christians in returning to and being renewed in the most basic and always relevant aspects of Christian faith and life.

And so tonight we start a six-part series on “The Six Chief Parts of Lenten Catechesis.” We’ll be following the six chief parts as Luther lays them out in the Small Catechism: The Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, Confession, and the Sacrament of the Altar.

We begin tonight with the Ten Commandments, as we just read them. And today on Ash Wednesday, it’s fitting that we hear the Ten Commandments. For on this solemn and somber day of repentance, the Ten Commandments, God’s Law, will show us our sins and our need for God’s forgiveness, which we will then find in the blessed Gospel that God gives us here in Word and Sacrament.

The Ten Commandments: Obviously we could do a ten-part series, let alone a six-part series, simply on this first chief part of the Catechism, the Commandments. But just in our brief time here tonight, we’re going to zoom in on just one of these Ten Commandments to do the job for all the rest. For if we could keep the First Commandment, we would keep all the others as well. Conversely, because we do not keep the First Commandment, that shows up then in all the ways we break all the other commandments.

That’s why Luther can start his explanations for all the remaining commandments with the words, “We should fear and love God so that. . . . .” That’s certainly clear for the Second and Third Commandments--how we use God’s name and how gladly and diligently we hear his word are reflections of how we are or are not fearing, loving, and trusting in God above all things. But it’s also true for the other commandments, Four through Ten, which deal with our neighbor. How we treat our neighbor--do I love my neighbor so as not to harm him or take advantage of him but rather to help him and be kind to him?--how I treat my neighbor is a sign of how I am or am not loving God. The First Commandment, then, as Luther says in the Large Catechism, “the First Commandment is the chief source and fountainhead that flows into all the rest.”

Tonight we want to get to the root of the problem, why we do not keep the First Commandment or any of the other commandments as we ought. The root problem, lying at the base of all sin, is idolatry. Idolatry is to have another god, a false god, any god other than the one true God. The commandment says, “You shall have no other gods,” and the problem is, we do. And if we have some other god, then we are not fearing, loving, and trusting in the God who speaks to us in these commandments, the God who created us and made us his people. Idolatry, worshiping other gods, lies at the heart of all sin.

But you say, “I do not worship an idol!” Now it is true, you probably do not bow down to an image of stone or wood, like a pagan tribesman out in the jungle. No, your idols no doubt are of a more refined, not so obvious, kind. Luther helps us out here, again from the Large Catechism:

“What does it mean to have a god? Or, what is God? Answer: A god means that from which we are to expect all good and in which we are to take refuge in all distress. So, to have a God is nothing other than trusting and believing Him with the heart. . . . Whatever you set your heart on and put your trust in is truly your god.”

So things like money, success, popularity, pleasure--these are common everyday idols, false gods that people worship. They look to these things for their peace and happiness and satisfaction in life. Even people without these things can still worship these false gods. The man without money who can only think of how to get it and who envies the rich and is never content or satisfied--that man, too, is worshiping the god of Mammon. And do you see how even good gifts from God can take the place of God, so that people are worshiping the gifts rather than the Giver? Family, for example--a good gift from God--family can become an idol, when a person loves father or mother or wife or children more than he loves God. Idolatry is very common, and it can be very subtle. Whenever you are loving and trusting in something--anything--more than God, you have created an idol and are worshiping it.

So be honest and ask yourself questions like these: In what or whom do I trust above all else? In what or whom do I trust most for financial security, physical safety, or emotional support? Do I fear God’s wrath, avoiding every sin? Is my love for and trust in God evident in my daily living? Do I expect only good from God in every situation, or do I worry, doubt, complain, or feel unfairly treated when things go wrong? Do I withhold from God what is rightfully his?

Now beneath the familiar idols of money, power, pleasure and so on, which can vary from person to person, there is one idol that is common to us all. Tonight, as we’re getting to the root of the problem, I want you to become aware of an idol. An idol that is living in your house. An idol that is living in your heart. It is an idol that is common to every one of us and yet--and therefore--is different for each person. It is the idol called “I,” “me,” “myself.” This is the god everybody worships, and thus there are as many gods as there are people. Each one of us loves himself above all things, above other people, above God. That’s what it is to be a sinner, to be your own God, to serve yourself, to make your own decisions about right and wrong. “I will do what’s right for me!” That’s the nature of all sin. It started with our first parents in the Garden, and it’s been passed along to all of us, their children. This is the original sin, the root sin: to be your own God, to tune out the true God and his word. The result of that, the curse placed upon sin, we heard tonight: “Dust you are, and to dust you shall return.” The wages of sin is death.

Oh, who shall rescue us from this body of sin and death? Who will save us from our idolatry? Answer: The very God against whom we have sinned. For God is so rich in his mercy and grace that he provided the Answer, the answer to all our ills, the answer and remedy for sin and death, the answer to our rebellion and commandment-breaking. The Answer is Jesus. “For the Son of God, Jesus Christ,” Paul writes to the Corinthians--“all the promises of God find their Yes in him.” Whatever your question is, Jesus is the Answer.

What does this mean? It means that God sent his Son, Jesus Christ our Savior, to keep these commandments perfectly in our place. Jesus alone loved God and loved his neighbor the way we all ought but don’t. It means that Jesus, the sinless one, then went to the cross to take our place also there, bearing the punishment prescribed for all who break the Commandments: judgment under God’s wrath. It means that Jesus, by fulfilling the Commandments, both their keeping and their punishment, has fulfilled all righteousness and taken away the judgment and the death. And now he gives us forgiveness and life in their place: the forgiveness put in your ears in the gospel and put in your mouth in this Sacrament; the life he will show forth once again at Easter, life that rises from the dead.

And now, what’s more, he gives you a new life even now, life in the Spirit, so that now you can even begin to keep and to do the Commandments yourself. A new life of love, love for God and love for your neighbor. To be sure, you will never do the Commandments well enough to earn your salvation. You still have that old idol, the idol of self, hanging around in your heart. You will always need God’s forgiveness every day, for as many days as you live as both sinner and saint. But one day that idol will finally be cast from its throne, and you and I will forevermore worship and serve only the one true God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength, together with all the saints in the joys of heaven.

TOPICS: Religion
KEYWORDS: ashwednesday; catechesis; catechism; idol; lcms; lent; lutheran; sermon; tencommandments
The First Commandment
You shall have no other gods.

What does this mean?
We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.

1 posted on 02/25/2009 8:36:22 PM PST by Charles Henrickson
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To: lightman; old-ager; Cletus.D.Yokel; bcsco; redgolum; kittymyrib; Irene Adler; MHGinTN; ...


2 posted on 02/25/2009 8:37:25 PM PST by Charles Henrickson (Lutheran pastor, LCMS)
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To: Charles Henrickson

The First Commandment
You shall have no other gods.

And you don’t compare yourself to Jesus.

3 posted on 02/25/2009 8:55:36 PM PST by Beowulf9
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To: Charles Henrickson
The First Commandment You shall have no other gods. What does this mean? We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.

Lev 23:2 Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, Concerning the feasts of the LORD, which ye shall proclaim to be holy convocations, even these are my feasts.

For more info, read the rest of Leviticus 23.

4 posted on 02/25/2009 9:01:54 PM PST by DouglasKC
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To: Charles Henrickson

That was wonderful. You always say just what I need to hear just when I need to hear it. God Bless You! :)

5 posted on 02/26/2009 5:35:47 AM PST by Diana in Wisconsin (Save The Earth. It's The Only Planet With Chocolate.)
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To: Charles Henrickson

Thanks Charles. Several years ago we had the Ten Commandments as the subject for our adult Bible class. There were some interesting discussions for about twelve weeks, since two were extended for a second Sunday.

6 posted on 02/26/2009 5:47:07 AM PST by Arrowhead1952 (It took 250 years to make the USA great and 30 days for BO to tear it down.)
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To: lightman; old-ager; Cletus.D.Yokel; bcsco; redgolum; kittymyrib; Irene Adler; MHGinTN; ...
I forgot to include the logo I'm using for this series on the Six Chief Parts of the Catechism:

The Ten Commandments: the two stone tablets
The Creed: the gracious hand of the Father; the cross of Christ; and the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove
The Lord's Prayer: hands folded in prayer
The Sacrament of Holy Baptism: the shell
Confession: the key
The Sacrament of the Altar: the chalice and the host

7 posted on 02/26/2009 11:23:22 AM PST by Charles Henrickson (Lutheran pastor, LCMS)
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To: Charles Henrickson
The first commandment:

"I AM God ... and you're not".

For me, at least, that is quite comforting. I'm not God ... which means a lot of things (that are 'way beyond my capacity to deal with) are not my problem in the first place. They're His ... and He has it covered.

8 posted on 02/26/2009 11:27:07 AM PST by ArrogantBustard (Western Civilization is Aborting, Buggering, and Contracepting itself out of existence.)
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To: Charles Henrickson

This is excellent.

Every time one tries to bestow a Divine characteristic on a fallible human, one fails.

9 posted on 02/26/2009 1:29:37 PM PST by franksolich (Scourge of the Primitives, in service to humanity)
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To: Charles Henrickson

Exceptionally good. Do you have this posted on your parish website? I’m afraid to let my dad anywhere near Free Republic, but I’d like him to see it.

10 posted on 02/26/2009 6:58:36 PM PST by nina0113 (Hugh Akston is my hero.)
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To: nina0113; lightman; old-ager; Cletus.D.Yokel; bcsco; redgolum; kittymyrib; Irene Adler; MHGinTN; ...
Do you have this posted on your parish website?

We don't have a parish website (yet). We're a small parish, we don't have the money, and I don't have the time or know-how in order to set one up. But I do post my sermons in a three places: here; a sermon e-mail list; and a web discussion forum called Luther Quest. Here is that link, where you can find this particular sermon:

Also, you can hear my Sunday sermons over the Internet. We record the whole Sunday service, then I edit it down to a half-hour, and that is broadcast and webcast over radio station KREI the following Sunday morning, 8:15-8:45 (Central):

11 posted on 02/26/2009 7:19:06 PM PST by Charles Henrickson (Lutheran pastor, LCMS)
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To: Charles Henrickson
I am well aware that Luther's Hymn These Are The Holy Ten Commands appears in the Lutheran Service Book # 581.

Some congregations might be resistant to trying the hymn because of the chorale tune. With a little tweaking the text can be adapted to be used with the tune Woodworth, most commonly associated with the text Just As I Am, Without One Plea


Martin Luther, 1524

adapted for use with the WOODWORTH tune

These are the holy Ten Commands
Which came to us from God’s own hands
By Moses who obeyed his will
On top of Sinai’s great high hill.

“I am the Lord your God alone
Of gods besides you shall have none
You shall yourself trust all to me
And love me only whole-heart-ed-ly”

“You shall not speak like idle word
The name of God who is your Lord,
As right or good you shall not praise
Except what God commands and says.”

“You shall keep holy the seventh day
That rest you and your household may,
From your own work you must be free
, That God’s praise your only work may be.”

“Honor you shall, and shall obey,
Your father and mother ev’ry day;
To serve them ready be your hand
That you may long live in this good land.”

“In wrath-ful-ness you shall not kill,
Nor hate, nor take revenge for ill
But patience keep with gentle mood
And to e’en foe be kind and good.”

“The marriage bond you shall keep clean,
That even the heart no other mean’
Your life you shall keep pure and free,
Restrained and held in chas-ti-ty.

“Steal not your neighbors goods or gold,
Nor profit by his sweat and blood,
Open then wide your kindly hand
To all the poor folk of your land.”

You shall not lying stories bear,
“Nor ‘gainst your neighbor falsely swear;
His innocence you shall rescue
And hide his shame from other’s view.”

“Your neighbor’s wife or house to win
You shall not seek, nor aught within;
But wish that his such good may be
As you would want yourself to see.”

To us come these commands, that so
You, child of earth, your sins would know,
And make you also well perceive
How before God you now should live.

May Christ our Lord help us in this,
For He our Me-di-a-tor is;
Our own work is hopeless thing
God’s wrath and anger it will bring.

12 posted on 02/26/2009 7:46:08 PM PST by lightman (Adjutorium nostrum (+) in nomine Domini.)
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To: lightman
Luther's Hymn These Are The Holy Ten Commands appears in the Lutheran Service Book # 581.

We sang it last night, with the original tune. People are able to sing it well.

Luther wrote catechetical hymns for each of the Six Chief Parts, and we'll be singing each with each.

We'll also sing the hymn *about* the six chief parts of Luther's catechism, i.e., "Lord, Help Us Ever to Retain."

13 posted on 02/26/2009 9:31:42 PM PST by Charles Henrickson (Lutheran pastor, LCMS)
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To: Charles Henrickson

Thanks! Dad is a Roosevelt Democrat and is unwilling to recognize that the party has changed, so FR really isn’t the place for him, but he will appreciate the sermon. He’s nominally Southern Baptist, but currently attends some off-brand New-Agey kinda church called Convergence or Focus or something, who took over his church building when the real Christians left (there’s a Korean church that meets in the building Sunday AM, but it’s not in English). Basically they’re Unitarians. I don’t have enough spoons to work on both his politics and his religion.

14 posted on 02/27/2009 5:29:50 AM PST by nina0113 (Hugh Akston is my hero.)
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